This 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 Conservative Government elected in 2015 continued with the approach initiated under the Coalition. This No Second Night Out approach was piloted in London. A key aim was to ensure that no-one new to the streets sleeps out for a second night. A Ministerial Working Group was established to prevent and reduce homelessness.
The current Government was elected with a manifesto commitment to “halve rough sleeping over the course of the parliament and eliminate it altogether by 2027”by setting up a new homelessness reduction taskforce to focus on prevention and affordable housing and by piloting a Housing First approach to tackle rough sleeping. The Government also supported Bob Blackman’s Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 which will place additional duties on local authorities in England to prevent and relieve homeless for all eligible applicants from April 2018.
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 2018 recorded a 169% 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 2016-17, shows that a total of 8,108 rough sleepers were contacted by outreach workers or building-based teams in London during 2016/17.
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 an effective safety net and a long-term homelessness strategy backed by investment to deliver it. Some organisations support legislation to extend the priority need categories to cover all homeless people, an approach already adopted in Scotland. In December 2017, the Public Accounts Committee published a report which criticised the Government’s approach to rising homelessness:
The Department for Communities and Local Government’s attitude to reducing homelessness has been unacceptably complacent. The limited action that it has taken has lacked the urgency that is so badly needed and its “light touch” approach to working with the local authorities tackling homelessness has clearly failed.
The Department is placing great reliance on the new Homelessness Reduction Act to provide the solution to homelessness.
While this new legislation will no doubt help, it cannot be successful unless it is matched by a renewed focus across government on tackling the twin issues of both the supply and affordability of decent housing, which underlie the causes of homelessness.
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