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Homelessness facts and statistics: The numbers you need to know in 2021

Experts worry about a looming crisis of homelessness. These are the rough sleeping figures and homelessness facts you need to know.

Despite living in the world’s sixth biggest economy, people are still living with no place to call their home in this country. This injustice must end.

But before you can tackle a problem, you must first learn the scale of the issue. That’s why it is vital that we know the facts and figures about homelessness.

The Big Issue is committed to tackling poverty and preventing homelessness. With the prospect of rising homelessness in autumn 2021, The Big Issue has launched the Stop Mass Homelessness campaign. Thousands of people who have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic risk losing their home after support introduced during the pandemic such as the £20 universal credit increase and the furlough scheme was withdrawn. The Big Issue is battling to help them keep their home.

Here are the numbers you need to know:

How many people are homeless?

  • In terms of street homelessness, official rough sleeping statistics showed the number of people living on the streets fell in England during the Covid-19 pandemic with an estimated 2,688 people sleeping rough on a single night in autumn 2020.
  • This was a 37 per cent decrease on the 4,266 people record in 2019 and was the third straight year in which the count showed a decrease.
  • However, the 2020 figure was still 52 per cent higher than the 1,247 people counted as sleeping rough in 2010. Rough sleeping has increased steadily over the last decade.
  • The majority of people sleeping rough in England are male, aged over 26 years old and from the UK. Meanwhile the Office for National Statistics found men who are living on the street outnumber women at a ratio of six to one.
  • However, the figures from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government are thought to be an underestimate as they are based on single-night snapshot accounts and estimates. Lucy Abraham, chief executive of London homelessness charity Glass Door, told The Big Issue in response to the 2020 figures: “We need to be critical of using what is essentially a best guess of what rough sleeping looks like on a given night as a proxy for how many people are actually homeless in the UK.”
  • The London-only Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) figures are considered to be more accurate. They showed 11,018 people were seen sleeping rough in London between April 2020 and March 2021, an increase on the 10,726 people spotted by outreach workers and charities in the previous year. The figures show rough sleeping has increased by 94 per cent in the last decade – almost double the number of people living on the streets in the English capital 10 years ago.
  • In Wales, official rough sleeping statistics show that 405 people slept rough across the country between October 14 and 27, 2019.
  • The official 2020 count was suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • And while Scotland doesn’t use the same method as England and Wales, data from the Scottish Household Survey suggests just over 700 people bedding down on the streets in a single night. Amounting to around 5,300 adults sleeping rough at least once per year.
  • As for wider homelessness in England, 288,470 households were owed assistance from councils to prevent or relieve homelessness in 2019-20. The latest figures showed 68,680 households approached councils for support between July and September 2020 following the first national Covid-19 lockdown while a further 93,490 households were living in temporary accommodation.
  •  The latest UK Government figures showed 62,250 households approached councils for support between October and December 2020, down 10 per cent on the same period in 2019. 
  • A further 95,370 homeless households were living in temporary accommodation as of December 2020 – a rise of 7,060 households in just one year, partly reflecting the impact of the Everyone In scheme.
  • For Wales 9,993 households needed support for homelessness between April 2019 and March 2020.
  • As for Scotland, there has been a fall in the number of people applying to local authorities for support with homelessness but a rise in people living in temporary accommodation during the pandemic. The 33,792 homelessness applications to councils recorded between April 2020 and March 2021 represented an almost 10 per cent decrease on 2019/20 statistics.
  • It was a similar story for the 27,571 households assessed as homeless, a 13 per cent decrease on the previous year. In total 42,149 people lived in these households, including 30,345 adults and 11,804 children.
  • But there was a 12 per cent annual increase in the number of households in temporary accommodation for 2020/21, up to 13,097.
  • And on average households spent longer in temporary accommodation with spells increasing to 199 days, up from 187 in the previous year.
  • The shift towards temporary accommodation in Scotland has largely been driven by the Covid-19 pandemic. Ashleigh Simpson, head of policy and communications for Scotland at Crisis, said: “While we’ve seen extraordinary progress in ending rough sleeping in Scotland over the last year or so, the response was only ever a short-term solution, which has led to record numbers of people living in temporary accommodation. We need action to ensure these people are supported quickly into safe and settled homes.”
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Spending on homelessness

  • Local authority expenditure on homelessness-related services has reduced significantly as compared to expenditure ten years ago; in 2008/9, £2.9 billion (in current prices) was spent on homelessness-related activity, while in 2018/19, £0.7 billion less was spent (Homeless Link)
  • In 2018/19, nearly £1 billion less was spent on support services for single homeless people than was spent in 2008/09 (Homeless Link)
  • The UK government has spent around £700m on homelessness and rough sleeping during the Covid-19 pandemic and plans to spend a further £750m in 2021.
  • The Scottish government promised an additional £50 million to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping at the Programme for Government in September 2021 after spending a similar amount during the last parliament.

