Homelessness is on the rise across the UK, with rates of rough sleeping having risen by an alarming 134% since 2010. Shelter statistics suggest as many as one in 200 adults in the UK is homeless. The social problem also disproportionately effects young people, with almost 10% having sofa-surfed for over a month.
Less than half of the 100,000 homeless 16-24 year olds who approached local councils last year received meaningful support, with only 13% deemed eligible to be housed by their local authority. There have been reports of councils housing homeless people in tents and paying for them to take trains to other local authority areas, whilst Crisis estimate 9,000 people are left sleeping rough.
With a permanent address needed to apply for benefits, and cuts leaving homeless shelters oversubscribed, the future for rough sleepers looks bleak. One in three have experienced violence and 440 people died last year whilst homeless. The life expectancy for a street sleeper is just 49.
Around 80% of homeless people report mental health problems, making it challenging for them to navigate the bureaucracy designed to help them into housing, 26% cite their mental health as a reason for their homelessness. Many rough sleepers turn to crime and substance abuse to make their plight bearable, 62.5% have misused substances and 30% committed a minor crime in the hope of spending the night in custody. This results in homeless people being funnelled into an already overstretched legal system, often exacerbating their problems.
Whilst the government’s decision to reinstate housing benefits for 18-21 year olds has been widely applauded, not all government policy towards homelessness has been quite so warmly received. Crisis expect the full roll out of universal credit 'to trigger significant increases' in homelessness. The Homelessness Reduction Act, designed to ensure that those at risk of homelessness get support 8 weeks before they become homeless, has received significant support, however there are worries that the scheme is underfunded and will face 'growing structural difficulties… securing affordable housing for their homeless applicants'.
Whilst aspects of policy designed to help the homeless have been encouraging, significant funding is needed to ensure their success. Money also needs to be allocated to mental health and legal rehabilitation services to help solve the problem. This lack of funds is also compounded by a lack of affordable housing, which limits the help councils can provide. Councils should therefore take advantage of the lifting of the cap in council borrowing to help build desperately needed affordable housing.