Rough sleeping figures ‘cannot be trusted’

UK statistics Authority chair responds to a reported 4,677 people sleeping rough in England in 2018.

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Chair of the UK statistics Authority (UKSA) has claimed that reports that homelessness is falling in England “should not be trusted” until the government has explained how an emergency funding scheme might have skewed the latest figures.

Sir David Norgrove’s comments are said to be the latest in a row over the apparent 2% fall in rough sleeping in England in 2018.

Ministers have said that the fall was a sign of the government’s Rough Sleeping Initiative (RSI), a bid to tackle the homelessness crisis.

After the official figures for 2018 were published at the start of the year, the prime minister hailed an apparent 85% fall in rough sleeping in Southend from 2017 to 2018, based on estimates and spot counts from all local authorities.

Norgorve has said the official figures for 2018 should not be used to make claims about rough sleeping until the government addresses concerns that some councils that received RSI funding had deliberately under-reported the “scale of crisis” in their area.

Southend was among several local authorities that changed its methodology after it received short-term RSI funding, along with Brighton, Southend, Redbridge, Eastbourne, Medway, Worthing, Thanet, Exeter, Basildon, Ipswich and Warwick.

All councils recorded significant falls in rough sleeping from 2017 to 2018 after switching from an estimate to a count, which critics said occurred because of the methodology change and did not reflect the reality on the streets.

Norgrove made the comments in a letter to Lord Nick Bourne after he said in a debate that rough sleeping had decreased by 19% in the 83 councils that received RSI funding.

The letter was also sent to the housing secretary, James Brokenshire.

A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesperson said: “In areas where the government has targeted funding and interventions through its Rough Sleeping Initiative, the number of rough sleepers has fallen by 19% as compared to the national decrease of 2%.

“The Rough Sleeping Initiative funds local authorities to provide specialist services to help the most vulnerable people in society off the streets. We will publish an evaluation later this year, which will help to understand the impact of the initiative.”

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