02 Mar 2023

Homelessness statistics should shock and shame the government into action

This week has seen the release of two sets of government homelessness statistics for England. Each paints an increasingly grim picture.

The rough sleeping snapshot, estimates the number of people sleeping rough on a single night in autumn. Each year local authorities in England provide a figure for how many people they believe are sleeping rough on a typical night between 1 October and 30 November. For the snapshot, sleeping rough is defined as “those sleeping or about to bed down in open air locations and other places including tents, stairwells, car parks and makeshift shelters”. Whilst many people who are experiencing homelessness will be excluded from this estimate (including people in hostels and shelters) the snapshot is an important tool in assessing changes over time.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the multiple warnings those in the homelessness sector have delivered to government over recent months, the snapshot shows an increase in the numbers of people sleeping rough this year (after a welcome four years of decreases). 

The scale of the increase, however, is quite staggering - a 26 per cent rise since last year and a 74 per cent rise since the snapshot exercise began in 2010.

While rough sleeping increased in every region of England compared to the previous year, increases have been driven by a small number of areas. The largest increase in the number of people estimated to be sleeping rough was in London, where there were 858 people this year compared to 640 people last year, an increase of 218 people or 34 per cent.

Whilst the government have pledged to end rough sleeping by the end of 2024, these figures make that possibility seem increasing unlikely without very significant and urgent action.

The second release yesterday was the quarterly statutory homelessness statistics, which set out statutory homelessness applications and duties across English local authorities for July to September 2022. These figures also demonstrate some concerning trends; showing increases in the numbers of households homeless or threatened with homelessness owed a statutory or prevention duty. One area of rapid growth was an increase of over 34 per cent of households threatened with homelessness due to being served a Section 21 (‘no fault’) notice to end an Assured Shorthold Tenancy, making it even more important that government implements the long promised renters reform legislation to put a stop to ‘no fault’ evictions (click here to read my colleague Sam Lister’s recent blog on the Renters Reform Bill and end of Section 21).

The direction of travel for households with children is extremely disturbing. The figures show an increase of households with children owed a relief duty this quarter (almost eight per cent) compared to the previous year. Temporary accommodation figures for households with children increased by six per cent. 

Households with dependent children now accounting for over 62 per cent of households in temporary accommodation (125,760 children). The number of households in B&Bs with dependent children increased by over 91 per cent from the same date the previous year to 2,790 households in September 2022.

Of the households with children in B&Bs, 1,210 had been residents for more than the statutory limit of six weeks. This is up 112 per cent from 570 on 30 September 2021, and up 18 per cent from the previous quarter. 

These figures for children in temporary accommodation come only a month after Vicky Spratt's damming coverage of the horrifying and tragic human cost of children living in unsuitable homes. The article highlighted that in 34 cases the independent child death overview panels recorded homelessness and temporary accommodation as factors that may have contributed to the child’s vulnerability, ill health or death. This is now a public health crisis for children forced into temporary accommodation, having a tragic impact not only children’s physical health but their mental health too, as discussed in my blog reflecting on Children’s Mental Health Week.

Now what?

These statistical releases make depressing reads. The cost of living crisis, combined with a chronic shortage of truly affordable housing and rapidly escalating private rents, have been compounded by an often punitive benefits system, which has led us here. The government must act now to avoid these numbers climbing yet higher.

We know that people in homelessness services in local authorities, charities and other agencies are working incredibly hard to support people. While homelessness services are increasing in demand, continuing financial pressures mean that many homelessness services are struggling to stay afloat. This is a situation that can’t continue. The upcoming Budget on 15 March gives government an opportunity to start to turn this around. Government should invest in a benefits system that allows people to access suitable housing and sustain their tenancies. Private rents last year increased at the fastest rate since the ONS data series began and yet the local housing allowance remains frozen. In CIH’s recent budget submission we called for government to restore local housing allowance rates to at least the 30th percentile and return to annual uprating.

Government must also commit to building more social rented homes. Social rent housing performs a unique function as it is the only tenure which is genuinely affordable to those who are currently homeless or at risk of homelessness and the only tenure tied to local incomes.

Behind each of these numbers is a household, a person and in many cases a child. I hope that these figures will be enough to jolt the government into urgent action. Home is the foundation for life, and everyone deserves a safe, stable and affordable place to call home.

Written by Hannah Keilloh

Hannah is a policy and practice officer who leads our policy work surrounding planning, homelessness, and domestic abuse.