Homelessness and Covid-19

  • The UK government’s Everyone In scheme has protected more than 37,000 people during the pandemic. As of January 2021, 11,263 people remained in emergency accommodation and 26,167 people had been moved on to permanent accommodation through the scheme.
  • The government has promised 6,000 long-term homes will be made available to help rough sleepers protected from the virus.
  • As part of the move to offer rough sleepers a permanent home, the government has launched a £750m social investment pilot to create 200 move-on homes. The three-year pilot will combine £15m of government grants with a further £15m investment from Big Society Capital to provide homes in Greater Manchester, London and Teesside as well as a small number of properties in other areas across England. The financial returns will be reinvested into providing homes for rough sleepers or those at risk of rough sleeping for the next 30 years, rough sleeping minister Eddie Hughes said.
  • In Scotland, £50m has been spent by the Scottish Government on hardship funding and £22m on the Scottish Welfare Fund to tackle homelessness during the Coid-19 pandemic. Additionally, more than £875,000 has been spent providing support for people who are living with no recourse to public funds and cannot claim benefits.
  • The Welsh Government initially spent £10m on providing accommodation to over 800 people at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. This was followed up with £20m to ensure that people did not have to return to the streets once the pandemic has ended. 
  • A move away from temporary accommodation  is being funded by a £50m investment as part of Phase 2 of Wales’ homelessness action plan.

Homelessness and health

  • Three quarters of homeless people quizzed in a 2014 Homeless Link survey reported a physical health problem
  • Meanwhile, 80 per cent of respondents reported some form of mental health issue, while 45 per cent had been officially diagnosed with a condition
  • 39 per cent said they take drugs or are recovering from a drug problem, while 27 per cent have or are recovering from an alcohol problem.
  • 35 per cent had been to A&E and 26 per cent had been admitted to hospital in the six months before they took part in the survey

What do people think about homelessness?

A poll from Ipsos Mori and the Centre for Homelessness Impact, published in April 2021, set out to understand the British public’s perception of homelessness.

The research found just under nine in ten people agreed homelessness is a serious problem in the UK and almost three quarters said they believe it does not get the attention it deserves.

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The British public also believe homelessness is a consequence of societal issues outside a person’s control than down to a person’s poor choices, with 52 per cent blaming wider problems in the poll compared to 17 per cent on the individual.

More than half (56 per cent) saw homelessness as affecting the whole of society, compared to 20 per cent believing it only impacts on the person experiencing it.

The public also supported investing money in preventing homelessness rather than paying to deal with the issue when it reaches crisis stage with 61 per cent in favour of that approach.

The study is part of the Centre for Homelessnes Impact’s End it with Evidence campaign with polling company Ipsos Mori, aiming to use data to bring about a sustainable end to homelessness.

What is hidden homelessness?

Hidden homelessness is the term used to describe people who do not have a permanent home and instead stay with friends or family.

Also known as sofa surfing, many people in this situation may not consider themselves homeless and may not seek support from services. This makes it difficult to know exactly how many people are homeless, especially as they are not on the streets like rough sleepers and, therefore, not visible to frontline homelessness outreach workers.

Homelessness charity Crisis has estimated that as many as 62 per cent of single homeless people do not show up on official figures and run the risk of slipping through the cracks.

How do most people who are homeless die?

Nearly one in three people die from treatable conditions, according to a 2019 University College London study. Researchers warned that more preventative work was needed to protect physical health and long-term condition management, especially for more common conditions such as cardiovascular disease.

Homeless deaths have only been counted in recent years. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s pioneering Dying Homeless project counted the deaths of 796 people in 18 months before handing over the project to the Museum of Homelessness in March 2019.

MOH’s latest count revealed 976 people died across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in 2020 – a rise of 37 per cent on the previous 2019 tally.

The count showed only three per cent of deaths were related to the Covid-19 virus with suicide accounting for 15 per cent of deaths and drug and alcohol abuse contributing to 36 per cent of cases where a cause of death was confirmed.

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MOH used a combination of freedom of information requests, local news reports and submissions from the public to produce a count covering all kinds of homelessness, ranging from rough sleeping to people living in hostels and temporary accommodation. That method differs from the official counts where death certificates are analysed for signs a person died without a stable home.

The first official Office for National Statistics figures for England and Wales arrived three months before the end of TBIJ’s project, reporting 597 estimated deaths in 2017. The most recent count reported 778 people died without a secure home in 2019.

The first-ever official homeless deaths count in Scotland arrived in 2020 using a similar methodology to the Office for National Statistics and estimated 195 people died without a permanent home in 2018. The latest count reported a 10 per cent increase in deaths with an estimated 216 people dying in 2019.

How can we stop homelessness?

The response to the first national Covid-19 lockdown has already shown that a lot can be achieved when the political will is there.

The Big Issue has launched several campaigns to prevent homelessness across the UK.

The most urgent campaign is called Stop Mass Homelessness. Launched in summer 2021, The Big Issue is working to prevent thousands of people from falling into homelessness after being affected by the pandemic. Sign our petition and find out how you can take action now here.

The Big Issue also launched the RORA Jobs and Training programme during the pandemic – a one-stop shop with everything you need to get back into work.

The RORA toolkit includes access to free or discounted training – including a 20 per cent discount on selected courses with online training provider FutureLearn. A free three-month digital subscription to The Big Issue is also bundled in alongside a weekly newsletter with tips on job hunting.

The Big Issue Jobs site, put together with the help of jobs board Adzuna features thousands of jobs as well as tips and advice on how to land your next role.

The Big Issue has also launched a jobs helpline with direct advice to help people back on their feet.

You can keep the pressure on the politicians too by writing to your local MP, AM or MSP urging them to keep ending homelessness top of the agenda in parliament.

You can also give your time or money to volunteer and donate to help homeless charities doing vital work to help and house people affected by homelessness. There are tons of ways to help, even just by donating your coat to help out in winter.

And, of course, you can buy The Big Issue magazine to help us support vendors all over the UK, giving them the means to lift themselves out of poverty.

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