Four Walls respond to the recently published Government statistics on rough sleeping in England for 2017.
The recently published statistics by the Department of Communities and Local Government on homelessness in the UK reveal the continued neglect of the crisis, as figures rise for another consecutive year. Figures reveal that rough sleeping in particular has continued to rise over the past seven years, increasing by over 100% since 2010. The fact that on one particular night last Autumn, there were 4,134 rough sleepers counted and estimated, is of great concern to Four Walls. This figure is up 565 (16%) from 2015, and up 134% since the autumn of 2010.
Whilst these numbers are shocking, unfortunately we must address several issues with how these statistics are collected. An obvious issue is that statistics collected on one particular evening provide merely a snapshot of the problem. Further concerns lie in the autonomy of local authorities to choose whether to provide the figure based on either an actual count, or on an estimate. This therefore means that for those authorities who use estimates for Rough Sleeping, numbers are likely to be an undercount, thus tainting the value of ‘official statistics’. Of similar concern are the definitions used by local authorities who ‘count’ rough sleepers. These definitions do not include individuals forced to sleep in hostels, shelters, campsites or other sites used for recreational purposes. The government depends on statistics in order to prioritise and formulate strategies, yet vulnerable people are being neglected due to flawed methodological approaches by local authorities which produce statistics that ‘do not currently meet the standard to be National Statistics’.
Nonetheless, at Four Walls we are, unfortunately, not surprised by this increase as the government continues to turn its back on the severity of homelessness, and especially on rough sleeping. Not only is there a significant underfunding of homelessness services across England, resources are also not being channelled into effective programmes or prevention strategies.
According to a recent publication by the National Audit Office (NAO), homelessness only received £1.15 billion a year. Of more concern however, is that more than three-quarters of this sum (£845 million) was spent on temporary accommodation. It is therefore not difficult to see the problems that this ratio presents for actively taking people off the streets, and indeed ensuring that they are not forced to be there in the first instance. This high proportion of spending on temporary accommodation represents a very flawed system. We believe the funding mechanisms of this system simply serves to support the cycles of poverty and homelessness by ignoring the importance of prevention methods and more long-term solutions to get people off the streets. The whole ineffectiveness of structures surrounding homelessness are attested by research conducted by the University of York which found that ‘people who experience homelessness for three months or longer cost on average ￡4,298 per person to NHS services, £2,099 per person for mental health services and £11,991 per person in contact with the criminal justice system’. In fact, the head of the NAO has even condemned the government's strategy on homelessness in light of it being a visibly growing problem, describing its recent performance as not being value for money.
This is why we believe that our work is now more important than it has ever been – to hold policy makers accountable for the scale of the crisis and demand tangible action. Prevention is a crucial component to ending the cyclical nature of poverty and rough sleeping – and issues such as the lack of housing, lack of affordable housing, and the ‘last minute’ nature of access to support for individuals on the brink of homelessness should be of high priority to authorities. We are hopeful that the newly passed Homeless Reduction Act 2017 will go some way to ensuring that local authorities are held accountable to their residents and will force councils to take greater responsibility for preventing homelessness in the first instance.
Moving forward, at Four Walls we believe in the necessity of providing a support system through charity run residences in order to provide the structures needed by those sleeping rough to get back on their feet and stay off of the streets. Alongside this also needs to be a radical change of thinking by policy makers in how they view rough sleepers. Comments made by Windsor councillor Simon Dudley in regards to rough sleepers in the Windsor area with the upcoming royal wedding only reinforce the massively flawed attitudes which inform decision making.
Over the upcoming months we shall be in discussions with local councillors, particularly in the Camden area in order to discuss what services are needed to help protect rough sleepers and help them off of the streets. We will continue our first response support to those who are sleeping rough and will extend our outreach services to two days a week. We look forward to working with local community groups to raise awareness of rough sleeping in London and support our services.
 Department for Communities and Local Government, ‘Rough Sleeping Statistics Autumn 2016, England, January 25, 2017. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/585713/Rough_Sleeping_Autumn_2016_Statistical_Release.pdf
 UK Statistics Authority, ‘Assessment of compliance with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics Assessment Report 320 December 2015 Statistics on Homelessness and Rough Sleeping in England’, December, 2015. https://www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/publication/statistics-on-homelessness-and-rough-sleeping-in-england-department-for-communities-and-local-government/
 Nicholas Pleace and Dennis P. Culhane, ‘Better than Cure?’ March, 2016. https://www.crisis.org.uk/media/20680/crisis_better_than_cure_2016.pdf
 National Audit Office, ‘Homelessness’, September 13, 2017. https://www.nao.org.uk/press-release/homelessness/