In Depth

Has the government underestimated the UK homelessness crisis?

Estimates for charity Crisis suggest official figures fail to capture true scale of problem

New figures have found that more than 24,000 people in the UK will spend the festive period sleeping rough or in makeshift accommodation, throwing light on the country’s hidden homelessness problem.

Research by the charity Crisis suggests 12,300 people are sleeping rough on the streets – the official figure is 4,751 – while a further 12,000 will spend the night in tents, cars, sheds, bins or night buses.

The figures “suggest formal estimates of rough sleeping fail to capture the true scale of the problem”, says The Guardian. The Crisis figures, calculated by specialist researchers at Heriot-Watt University, suggest the number of rough sleepers in Britain has risen by 98% since 2010, and the number in tents and buses has increased by 103%.

The charity accused ministers of doing too little to provide homeless people with welfare help and accommodation.

Chief executive Jon Sparkes told Metro: “Christmas should be a time of joy, but for thousands of people sleeping rough, in tents or on public transport, it will be anything but.”

“While most of the country will be celebrating and enjoying a family meal, those who are homeless will face a struggle just to stay safe and escape the cold.”

Theresa May recently unveiled a £100m government fund in an attempt to eradicate rough sleeping in England by 2027, but the government has been criticised for not acting quickly enough.

Figures show that legislation enacted by the Scottish government in 2012, which entitles everyone who finds themselves homeless through no fault of their own to accommodation, has seen homelessness applications drop by 39% over the last decade.

By contrast, in England and Wales “housing is generally offered only to ‘priority need’ households with children or vulnerable people”, says The Independent.

Yesterday “official figures showed that the number of homeless households in England living in insecure accommodation provided by their local council had risen again, with more than 120,000 children in temporary homes including bed and breakfast rooms and hostels”, reports The Guardian.

The figures also included 82,310 households who were in temporary accommodation at the end of June 2018, up 5% on the previous year, and an increase of 71% since December 2010. More than 2,500 families were put up in bed and breakfasts, and 3,740 in hostels and refuges.

Greg Beales, a campaign director at homelessness charity Shelter, said: “The fact that more than 123,000 children in England will be forced to wake up homeless this Christmas is a tragedy. A cramped room in an emergency B&B or hostel is no place for a child to live.”

In response to the Crisis report, housing and homelessness minister Heather Wheeler said: “It is simply unacceptable that anyone has to sleep on the streets, which is why we have set out bold plans backed by £1.2billion to tackle all forms of homelessness, including our £100 million rough sleeping strategy.”

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