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Number of rough sleepers in England rises for sixth successive year

Latest official figures show an estimated 4,134 people were forced to sleep outside in 2016, up 16% on the previous year.


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Number of rough sleepers in England rises for sixth successive year” was written by Patrick Butler Social policy editor, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 25th January 2017 10.11 UTC

The number of people sleeping rough in England has risen for the sixth year in a row, according to the latest official figures.

An estimated 4,134 people bedded down outside in 2016, according to the snapshot estimate, an increase of 16% on the previous year’s figure of 3,569, and more than double the 2010 figure.

London accounted for 23% of the England total (960), down slightly from 26% the previous year, with the borough of Westminster (260 cases) recording the highest number of rough sleepers in both the capital and the country.

After Westminster, the highest incidences of rough sleeping were recorded in Brighton and Hove (144), Cornwall (99), Manchester (78), Luton (76), Bristol (74), Croydon (68), Redbridge (60), Bedford (59) and Birmingham (55).

Jon Sparkes, the chief executive of homelessness charity Crisis, said: “The number of people sleeping on our streets continues to rise at an appalling rate. Behind these statistics are thousands of desperate people, sleeping in doorways, bin shelters, stations and parks – anywhere they can find to stay safe and escape the elements.

“Rough sleeping ruins lives, leaving people vulnerable to violence and abuse, and taking a dreadful toll on their mental and physical health. Our recent research has shown how rough sleepers are 17 times more likely to be victims of violence. This is no way for anyone to live.”

The rough sleeping statistics come amid rising concern around rising homelessness in England, fuelled by insecure tenancies and rising rents, benefit cuts and shortages of affordable housing in many parts of the country.

local authority estimates

There are also fears that widespread local authority cuts to housing support for vulnerable tenants will increase the numbers of people forced to sleep rough.

The government is supporting a private member’s bill, which will oblige councils to make reasonable attempts to prevent residents becoming homeless. However, charities and local authorities have questioned whether government funding of £48m over three years to help implement the bill is sufficient.

UK nationals made up the biggest share of the total rough-sleeping figure, with 17% from EU states. Women made up 12% of rough sleepers. People under 25 accounted for 7% of the total.

Rough sleepers are defined for the purposes of official counts as people sleeping, about to bed down or bedded down on the street, in doorways, parks, tents, bus shelters, cars, barns, sheds and other places not designed for habitation.

It does not include people in hostels or shelters or formal temporary accommodation. The housing charity Shelter has estimated that more than 250,000 people in England are homeless or lack a permanent place to live.

Rough sleeping counts graphic

Many campaigners believe that the official rough sleeper figures are most likely an underestimate. The separate Chain database, which records the numbers of people in London seen rough sleeping by outreach workers, last June reported 8,096 rough sleepers in the capital in 2015-16.

The robustness of official government rough sleeper figures was questioned just over a year ago by the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA). It ruled that they lacked “trustworthiness”, were vulnerable to political manipulation, and did not meet the quality standard to be national statistics.

The UKSA noted that the statistics were based on either a single one-night snapshot “count” of rough sleeping in a particular council area, or an estimate based on intelligence supplied by local charities, police and homelessness outreach teams.

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The latest statistical release shows that 47 out of 326 councils in England conducted rough sleeping counts (reporting 28% of the rough sleeper total) and 279 relied on estimates, accounting for 2,997 rough sleepers (28%).

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