Local authorities in England do not have a duty to secure accommodation for all homeless people. 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.

In 2021, an estimated 741 homeless people died in England and Wales. Men accounted for most deaths. Most deaths recorded were due to drug-related poisoning, suicide, and alcohol-specific causes.

An estimated 3,069 people slept rough on a single night in autumn 2022, of whom 858 were in London.

A target to end rough sleeping

Successive Governments have put in place initiatives to tackle rough sleeping. 

The Conservative Manifesto December 2019 (PDF) committed to ending “the blight of rough sleeping by the end of the next Parliament” through an extension of the Rough Sleeping Initiative which began in 2018, Housing First, and using local services to meet the health and housing needs of people living on the streets.

The Government’s ‘Everyone In’ programme to assist rough sleepers through the Covid-19 crisis was hailed as one of the most effective responses to the pandemic. The sector was keen to build on its success to achieve the Government’s target of ending rough sleeping by 2024.

A refreshed strategy, Ending Rough Sleeping for Good, was published in September 2022. It focuses on a “four-pronged approach” of prevention, intervention, recovery and ensuring a joined-up transparent approach supported by over £2 billion up to 2025.

Policy impact

Despite considerable efforts, the official rough sleeper counts showed increases every year after new methodology was introduced in autumn 2010 up to the autumn 2017 count. The results of the 2017 count were published on 25 January 2018 – a 169% increase in the number of people sleeping rough in England since 2010 was recorded.

The recorded number of rough sleepers then fell by 2% in 2018 and 9% in 2019, although the 2019 count still represented a 141% increase on the 1,768 recorded in 2010. The 2020 count recorded a 37% drop in rough sleeping on 2019. This count coincided with a national lockdown and tier restrictions in response to Covid-19. The 2021 count recorded a further 9% fall on 2020 but was still up by 670 people (38%) on 2010. The autumn 2022 count showed an increase in numbers sleeping rough of 26% on 2021.

The latest financial year report from the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) database, CHAIN Greater London Annual Report 2021-22 (June 2022) reported a total of 8,329 rough sleepers as contacted by outreach workers or building-based teams in London during 2021/22. This represented a 24% decrease on the previous year. 5,091 were seen rough sleeping for the first time. The decrease has been attributed, at least in part, to the Everyone In initiative (see below). CHAIN figures released in October 2022 showed an increase rough sleeping across London between July and September 2022.

Will rough sleeping end by 2024?

Numerous reports have identified measures viewed as necessary to the target’s achievement, including a long-term strategy; concerted cross-government working; and multi-year funding. The refreshed strategy, Ending Rough Sleeping for Good, incorporates many of these ‘asks’, but the increase in rough sleeping recorded in autumn 2022 highlights the challenge ahead. Jasmine Basran, head of policy and campaigns at Crisis, reportedly said the target wouldn’t be met without “a huge shift” in Government action.

Commentators stress the need address welfare policies, such as Local Housing Allowance rates, in light of cost-of-living pressures and the need for more affordable social rented housing to avoid efforts “becoming a wasted opportunity.” 

Some have questioned whether £2 billion in funding up to 2025 will be sufficient. Writing for Inside Housing in September 2022, John Glenton, executive director for care and support at Riverside, referred to potential for an increase in mortgage repossessions and the need to enact private sector rental reforms (to increase security of tenure) quickly while managing it carefully “to ensure that it doesn’t create or prolong homelessness for people.”

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