New figures show homelessness in England soaring to decade high

More people are sleeping rough on the streets of England than at any point this decade, with numbers rocketing 73% since 2014, new figures show.

Local authorities estimated there were around 4,751 rough sleepers on a single night in autumn 2017, according to data from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

It marks another steep rise from the year before, up 15% from 2016 to the highest point since comparable records began in 2010.

In autumn 2014 the figure was nearly three-quarters lower, at 2,744.

Homelessness charities condemned the trend as a "catastrophe" while calling on the Government to step up its work to end destitution.

Rough sleeping continues to be most rife in London, where more than 1,137 people were recorded last year - the first time it has crept into four figures.

The prosperous borough of Westminster remained the worst affected council area in the country, with 217 people estimated to be on its streets.

Further north in Camden, there was a 647% spike - making it the third highest problem borough in England - up from 17 in 2016 to 127 last year.

In its annual report, the Government estimated that 14% of rough sleepers were women (653) and 16% were EU nationals from outside the UK (730).

Polly Neate, chief executive of homelessness charity Shelter, said: "These figures expose the worst pain inflicted by our housing crisis.

"We have failed as a society when so many people are forced to sleep rough."

In the north-east of England, there was a 13% rise in rough sleeping from 45 in 2016 to 51 people last year and a 39% rise in the north-west, from 313 to 434.

Yorkshire and the Humber rose 20% from 172 to 207, the East Midlands was up 23% from 255 to 313 and the West Midlands slightly increasing by 2% from 289 to 295.

The east of England also witnessed a fractional rise of 2%, from 604 in autumn 2016 to 615 last year, while the south-east rose 17% from 956 to 1,119 and the south-west went from 536 to 580.

Chief executive of the charity Crisis, Jon Sparkes, said: "It is truly a catastrophe that in a country as prosperous as this, more and more people are finding themselves forced to sleep in dangerous and freezing conditions, when we have evidence to show how the situation could be turned around.

"While we warmly welcome the Government’s pledges to tackle rough sleeping, including a Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Taskforce, now that we know the solutions to end rough sleeping for good we’re calling on the Government to take swift action to tackle the problem and fix it once and for all."

An MHCLG spokesman said: "No one should ever have to sleep rough. That’s why this Government is committed to halving rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminating it altogether by 2027.

"To break the homelessness cycle once and for all, we are providing over £1 billion of funding, supporting rough sleepers with the most complex needs through a new Housing First approach and bringing in the most ambitious legislation in decades that will mean people get the support they need earlier.

"In addition, a new cross-Government taskforce supported by a panel of experts will drive forward a new strategy that will make life on the streets a thing of the past."

Lord Bird, founder of The Big Issue magazine, said: "These alarm bell-ringing figures show the urgent need for action on rough sleeping.

"It’s clear we’ll have to do something radical to prevent more people becoming homeless.

"Government needs to get serious about taking long-term measures to prevent poverty.

"That means stopping the brutal cuts to local councils’ budgets, which lead to more and more people slipping through the cracks in the system."

- Press Association

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