The number of people sleeping rough in the capital has surged to a record high, with more than 100 individuals sleeping on the streets for the first time each week, according to new figures.

New data from the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN) reveals that 8,855 people slept rough in the capital in 2018/19, a rise of nearly a fifth (18 per cent) in 12 months.

In the last 12 months there have been 5,529 new rough sleepers on the capital’s streets, which is the equivalent to 15 people a day – or more than 100 a week – finding themselves sleeping rough for the first time. 

Over a third of these are people who have lost private rented accommodation, according to the figures.

It comes as campaigners called for the Vagrancy Act, which makes rough sleeping and begging illegal, to be repealed after new figures showed there had been an increase in its use.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, which is leading that campaign, said it was “simply unforgivable” that more people were being forced to sleep rough on our streets, facing “incredible dangers every day, in large part because they cannot afford to keep their homes”.

He added: “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

“This cannot go on. We know with the right safety nets in place – like a housing benefit system which truly covers the costs of renting – we can tackle the roots causes and stop people becoming homeless in the first place.”

Rick Henderson, chief executive of Homeless Link, said the figures reflected the fact that outreach teams and frontline homelessness services were working under an ever-increasing amount of pressure with the rise in the number of people needing their support.  

“Because we are failing to tackle the root causes of homelessness and the ongoing impact of cuts to homelessness services we are not sufficiently preventing people arriving on the streets in the first place or able to effectively support people to move on from homelessness for good," he said.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, described the rise in rough sleeping across the country and in London as a "national disgrace", and said he had doubled his rough sleeping budget and that City Hall was helping "record numbers" of rough sleepers.

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 cannot be ignored any longer – government must urgently act to resolve longstanding immigration issues and provide access to accommodation and employment, if we are to ever end this crisis."

Across England, rough sleeping has surged by 165 per cent in the past eight years, with 4,677 people recorded to have been sleeping rough last year, according to government figures – although concerns have been raised that this data underestimates the scale of the problem.

A government spokesperson said: “The number of vulnerable people sleeping on our streets has fallen for the first time in eight years, but today’s figures show there is further to go in London if we are to end rough sleeping for good.

“That’s why we have provided the capital with over £13m through our Rough Sleeping Initiative - providing an estimated 760 more bed spaces and 190 specialist support staff this year alone.

“Councils across London are also doing good work to help those sleeping rough from outside the UK, backed by government investment."

Source: The Independent