Methods used by the UK Government to estimate the number of people sleeping rough in England on any given night have been criticised by campaigners, after new figures obtained through the Freedom of Information Act found that the true number is five-times greater than official estimates.
The new data reveals that 28,000 people were recorded by councils as sleeping rough over 12 months, of which nearly 25,000 were in England.
The next official rough sleeping statistics aren’t due to be released until Thursday, but the latest data-set from 2018 showing that 4,677 people were found sleeping rough on one night have been used by Ministers to argue that rough sleeping in England is falling.
Homelessness fell by more than half (52%) under the last Labour government, before rising again under the Tory-led coalition and have now reached record levels.
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of the homeless charity Crisis, said: “Rough sleeping is the most brutal form of homelessness but we still do not have a clear picture of how many people are forced to sleep on our streets throughout the year.
“While the current government statistics on rough sleeping are a useful snapshot, based on counting people seen on one night, this cannot hope to accurately reflect the real scale of the problem.”
John Healey MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Housing, described the new figures as “shameful” and has written to Sir David Norgrove of the UK Statistics Authority requesting an investigation into the accuracy of the Government’s rough sleeping statistics.
“These figures expose the shameful scale of rough sleeping on our country’s streets”, he said.
“They also confirm that the Government’s own published statistics are seriously misleading and an unreliable undercount of the number of people sleeping rough.
“The Conservatives can’t begin to fix the problem when they won’t admit the scale of it. Ministers should replace these discredited statistics and adopt Labour’s plan to end rough sleeping for good.”
A Government spokesperson said: “We’re committed to eliminating rough sleeping by the end of the Parliament and our efforts have already led to the first nationwide fall in a decade.
“We’re confident our independently verified snapshot provides a good estimate of the numbers of people sleeping rough on a given night.
“This year we will give nearly half a billion pounds to councils and charities to support homelessness and rough sleeping services and get people off the streets for good.”
The full transcript of Mr Healey’s letter to the UK Statistics Authority can be found below.
Dear Sir David
New data obtained from local authorities under the Freedom of Information Act have been published today by the BBC suggesting 28,000 people were sleeping rough across the UK over 12 months, of which nearly 25,000 were in England.
The Government’s own figures, as published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in the latest publication ‘Rough Sleeping Statistics: Autumn 2018, England’, declare that the total number of people counted or estimated to be sleeping rough was just 4,677. You’ll be aware that this data is gathered each year on a single night in the autumn.
In light of the new figures published today, it is clear that the use of the Government’s own figures as the sole official measure of rough sleeping is seriously misleading as it dramatically undercounts the number of people sleeping rough.
You will know the long-standing concern about the Government’s rough sleeping statistics, including from expert organisations and charities. For example, in 2018 the charity Crisis commissioned research which calculated that the number of people sleeping rough in England is more than double what Government statistics suggest.
The UKSA’s own work in this area confirmed in 2015 that these rough sleeping statistics do not meet the standards required of National Statistics – trustworthiness, quality and value.
The Government’s rough sleeping statistics are the sole statistics produced by Government on rough sleeping so they are naturally and inevitably assumed by the public to be an accurate portrayal of the scale of rough sleeping.
This is clearly not the case, as the statistics are an unreliable undercount and are an unsound basis for public policy-making or debate.
I would be grateful if you would investigate the flaws in these figures and how the Government’s statistics could be improved so they better capture the level of rough sleeping in our country.
With good wishes.
John Healey MP