Government has ‘turned its back’ on Britain’s 300,000 homeless

Shelter survey shows homelessness is now a national crisis – with real potential to get far worse.


The Government has been accused of “wilfully turning its back” on the 300,000 now homeless across Britain.

Labour’s London Assembly Housing Spokesperson, Tom Copley AM said policy prioritised Help to Buy – to the tune of £10bn – when the immediate need was for hundreds of thousands of social homes.

Copley said the appalling national homelessness figures uncovered by Shelter show that the Government has wilfully turned its back on those who find themselves homeless.

With the need for 66,000 new homes a year to tackle London’s housing crisis alone, Copley said the Government cannot miss the opportunity at this year’s budget to hand the Mayor the funding to make this happen.

“Right now we’ve got a Prime Minister who has prioritised pumping £10 billion into Help to Buy, inflating house prices in the process, rather than committing the funding to build hundreds of thousands of much needed social houses,” Copley said.

“The need to pave the way for longer tenancies doesn’t even appear to be on the Government’s radar and they chose capping benefits over capping rent increases.

“The Mayor has pledged £9 million a year to tackle rough sleeping, but this must be matched by determined action from the Government to tackle the chronic shortage of affordable housing and abandon their punitive welfare cuts and caps.

“We know so much about the causes of homelessness, but if we don’t start applying the solutions this picture is only going to become even more bleak.”

In September, a report from the National Audit Office criticised the government’s ‘light touch’ on dealing with homeslessness.

Today, Shelter released research revealing the number of people recorded as homeless has reached a staggering 307,000 – more than the entire population of Newcastle.

Starker still, councils are said to be housing the equivalent of an extra secondary school’s worth of homeless children in temporary accommodation every month.

In the most extensive review of its kind, Shelter combined official rough-sleeping, temporary accommodation and social services figures.

This showed the number of homeless people in Britain has increased by 13,000 in a year.

However, as government records are not definitive the true figure of homelessness is likely to be even higher.

Shelter has now launched an urgent appeal in response to this mounting crisis, calling on the public to support its frontline advisers as they work tirelessly to help people to stay in their home or find a new one.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “It’s shocking to think that today, more than 300,000 people in Britain are waking up homeless.

Some will have spent the night shivering on a cold pavement, others crammed into a dingy, hostel room with their children.

And what is worse, many are simply unaccounted for.

“On a daily basis, we speak to hundreds of people and families who are desperately trying to escape the devastating trap of homelessness – a trap that is tightening thanks to decades of failure to build enough affordable homes and the impact of welfare cuts.

“As this crisis continues to unfold, the work of our frontline services remains absolutely critical. We will do all we can to make sure no-one is left to fight homelessness on their own.

“But we cannot achieve this alone; we urgently need the public’s support to be there for everyone who needs us right now.”

Cllr Martin Tett, the Local Government Association’s Housing spokesman, said councils were doing all they can to help the homeless and prevent homelessness happening – but these efforts needed more from central government.

And ‘more’ meant steps to adapt welfare reforms to ensure housing remains affordable for low-income families, and allow councils to borrow to invest in building genuinely affordable homes, said Cllr Tett.

The extent of challenge, he said, is illustrated by councils having to house the equivalent of an extra secondary school’s worth of homeless children in temporary accommodation every month.

Added to this, the net cost for councils of funding temporary accommodation has tripled in the last three years – a degree described as unsustainable.

The Shelter report, ‘Far from alone: Homelessness in Britain in 2017’ also shows just how hard it can be to escape homelessness amid a drought of affordable homes and welfare reforms, such as the freeze on housing benefit and recent roll-out of Universal Credit.

In England, where more people are affected, over a third of those living in temporary accommodation will still be homeless in a year’s time.

One in every 200 people in England is currently homeless. However, to identify where the epidemic is most acute, the charity mapped the top 50 hotspots with the highest levels of homelessness in the country.

Newham topped the list where 1 in every 25 people are homeless.

This was closely followed by Haringey (1 in 29), Westminster (1 in 31), and Enfield (1 in 33).

But it is not just in the capital where the picture is alarmingly bleak.

Areas such as Luton, where 1 in 52 people are homeless, Birmingham (1 in 88) and Manchester (1 in 154) also feature in the top 50.

The study cites Victoria, 72, from London and living in temporary accommodation after being made homeless because her landlord decided to sell her privately rented home, and she couldn’t find anywhere else to go.

