How many people are homeless?

The term homelessness covers a range of conditions in which people lack a settled home.

All these forms of homelessness stop people building a better life for themselves, and do long term damage to physical and mental health and well-being.

Rough sleeping

Rough sleepers don’t have a roof over their head at night and have to sleep on the streets or other open places. This is the most visible form of homelessness.

4751 people were estimated to be sleeping rough in England on one autumn night in 2017. This estimate is based on survey data from local authorities.[1] This figure is probably an underestimate, because there will inevitably be some people missed by the survey. Using other data, such as interactions with the health care and criminal justice systems, the charity Crisis has estimated that the true figure is about 8000 people.[2]

The total number of people experiencing rough sleeping in any year is much greater, perhaps seven or eight times as many in London,[3] as people move on and off the streets.

London typically accounts for about a quarter of all rough sleeping in England.

According to official statistics, in autumn 2017, about 71% of rough sleepers in England were UK nationals, 16% were other EU nationals and 4% came from outside the EU. A further 9% were of unknown nationality.[4]

Proportion of rough sleepers by Nationality in England
Source: MHCLG Rough Sleeping Statistical Release 2017

Rough sleepers are predominantly male, an estimated 86% in England.[5] The proportion of women may be higher than this in practice as women tend to sleep in more hidden places for safety reasons, and so may not be seen by surveys.[6]

rough sleepers by gender in England 2017
Source: MHCLG Rough Sleeping Statistical Release 2017

To put this into perspective, such has been the growth of rough sleeping that the number of known UK nationals rough sleeping in 2017 was greater than the total of all rough sleepers in 2014.

Number of UK and non-UK rough sleepers in England

Numbers of UK & non-UK Rough Sleepers in England
Source: MHCLG Rough Sleeping Statistical Release 2017

In comparison with the rest of England, the homeless population in London has a much higher proportion of non-UK nationals. Of these by far the largest proportion come from Central and Eastern Europe, especially Romania and Poland. People from Central and Eastern Europe account for almost 30% of the London total, and probably more if those of unknown nationality are included.

Proportion of rough sleepers by Nationality in London

Source: CHAIN Database

Assessed as homeless

The total number of homeless people is much greater than the number of rough sleepers. About 80,000 households are housed in temporary accommodation (data is from March 2018).[7] Many of these households contain more than one person, including children, so the total number of individuals is greater than this. Temporary accommodation is often of very poor quality.

A further 27,000 households were assessed as homeless but not entitled to temporary accommodation, for example because they were not in a vulnerable group.[8]

Those ineligible for support include those classified as “intentionally homeless”. This is a misleading term, since it suggests that these people are pursuing a personal lifestyle choice, which is almost never the case. Many of this group end up sleeping rough.

Hidden Homeless

The hidden homeless are people who don’t have somewhere suitable to live, but don’t qualify as legally homeless. For example, they may be living in unsuitable or grossly overcrowded housing, or sheltering in disused housing, or finding temporary shelter with others.

There is no official data on how many hidden homeless there are. It is likely to be many tens of thousands,[9] but the true figure remains unknown and could be much higher.

References

[1] Source: Department of Communities and Local Government. Estimate from street could data shows 4751 in 2017. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/682001/Rough_Sleeping_Autumn_2017_Statistical_Release_-_revised.pdf. Some of the data is estimated rather than based on actual street counts. Data for Scotland and Wales is collected by the devolved administrations.

[2] https://www.crisis.org.uk/media/237582/crisis_homelessness_projections_2017.pdf

[3] Based on the number of people in the CHAIN database, compared with the street count data. The estimate applies to London as this is where data is available.

[4] Source: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/682001/Rough_Sleeping_Autumn_2017_Statistical_Release_-_revised.pdf

[5] Source: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/682001/Rough_Sleeping_Autumn_2017_Statistical_Release_-_revised.pdf

[6] GLA Rough Sleeping Plan of Action

[7] Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/live-tables-on-homelessness. Table 775. Data is for March 2018

[8] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistical-data-sets/live-tables-on-homelessness. Table 770.

[9] https://www.crisis.org.uk/media/237582/crisis_homelessness_projections_2017.pdf