This House of Commons Library Briefing Paper provides background information on the problem of rough sleeping and outlines Government policy on this issue.Jump to full report >>
Local authorities in England do not have a duty to secure accommodation for all homeless people. Those who approach an authority for help who are deemed to be homeless but not in priority need, may find themselves sleeping rough. Rough sleepers are one of the most vulnerable groups in society; studies have found strong correlations between homelessness and a multiplicity, and increased severity, of both physical and mental health conditions. Rough sleepers are over 9 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population; on average rough sleepers die at age 47 (age 43 for women).
Successive Governments have put in place initiatives to tackle rough sleeping. The Rough Sleepers Initiative operated between 1990 and 1999 until it was replaced by Labour’s Homelessness Action Programme. Over the years some ambitious targets have been set; for example, Labour set a target in 1999 to achieve a two thirds reduction in rough sleeping by 2002. No One Left Out (Labour, 2008) set a target of ending rough sleeping “once and for all” by 2012.
Crisis commissioned the Centre for Housing Policy at the University of York to conduct a review of single homelessness in the UK between 2000 and 2010. The study, A review of single homelessness in the UK, (2011) provides an overview of the history, causes and policy responses to single homelessness, and assesses how successful these policies have been in tackling the issue. The study suggested some policy responses for the next decade.
The current Government has continued with the approach initiated under the Coalition and which was piloted in London: No Second Night Out. A key aim is to ensure that no-one new to the streets sleeps out for a second night. A Ministerial Working Group has been established to prevent and reduce homelessness. The Minister, Marcus Jones, is currently responsible for homelessness at the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).
Despite these considerable efforts, the official rough sleeper counts have risen in each year since new methodology was introduced in autumn 2010. The most recent statistics published on 25 January 2017 recorded a 132% increase in the number of people sleeping rough in England since 2010. Existing programmes have recorded successes in helping individuals to exit rough sleeping, but the flow on to the streets continues. The UK Statistics Authority declared DCLG’s Rough Sleeping statistics to not to meet the standard to be regarded as National Statistics in December 2015.
Rough sleeping is at its most severe in London. The latest financial year report from the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) database, CHAIN Street to Home Annual Report 2015-16, shows that a total of 8,096 rough sleepers were contacted by outreach workers or building-based teams in London during 2015/16 compared to 7,581 contacts in 2014/15; representing an increase of 7%.
Factors identified as contributing to the ongoing flow of new rough sleepers to the streets include: welfare reforms, particularly reductions in entitlement to Housing Benefit/Local Housing Allowance; reduced investment by local authorities in homeless services; and flows of non-UK nationals who are unable to access benefits.
Organisations working in the sector have called for a commitment to end rough sleeping; an effective safety net; and for a long-term homelessness strategy backed by investment to deliver it. There is support for legislation to extend the priority need categories to cover all homeless people.
On 17 December 2015 the Communities and Local Government Select Committee launched an inquiry into the causes of homelessness, as well as the approach taken by national and local government to prevent and tackle homelessness. The Committee’s final report was published on 18 August 2016. The Committee did not support the abolition of priority need categories, but did express interest in the Welsh model, whereby local authorities have a duty to try to prevent anyone threatened with homelessness from actually becoming homeless under the Housing (Wales) Act 2014.
Bob Blackman’s Homelessness Reduction Bill 2016-17, which is progressing through Parliament, has gained Government and cross-Party support. The Bill, should it obtain Royal Assent, will refocus English local authorities on efforts to prevent homelessness. New duties will be introduced for English local authorities to assist all eligible applicants at risk of homelessness, and to relieve homelessness where it cannot be prevented. The new duties stop short of requiring authorities to actually provide housing for homeless non-priority households.
Separate briefing papers cover statutory homelessness in England (01164) and the placement of statutorily homeless households in temporary accommodation (02110). For an overview of statistical indicators see: Homelessness: Social Indicators (02646). For a range of homelessness statistics for local authorities see local authority homelessness statistics (England) (07586).
There are now significant variations in approaches to homelessness in Scotland and Wales – these variations are outlined in Comparison of homelessness duties in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (07201). See also: Rough sleepers: access to services and support (England) and Rough Sleepers and Anti-Social Behaviour (England).
Commons Briefing papers SN02007
Authors: Wendy Wilson; Cassie Barton; Vyara Apostolova