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Social work campaigners demand action on 'alarming' rise in homelessness

Homeless charity Crisis says the figures are a source of ‘national shame’ while BASW England says it is ‘deeply shocked’ by the latest Government statistics revealing a 27% increase in the number of people sleeping rough in England compared to the previous year.

14/03/24

Social work campaigners demand action on 'alarming' rise in homelessness

New figures released by the government reveal the ongoing homelessness crisis in England.

The annual rough sleeping snapshot provides the government’s estimate for how many people were rough sleeping on a given night in Autumn 2023.

Figures show that 3,898 people were sleeping rough across England, an increase of 27% on the previous year. This is the second year in a row that the government has reported an increase in rough sleeping and the sharpest rise over a 12-month period since 2015. These figures further confirm that the Westminster government will fail to meet its commitment to end rough sleeping by 2024.

The number of people sleeping rough is now 61% higher than it was ten years ago and 120% higher than when data collection began in 2010.

The figures also show that street homelessness is rising among women with 568 seen to be rough sleeping last autumn, up from 464 – a rise of 22%. UK nationals remain the biggest proportion of people found to be sleeping rough (62%).

Responding to the figures, Matt Downie, Crisis Chief Executive, said the scale of rough sleeping is a source of “national shame.”

“It is a sign of extreme inequality and must prompt a rethink at the highest levels of government.

“It cannot be overstated how dehumanising sleeping on the streets is. Through our frontline services we hear directly from people who have been spat at, urinated on or attacked simply because they do not have the security of a safe home. Things have got to change.”

Due to the way the rough sleeping count is conducted these figures are likely to be an underestimate as people sleeping in hidden locations, such as on public transport, are likely to be missed.

Alongside these figures, the government has also released the latest statutory homelessness statistics for England which show that the numbers of people trapped in temporary accommodation are again at record levels.

Commenting on the figures, BASW England said it wished to remind policymakers of the critical role of social work in supporting the most vulnerable members of our society.

“Homelessness is a deeply distressing experience with severe implications for mental, emotional and physical health, in addition to broader wellbeing, safety and safeguarding issues. It is a clear indication that our society is falling short in its duty to safeguard and support those in need.”

Josh Dixon, Policy and Campaigns Officer at BASW England, will be speaking at the Shared Futures in Social Work conference in Birmingham on Monday about the new practice guidance for professionals working with people experiencing homelessness.

The pandemic saw an effort to provide emergency accommodation for 15,000 rough sleepers by May 2020 which was viewed as broadly successful. BASW England, in a statement on its website said that the latest figures “[underscore] the notion that inaction is not a result of circumstance but rather a political choice. The stark reality is that we have the means and knowledge to address this crisis, but the political will to do so remains absent.”

“The alarming rise in homelessness is not an isolated problem; it is intricately linked to systemic issues in housing policy. We echo the sentiments of charities and organisations calling for emergency action and attention to the government's failure to address the housing emergency. Furthermore, we urge a re-evaluation of eviction notice periods, with due consideration to the potential consequences on vulnerable renters being forced into homelessness.

“We cannot ignore that the trauma of homelessness goes beyond the individual, impacting the fabric of our society. If we are to be judged by how we support our most vulnerable citizens, today's statistics are a shameful testament to our collective failure. As representatives of social work and the values that underpin it, we stand committed to advocating for policies and actions that prioritise the wellbeing of all, ensuring that no one is left without a safe place to call home.

“BASW England will continue to highlight these issues and will be campaigning on key policies such as increased investment in good quality social and specialist housing as well as a review of benefits that fund the crisis which will be a key focus in our general election campaign and manifesto.”

Book your free ticket to the Shared Futures in Social Work conference (part of the COMPASS Jobs Fair) in Birmingham on Monday 18 March: https://www.compassjobsfair.com/Events/Birmingham/Book-Tickets

View the full data: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/rough-sleeping-snapshot-in-england-autumn-2023/rough-sleeping-snapshot-in-england-autumn-2023#main-findings

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