Rough sleeping ‘tragedy’ persists as figures rise for seventh year

Councils in England have been “doing everything they can” to prevent and solve homelessness despite numbers rising for the seventh year in a row.

The latest figures from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) show that there has been a 15% rise in the number of people sleeping rough in autumn 2017 compared to the same period the year before.

The LGA said the rise in homelessness was a “tragedy” which left people with very complex needs open to crime and exploitation, while housing charity Shelter related the issue to a lack of appropriate affordable homes and cuts to welfare spending.

In response, the government reasserted its promise to provide £1bn of funding to deal with homelessness, with £315m going directly to local authorities.

A spokesperson for the MHCLG said the government was committed to halving rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminating it altogether by 2027, adding that it would be supporting the development of a new cross-government taskforce to “drive forward a new strategy that will make life on the streets a thing of the past.”

Across Greater Manchester there has been a 40% increase in rough sleeping, in spite of promises by combined authority mayor Andy Burnham to end the problem by 2020.

Following the announcement of this week’s figures, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority announced that it would be providing a further £7m to increase the number of places open to rough sleepers by more than 450 places by 2020-21.

“These new figures show that Manchester, like all cities, is facing a growing challenge,” Burnham said. “But while the figures are getting worse, our response is getting better.

“Greater Manchester is pulling together and the fact that our businesses are joining the fight will help us go up a gear. Nowhere else are public, private, voluntary and faith organisations pulling together in this way to tackle one such an important issue.”

Shelter CEO, Polly Neate, commented: “Most of these people are homeless simply because they couldn’t afford to live anywhere, a situation made worse by welfare cuts.

“While the intentions of the Homelessness Reduction Act are good, it cannot fix this crisis. To do that, the government must act to build a new generation of genuinely affordable homes to rent, as well as ensuring housing benefit is fit for purpose in the short-term.”

Of the 4,751 people across the country who were counted as rough sleepers, the majority were male (86%), while 16% were EU nationals from outside the UK and a further 4% were from outside the EU.

The worst-hit authority was Westminster, where 217 people were found to be living outside of a home, although the number had dropped by 17% from 260.

In comparison, another London borough, Camden, had seen more than 600% increase, with over 100 more people sleeping rough than in 2016.

Cllr Martin Tett, LGA housing spokesperson, said: “Councils are currently housing more than 120,000 homeless children and are doing everything they can to prevent and solve homelessness, working closely with partners to place people into secure, appropriate accommodation and equip them with the skills to find work or ensure their health and wellbeing.

“If we want to end homelessness then councils need to be given the powers and funding to adapt welfare reforms and begin building affordable homes again.”

Tett went on to point out the upcoming local government finance settlement as an opportunity for the government to deal with the issue.

Top image: Steve Parsons PA Wire

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