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‘Barely breaking even’: the experience and impact of in-work homelessness across Britain

Dr Ben Sanders, Senior Research Officer

Homelessness ruins lives, it is dangerous, isolating, and holds back the potential of all who experience it. Yet, hidden in plain sight, in our offices, coffee shops and factory floors, are people who are homeless despite having a job.

Our new research, published yesterday, casts a light on the experiences of those very people who are working but do so without the comforts of home. It shows the true nature and human costs of a society where low wages, unpredictable and insecure work create and sustain homelessness.

In the last 12 months, almost a quarter of people (22%) coming forward for homelessness assistance at English councils were in fact working. Sadly, working while experiencing homelessness is no longer a rarity.

Rather than a job being a route out of homelessness or preventing it in the first place, the report explores how poorly paid, insecure work – alongside a lack of affordable housing – is actually leaving people trapped in homelessness.

Based on a survey of 250 employers, and in-depth accounts of people who were working and experiencing homelessness, our research details just how hard it is to maintain a job without a place to call home. Taken-for-granted everyday tasks such as eating, commuting, sleeping and personal hygiene become so difficult. People sleeping in cars and vans, on sofas, or on the street struggled to cook proper meals, and some resorted to washing in public toilets. This is not acceptable.


A participant shares where he sleeps - in a van. 

The stigma and shame associated with homelessness often meant people concealed their situation. People were fearful of what would happen if bosses and colleagues found out, and some did lose their jobs. Concerns about hygiene, punctuality and the need for a permanent address on contracts were all given for reasons for being let go.

While there were examples of positive support, the cumulative effect of these difficulties had a detrimental impact on people’s health, mental well-being, and relationships. It made trying to earn more or find a better job harder.

It also made the search for a permanent home more difficult. Rental properties were out of reach due to increasing rents, alongside landlord and agent reluctance to let people receive benefits and those on insecure work contracts.

All this is compounded further by the fact that four out of 10 employers would consider letting an employee go because they were homeless. Examples did exist of companies providing support to their employees, either via time off or loans to find a home. However, there remains a need to educate employers and expand their understanding of homelessness alongside the support they can give. Opportunities exist to prevent and address homelessness in the workplace and it’s vital that each and every one of us play our part if we’re going to end it for good.

Encouragingly, it was clear that employers wanted to learn more and know what to do. That is why alongside this report we are producing a Best Practice Guide and employer’s toolkit in early 2022 to help improve understanding and what needs to be put in place to support people at risk of and experiencing homelessness.

Homelessness can be a devastating experience and what this report shows is the significant reform that needs to occur to improve pay, support at work and investment in affordable housing options.

Doing this will ensure that work provides people with the ability to build a better life in a home of their own and bring an end to the indignity of homelessness.

You can watch this video which reflects on the experiences of being in-work while homeless.



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