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Youth rough sleeping figures in London increased ‘dramatically’ during 2020

New research from a youth homelessness charity finds an 80% rise in under-26s sleeping rough between April and June 2020, driven by a ‘huge increase in youth unemployment’.

26/04/21

Youth rough sleeping figures in London increased ‘dramatically’ during 2020

A youth homelessness charity has found that the numbers of vulnerable young people sleeping rough increased ‘dramatically’ in 2020, despite significant Government intervention.

Research from Centrepoint found that between April and June 2020, 449 under-26s were seen sleeping rough – an increase of 80 per cent from the same period the previous year.

Though this number dropped by the end of 2020 – in October-December, 300 under 26s were seen sleeping rough – numbers remained higher than the same quarter in 2019, despite Government interventions.

Since the UK went into its first lockdown in March 2020, the Government has channelled funding of over £700 million to help prevent homelessness and provide emergency accommodation for rough sleepers as part of the Everyone In scheme.

Alongside the specific measures for rough sleepers, the Government imposed an eviction ban as well as six-month notice periods, except in certain cases such as serious antisocial behaviour and domestic violence.

Centrepoint says that whilst these interventions have resulted in a significant reduction in people sleeping rough over 2020, levels are still up considerably since 2010.

The research also found that young people have been hit particularly hard economically in the pandemic by the pressures placed on retail and hospitality industries, with 582,000 young people aged 16-24 being unemployed in November 2020-January 2021, an increase of 76,000 (or 15%) from the same period the year before.

The youth claimant count has risen even more sharply, with Centrepoint reporting increases in every region of the UK.

Between February 2020 and February 2021 there was a 117% increase in the benefit claimant count among 16-24 year olds across the UK. The charity says in London the rise was “particularly shocking”, with the claimant count nearly trebling in number from the previous year.

The charity’s helpline also saw a record number of calls across the past year, with 33% more calls than the year before.

Nearly one in five (17.7%) young people who provided information about their housing situation when calling the helpline in the last year were rough sleeping at the time of their call, the charity said.

Due to reductions in face-to-face support, Centrepoint says young people have faced “significant barriers” to making formal homelessness applications, adding that young people without any money to call the council or without access to phones have faced additional problems in accessing support.

The charity said its helpline staff have even seen young people who should qualify for priority need status, such as pregnant young women, being turned away by the council without receiving appropriate support.

The pandemic was also shown to have a negative impact on mental health for many homeless young people, with over half (54.1%) of young people at Centrepoint reported to have a mental health need pre-COVID. The charity says that since the first lockdown in March 2020, wait times for its mental health services have significantly increased due to a 40% increase in demand.

As a result of the findings, the charity is urging the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to provide long-term funding for youth-specific accommodation across the country, including specialist emergency accommodation, as well as produce a centralised directory of housing options and homelessness services for each local authority.

Reflecting on the research, Deputy Service Manager at Centrepoint Emily Cretch, said there was still a long way to go before life returns to normal.

“While there is a light at the end of the tunnel, the last year has taught us the fragility of life and the importance of supporting those who are more vulnerable than we are. It is essential that the Government ring-fences funding for youth specific accommodation and services to give our young people a fighting chance of having a job and a home as they move on into adult life.”

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