Why is homelessness increasing?

No one factor can explain why homelessness is increasing. The reasons for homelessness are complex and intersecting.

Generally, the lack of affordable housing is the root cause factor of homelessness for many. This has largely been impacted by the cost of living crisis.

Additionally, this is worse for people sleeping rough by a particular shortage of suitable types of accommodation, and little support for people trying to transition away from the streets, including a lacking coordination in service delivery.

For example, many people we work with are struggling with addition, poor health and/or immigration issues in addition to the housing situcation. Few services offer support in all these areas and often fail to address all these factors as a contributor to someone’s time on the streets.

The Cost of Living Crisis and Homelessness

pie chart showing renting issues as the leading cause of homelessness, along with other factors
We should note that it’s normally a combination of personal, social and structural factors that lead to homelessness. The above our just common contributors. Discover more here.

Note: Data from Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities

Crisis have found that 1.7 million households could be pushed into homelessness this year. This is most likely to affect low income homes as it’s predicated that 133% of their income would be needed to cover basics such as rent, food and energy by the new year (on average). This comes as energy bills are predicted to cost more than ever, increasing nearly 90% in our Adelaide Street centre alone.

People in high-cost rent areas, such as Westminster and wider London are most at risk of homelessness because of this.

Additionally, as house prices rise renting costs are likely to continue rising, leading to more people experiencing homelessness. The lack of affordable housing affects the rented sector by pricing out of the market many, especially the young, who would otherwise buy, increasing pressure on the rented sector.

Lack of affordable housing and rent

Currently, the average rent in Westminster is £2,528 with the average rental price rising by 9.4% since 2020 across London. This is occurring while wages are stable and falling in real terms.

This shows the difficulty in renting for people on lower incomes, pushing many who would otherwise be able to afford their basic needs into homelessness, regardless of their employment status. This is not only about creating “affordable homes” in the sense of providing basic low-cost accommodation, although this may play a role.

Not having enough affordable homes causes problems that affect other things. For example, people who usually move to ‘better’ homes end up stuck in cheaper ones, and this stops affordable homes from becoming available as expected.

A report from the National Audit Office found three main reasons why homelessness is different in various parts of the country. Homelessness tends to be higher in areas where more households get housing benefits, in cities that play a big role in the local or national economy (especially London), and in areas where private rents are higher and have gone up more.

What causes homelessness - Areas where a higher proportion of households receive housing benefits, Cities which take a leading role in the regional or national economy, especially London, Areas where private rents are higher and have increased more.
Causes of homelessness vary across the UK access to benefits, economic growth and rent prices are key factors.

Other local services and factors probably also play a part, even though they weren’t directly looked at in the analysis.

The problem of homes being too expensive is made worse because landlords often don’t want to rent to people who get housing benefits. This conclusion comes from both looking at the data and talking to local authorities. They said:

“We asked open questions about what was causing the increase in homelessness in their [LA’s] area. In all cases front-line staff said that the key reason why people were presenting as homeless was the end of tenancies in the private rented sector.

They said that this was due to increases in rents in the private sector, and a decline in people’s ability to pay these rents. This decline in ability to pay was said to be partly due to welfare reforms.”

Another survey of local authorities also showed that almost everyone thought ongoing changes in welfare would make homelessness worse, likely because of problems with the Universal Credit program. Reductions in housing benefit, welfare programs, and mental health services have made it harder for people to stay housed and access the support they need.

Factors specific to rough sleeping

Lack of affordability, including changes to the benefit system, appears to have boosted rough sleeping consistently. However there are other specific factors that are likely to affect rough sleeping, including:

  • The closure of hostels.
  • Reduced access to support and social care services, in part due to cuts in local authority budgets.
  • Lack of availability and co-ordination of delivery of services, for example around housing, substance abuse and       mental health conditions.
  • 80% of people sleeping rough experience problems with their mental health, drugs and/or alcohol, with corresponding support needs. This is illustrated in the chart below.

    This can a vicious cycle – people sleeping rough develop problems due to their circumstances, while those with problems are more likely to find themselves sleeping rough. Additionally, many services will refuse help to those facing complex needs due to a lack of suitable resources. The Connection at St. Martins is one of the few homelessness charities working with those with complex needs.

    Support needs of people seen sleeping rough in London 2022-23 - reasons for homelessness
    Source: Chain Report 2022/23
    Accessible support is not always available to people sleeping rough in London. This often means people our left behind or trapped in a cycle of homelessness.

    Non-UK nationals

    In London, we’re seeing a large increase in non-UK nationals sleeping rough. This increase is likely linked to restrictions that came into effect in recent years relating to migrants’ access to benefits, including housing related benefits.

    EEA citizens in particular are almost twice as likely to experience the worst forms of homelessness in comparison to the general adult population. The causes of homelessness for this group are complex and nuanced. This includes a combination individual factors, such as relationship issues with family, and systemic barriers that prevented people from accessing suitable support.

    Escaping homelessness is often made difficult by lacking support systems for people without UK nationality. You can learn more about our work with non-UK national people here.

    Join The Connection Community to stay up-to-date on our work: