Is homelessness increasing or decreasing?

Homelessness in England has increased a lot in recent years.

Although there are uncertainties in data, several independent data sets, including various surveys and data from the healthcare system, all show a pattern of large increases in rough sleeping in recent years. The diversity of sources and the scale of the increases shown mean it is possible to be confident of the overall trend, even though individual sets of data are subject to uncertainties.

Data from the Ministry of Communities Housing and Local Government shows that for every 10 people sleeping rough in 2010 there are now 24. The percentage change from 2010 to 2019 is approximately similar for England as a whole, London and Westminster.

This data shows rough sleeping in England to have decreased over the last two years, although remaining above levels found as recently as 2016. This is clearly welcome. However, the data is uncertain. There have been changes in how some Local Authorities collect data, which is anyway only intended to be a snapshot. The chair of the UK statistics Authority (UKSA) has stated that the official figures for 2018 should not be used to make claims that rough sleeping in England has declined until the government has addressed concerns about methodology.[2]

It is any case not possible to be confident of a downward trend on the basis of the last two years’ data. What is clear is that rough sleeping has increased enormously since 2010, and a great deal of work is needed to meet the Government’s goal of eliminating rough sleeping.

The latest data shows a continuing increase in rough sleeping in Westminster, where The Connection operates.

Further evidence on trends 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 since 2010 (dotted green line on chart). The CHAIN showed a continuing increase in 2018/9. Data is not yet available for the whole of 2019/20.

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.

During the 2000s, rough sleeping remained roughly constant or falling (see chart below). 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:

Trends in healthcare demand from rough sleepers

Healthcare data gives additional evidence on the increase in rough sleeping and its consequences. The need for healthcare for those with no fixed address (a group that closely overlaps with rough sleepers) has risen sharply in recent years, increasing by a factor of about 3.5 since 2010/11. This is consistent with the observed rise in rough sleeping. However healthcare needs show an even greater increase than numbers of rough sleepers, which may indicate deteriorating health among rough sleepers. In addition to the harm to rough sleepers themselves this represents an increasing burden on an already overstretched NHS.

Reproduced from the Guardian
Reproduced from The Guardian, 20.02.2019


[1] Source: MHCLG data. The CHAIN data base shows a similar increase for London.