People sleeping on our streets are the human face of failed policy
Rough sleeping in England is rising. Newly released statistics this week add to the overwhelming evidence that more and more people are finding themselves with no other option but sleep on our streets.
During September this year 8,442 people were sleeping rough in England – up by 27% on the same time last year. This means, heading into autumn, 3,418 people were on the streets on any given night.
These figures are higher than the annual rough sleeping count of 3,069 from Autumn 2022 which is a snapshot figure derived from counts carried out on a single night or estimates provided by local authorities. As such it can only be considered a minimum estimate.
But while these are not official statistics – and come with a warning that they are a ‘less robust estimate of people sleeping rough’ compared to the official rough sleeping snapshot – they paint a worrying picture, with more people clearly being forced into desperate situations. Because we know that more people on the street means more people will be in harm’s way. The shocking and sad reality is that people sleeping rough are 17 times more likely to be a victim of violence and 15 times more likely to suffer verbal abuse than the general public. Yet measures intended to address rough sleeping in cities and towns also only serve to marginalise and stigmatise people – driving them further from getting the help they need and often making their situation worse.
We also know increasing levels of rough sleeping are not inevitable. The response to the Covid-19 pandemic showed good policy makes a difference, with the Everyone In initiative helping bring down the numbers of people forced to sleep on the streets, through providing shelter to anyone who was sleeping rough or at risk of doing so at the time. This approach is in stark contrast to recent government proposals that are seeking to criminalise rough sleeping by the back door and will only push people further away from support.
Before Christmas this year Crisis is publishing new research providing the most recent and in-depth analysis of people’s experiences of rough sleeping and its impact. It makes for hard and upsetting reading but shines a much-needed light on these new statistics – because it is all too easy to forget that behind every one of these numbers is a person. A son, a daughter, a mum or dad.
As Christmas draws near, we need to remind ourselves that people forced to sleep rough are the most visible, most acute, symptom of a systemic crisis. Symptomatic of a housing and homelessness system that has been neglected by successive governments for far too long. Symptomatic of failed policy, and proof that the chronic shortage of truly affordable housing, compounded by the three-year freeze on housing benefit, have hit those on lowest incomes the hardest.
Christmas is a time for giving. Commitments from the Government to build the 90,000 new social-rented homes we need to address the housing crisis, along with uprating housing benefit with immediate effect would be most welcome.
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