Rough sleeping has leapt by over 50% across England since the current Government weren’t elected going from 1,768 people in 2010 to an unprecedented 2,744 in 2014. Despite Boris’ claim he would end rough sleeping in the capital by 2012, the number of street homeless people in London has almost doubled from 415 to 742 people between 2010 and 2014.
The first national street count was carried out in 1998 when 1,850 people were estimated to be sleeping rough in the UK according to homelessness charity Crisis. By 2002 it had fallen to 585. Since then it has more than quadrupled and the rise shows no sign of slowing – rough sleeping in London jumped by 37% in the last year alone.
The Tories have been quick to blame immigrants for the rise, as if no-one ever came to London from overseas and ended up homeless prior to 2010. In truth the CHAIN figures (pdf), collected by charities and published alongside the government’s estimate, show that rough sleeping has risen in London amongst both UK nationals and those from Central and Eastern Europe who only make up 34% of the total.
Even these figures, which are based on a physical count of people sleeping rough in just one night, only show the tip of the iceberg – not least because there are persistent rumours of police operations clearing the streets of homeless people before the count takes place. In addition the count does not include people squatting in abandoned buildings, sleeping in locked public parks, living in vehicles or hidden away outside city centres. The true extent of rough sleeping in England is far higher than these figures suggest – and this is just the most acute form of homelessness. There are tens of thousands of single homeless people living in hostels or nightshelters who are not recorded in any figures. There may be as many as 400,000 hidden homeless, staying temporarily with friends and relatives or living in B&Bs. The number of homeless families is also steadily rising with 60,000 families currently living in temporary accommodation.
Homelessness charities have blamed both soaring housing costs and welfare reforms for the homelessness epidemic. Chillingly we are not even close to seeing the real impact of the Bedroom Tax, Benefit Cap and slashing of Housing Benefits for those under 35. Many people are having shortfalls in their benefits made up by ‘Discretionary Housing Payments’ – which can be removed at any time by local authorities. Others are surviving for now, or haven’t yet fallen into high enough arrears to face eviction. The Benefit Uprating Bill, which pegs rises in Housing Benefit at 1% no matter how much rents soar, will place further pressure on those struggling to keep a roof over their heads. The Tories have pledged to remove Housing Benefit from the young completely if they win the next election. Labour are threatening yet more benefit sanction based forced work schemes – the cause of the ‘massive’ rise in street homelessness in Manchester according to local charities. Several London Labour MPs want more laws to criminalise squatting.
Mass homelessness is set to be one of the most visible legacies of Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms. How bad things are going to get is the only real question left and not one politician, of any main party, seems to give a shit.
You can read the latest Rough Sleeping Statistics at: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/homelessness-statistics#rough-sleeping
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