Victoria said: “After getting my eviction notice I desperately tried to find another place to rent but to no avail. I found landlords either didn’t want to let to someone on housing benefit, even though I’ve always paid my rent, or the properties were simply too expensive for me.

“Presenting myself as homeless was in itself humiliating and scary. You’re left sitting around for hours, waiting to find out if you’ll have a place to stay that night.

“I’m in temporary accommodation now, I spend every day dealing with letting agents, searching for a place to rent, or just some way out of here.

“If I get the chance to visit a friend’s house it’s so hard to come back to this place afterwards, and leave behind the warm environment a of a real home.

“The whole thing makes me feel like there is something wrong with me. I’ve moved around a lot, and yet for the first time in my life I feel like I have no control over my situation.

“I’m not easily scared, but the fear is terrible – you just don’t know where you are doing to end up.

“I’m in a constant state of anxiety and stress. I hope that finally with Shelter’s help, I might one day find a safe place to call home again.”

Victoria is the story behind a single statistic in analysis that estimates the total numbers of recorded homeless adults and children in Britain at the most recent point in time possible.

To arrive at a figure for the number of homeless people in England, Shelter added together figures on different forms of recorded homelessness.

Most of these are from official sources (DCLG figures on temporary accommodation and rough sleeping), plus Social Services figures via an FOI and figures on single homeless hostel bed spaces from Homeless Link’s annual report that have been adjusted down for voids and double-counting.

Figures for Wales and Scotland have been added in and estimated using households in temporary accommodation and multiplying by England’s average people per household in temporary accommodation (TA) and rough sleeping data (available for Wales only).

The local level figures are drawn from two of these sources only – rough sleeping and temporary accommodation, because the other datasets are at a regional level only.

Local figures are only available for England due to the lack of detailed data for Scotland and Wales.

Shelter’s estimates are then used in conjunction with the latest ONS population estimates (mid-year 2016) to produce ‘1 in x people’.

The figures should be viewed as robust lower-end estimates of recorded homelessness, numerous conservative assumptions have been built into the analysis.

For example, that ‘other’ household types in the temporary accommodation figures contain only two people when they will contain a minimum of two.

Additionally, the hostel bed spaces data from Homeless Link has been adjusted down to account for voids (10%) and down much further by assuming that all single people in TA took one of these bed spaces each.

Also, responses to the FOI on social services arranged TA were incomplete, so this has to be an underestimate.

The figures do not include ‘hidden’ or unrecorded homelessness which is very difficult to quantify, but known to be sizeable.

A poll of 2,000 UK adults commissioned by Homeless Link in December 2013, found that 32% of people have experienced homelessness (including sofa surfing and staying with friends) or know someone who has experienced homelessness – 14% had experienced it themselves, 20% knew someone else who had experienced it, 2% said they had both experienced it and knew others who had.

The ONS Population estimate for the Newcastle upon Tyne Local Authority area is 296,478 as of 2016.

Shelter has estimated what proportion of households will still be temporary accommodation (TA) one year from now using the TA duration and stock data from DCLG Temporary accommodation live tables.

By applying the duration in TA proportions for households leaving TA to the corresponding stock value, Shelter modelled entry points in time for households into TA.

The duration in TA proportions data is broadly consistent for each quarter, meaning this model generates consistent results.

Relevant data is published quarterly, so Shelter could estimate, for each quarter, which households would subsequently remain in TA for over 12 months.

The final figure is a four quarters summation of households in TA for at least 1 year.

Over recent years the number of households leaving TA per quarter has been consistently higher than those joining despite the overall number of households in in TA increasing.

Shelter assumed that some households are accepted into TA each quarter without being captured in official statistics. 

Top 50 areas with highest rates of recorded as homelessness (comprises temp. accommodation and rough sleeping figures only)

