Rough sleeping in London branded ‘catastrophic’ after hitting record high

The number of rough sleepers on London’s streets has reached a record high with an increase of almost a fifth in a year, new data shows.

Some 8,855 people slept rough in the capital between April 2018 and March 2019, according to data from the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (Chain).

This is an increase of 18% from the 7,484 people recorded by outreach workers the previous year, research commissioned by the Greater London Authority found.

A total of 62% of those recorded over the last year were sleeping rough for the first time.

There were 5,529 new rough sleepers over the past year – a rise of 24% and equivalent to 15 people a day finding themselves on the streets for the first time.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan called the rise a “national disgrace” and said City Hall had doubled its rough sleeping budget and outreach team numbers.

He added: “But the figures show more and more people continue to be forced onto the streets by the Government’s policies – from welfare cuts to a lack of investment in social housing.

“This includes non-UK nationals who, thanks to a woeful lack of action from ministers, support services are often unable to help.

“This cannot be ignored any longer – Government must urgently act to resolve long-standing immigration issues and provide access to accommodation and employment, if we are to ever end this crisis.”

Just under half (49%) of the rough sleepers counted were from the UK, while Romanians made up the biggest non-UK nationality, accounting for 16% of the total.

The vast majority (84%) were male, while the borough with the largest number of homeless people recorded was Westminster, with 2,512 people (28% of the overall London total).

More than a third (34%) of the new rough sleepers said they had come from private rented accommodation.

Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes said: “It’s simply unforgivable that more and more people are being forced to sleep rough on our streets, facing incredible dangers every day, in large part because they cannot afford to keep their homes.

“Worse still, many of those in these devastating circumstances are living under the constant threat of being moved on, fined, or arrested under the antiquated Vagrancy Act.”

The charity is campaigning for the Government to scrap the Act, which makes rough sleeping and begging illegal in England and Wales.

A Freedom of Information request from the charity showed more than 1,000 people were prosecuted under the Act last year.

Responding to the Chain data, Labour’s London Assembly housing spokesman, Tom Copley, said: “The reasons why homelessness, including rough sleeping, has been rising since 2010 are not a mystery.

“The Government’s shameful and catastrophic legacy of damaging welfare cuts and reforms, steep underfunding of local authorities and failure to properly invest in social housing, all continue to contribute to this avoidable crisis.”

Polly Neate, chief executive of housing charity Shelter, said: “The rising number of people sleeping rough in London paints a truly damning picture of our housing system. High rents, broken benefits and the lack of social housing options have ramped up the housing emergency, and thousands of people having to sleep on the streets in the capital is the tragic outcome.

“Ultimately you can’t solve homelessness without homes. These figures show we need urgent action. We need to see major investment in new social homes, and we are calling for the Government to build three million over the next 20 years.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Victoria Jones / PA Wire.