Is homelessness increasing or decreasing?

Homelessness in England has increased a lot in recent years. The increase in rough sleeping has been especially marked. Data from the Ministry of Communities Housing and Local Government shows that for every 10 people sleeping rough in 2010 there are now 26. In London as a whole, rough sleeping has increased even faster than the national trend.[1] In Westminster it has more than doubled. The greater rate of increase in London as a whole may in part be due to displacement to other boroughs, reflecting the already high level of rough sleeping in central London.

While these street-count estimates likely understate the totals, the methodology has been consistent, so is likely to show the trend quite accurately. Further evidence on the trend comes from the separate Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) database for London, which tracks individual rough sleepers. It shows a similar trend to the survey data, giving further confidence that the overall picture is accurate (dotted green line on chart). The decrease in the CHAIN data for London in 2017, which shows a different trend from the street count data, may be due to fewer people being willing to connect with outreach workers. Data for Q3 2018 shows a sharp increase over Q3 2017, although full year data is not yet available.

Trends in rough sleeping in England (2010=100)

Trends in rough sleeping in England

Note: The chart shows street count data gathered by local authorities and assembled by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG, formerly DCLG) for England, London and Westminster, together with the separate Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) data for London. CHAIN data is for corresponding financial years, so for example 2010 data is for 2010/11.

This increase in rough sleeping at the national level and across London has happened despite efforts by local authorities. In fact, the number of preventative cases has risen over the same period, but this response has failed to stem the increase in rough sleeping, or wider homelessness.

During the 2000s, rough sleeping remained roughly constant or falling (see chart below).[2] It then increased sharply from 2010. The basis for collecting data on rough sleeping changed in 2010, so direct comparison of current data with absolute totals before 2010 may be misleading. Nevertheless, the trends within the two distinct periods – before 2010 and after 2010 – can be assessed, since the methodology within each period was the same. Changes in methodology cannot account for the stark contrast between the largely stable or falling levels in the 2000s and the rapid increase since 2010.

Contrast in trends in rough sleeping pre-2010 and 2010 onwards

Contrast in trends in rough sleeping pre-2010 and 2010 onwards

Sources: 2005 to 2008 collated from Audit Commission data. Summer 2010 onwards DCLG/MHCLG data consistent with previous charts. Chart based on the one here:


[1] Source: MHCLG data. The CHAIN data base shows a similar increase for London. However this is measuring something different – the number of separately identified people sleeping rough over the course of a year. It is also in practice more focussed on inner London Boroughs. There two data sets are thus showing different things but the trend of increasing rough sleeping in London is clear from both, with the exception of CHAIN data from 2017.

[2] The Homelessness Monitor