Local Authority Region Number of people living in TA Number of people rough sleeping Total homeless people Total people 1 in x people are homeless National Rank
Newham London 13,566 41 13,607 340,978 25 1
Haringey London 9,688 29 9,717 278,451 29 2
Westminster London 7,794 260 8,054 247,614 31 3
Enfield London 10,051 6 10,057 331,395 33 4
Kens & Chels London 4,387 14 4,401 156,726 36 5
Waltham Forest London 7,587 47 7,634 275,843 36 6
Brent London 8,881 24 8,905 328,254 37 7
Barking & Dag London 5,573 5 5,578 206,460 37 8
Tower Hamlets London 7,417 11 7,428 304,854 41 9
Hackney London 6,150 17 6,167 273,526 44 10
Redbridge London 6,197 60 6,257 299,249 48 11
Lewisham London 6,198 16 6,214 301,867 49 12
Hamm & Fulham London 3,515 6 3,521 179,654 51 13
Luton East of England 4,113 76 4,189 216,791 52 14
Ealing London 6,529 27 6,556 343,196 52 15
Croydon London 7,007 68 7,075 382,304 54 16
Barnet London 7,011 22 7,033 386,083 55 17
Lambeth London 5,656 17 5,673 327,910 58 18
Southwark London 4,955 32 4,987 313,223 63 19
Brighton & Hove South East 4,074 144 4,218 289,229 69 20
Wandsworth London 4,590 5 4,595 316,096 69 21
Bromley London 4,478 3 4,481 326,889 73 22
Broxbourne East of England 1,301 3 1,304 96,779 74 23
Bexley London 2,918 11 2,929 244,760 84 24
Birmingham West Midlands 12,730 55 12,785 1,124,569 88 25
Kingston London 1,910 23 1,933 176,107 91 26
Hounslow London 2,744 34 2,778 271,139 98 27
Harrow London 2,358 10 2,368 248,752 105 28
Milton Keynes South East 2,358 38 2,396 264,479 110 29
Islington London 1,916 11 1,927 232,865 121 30
Harlow East of England 681 20 701 85,995 123 31
City of London London 25 50 75 9,401 125 32
Havering London 1,932 24 1,956 252,783 129 33
Slough South East 1,092 25 1,117 147,181 132 34
Hillingdon London 2,166 28 2,194 302,471 138 35
Watford East of England 662 13 675 96,773 143 36
Sutton London 1,331 8 1,339 202,220 151 37
Manchester North West 3,433 78 3,511 541,263 154 38
Gosport South East 527 6 533 85,363 160 39
Dartford South East 633 9 642 105,543 164 40
Reading South East 956 22 978 162,666 166 41
Bristol, City of South West 2,600 74 2,674 454,213 170 42
Basildon East of England 1,062 17 1,079 183,378 170 43
Dacorum East of England 867 6 873 152,692 175 44
Epsom & Ewell South East 425 3 428 79,588 186 45
Peterborough East of England 1,021 21 1,042 197,095 189 46
Camden London 1,254 17 1,271 246,181 194 47
New Forest South East 886 4 890 179,236 201 48
Greenwich London 1,379 8 1,387 279,766 202 49
Chelmsford East of England 817 14 831 174,089 209 50
Compiled from official statistics on temporary accommodation (as at Q2 2017) and rough sleeping (Autumn 2016). TA figures adjusted to estimate total number of people (adults and children), rather than households.

National and regional results

People recorded as homeless, as at Q2 2017
 Region Number of people living in TA [1] Number of people rough sleeping [2] Number of people in single homeless hostel (minus voids & overlap with statutory) [3] plus number of people in social services TA [4] Total homeless people [1+2+3+4] Total people [5] Rate (1 in x)
North East 991 45 1,361 2,397 2,636,848 1,100
North West 6,355 313 2,686 9,354 7,219,623 772
Yorks & Hum 2,519 172 2,122 4,813 5,425,741 1,127
East Midlands 3,953 255 2,228 6,436 4,724,437 734
West Midlands 18,063 289 2,545 20,897 5,800,734 278
East 17,334 604 2,453 20,390 6,130,542 301
London 159,680 964 3,721 164,365 8,787,892 53
South East 23,547 956 3,108 27,611 9,026,297 327
South West 8,008 536 2,711 11,259 5,515,953 490
England 242,820 4,134 21,376 268,330 55,268,067 206
Great Britain 280,736 4,447 22,048 307,231 63,785,900 208
Sources: [1] Calculated from DCLG Homelessness statistics Q2 2017, Households that are homeless, owed a legal duty and living in TA, estimated as people (adults and children) [2], DCLG Homelessness statistics: Rough Sleeping, Autumn 2016 (latest available) [3] Single bed spaces in hostels, Homeless Link, 2016. 10% has been taken off the totals to account for voids and the number of single people in TA from the statutory figures are subtracted to ensure a conservative estimate with no double-counting.  [4] Results of an FOI by Shelter requesting the number of families owed a duty by Social Services and housed in TA under Children’s Act legislation. Less than 50% of areas responded, so this is a very conservative figure. People figure calculated by applying average family size from [1], [5] ONS mid-year population estimates for 2016. Estimates for Scotland and Wales calculated by applying average number of people per household in TA in England to respective figures. Figure has risen by 13,000 people in one year, when compared with an equivalent for Q2 2016.


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