Rough sleeping is increasing: what can be done?
Despite WLM’s successful interventions to help individual homeless people rebuild their lives and move off the streets, rough sleeping across the UK has continued to rise. The latest Government figures, released in January 2018, indicated a rise of 15% on the previous year – with an overall rise of 169% since 2010.
During January 2018 we assessed 56 new clients. We’ve been looking at the people who came to us for help last month, what is causing this increase and what can be done about it.
As ever, the reasons for our clients' homelessness were varied, and individual. Personal tragedies can often be a trigger; last month we supported one man whose son had died, prompting him to come to London looking for work, and a new start. Another man had lost his accommodation whilst he was in prison and came to us when he was released, needing help finding a new place to live. One woman was accused of dealing drugs and evicted from her home. Another man had an injunction preventing him from going to his family home after he had behaved violently there. We are working tirelessly with these people and many others – finding appropriate accommodation for them to support them off the streets.
Economic reasons #1: Low wages
There were also too many other people who found themselves to be homeless, often for economic reasons. 22% of the people who came to us in January were engaged in paid work of some sort. They were all either not working enough hours or not receiving enough income to enable them to find affordable accommodation.
Two women were working in shops, one man on a construction site, another person as a carer. One man was sleeping in a local park and working as a rickshaw driver and another as a delivery cyclist. The shortage of affordable accommodation in London is a key factor here. Whereas salaries have risen by 68% over the past 20 years, average house prices have risen by an astonishing 259%, making accommodation costs simply too high for people on very low incomes. Implementing the London Living Wage, looking at rent controls or the provision of more social housing would alleviate this.
Economic reasons #2: unemployment
A similar proportion of our new clients (22%) were looking for work. These had either been working and lost their jobs, or had recently moved to London in the search for work. Either way, they weren’t entitled to claim housing benefit and were consequently rough sleeping whilst looking for work.
23% of the homeless people who came to us for assistance last month were refugees. Some of these had been in the UK for a while but had originally come from countries including Eritrea, Iran, Palestine and Sudan. They had usually been sent to live in other parts of the country while their claims for asylum were being assessed but now they were granted leave to remain, they have come to London to look for work and to be with their communities.
As a signatory of the UN convention on Human Rights, Britain grants asylum for those fleeing persecution. Unfortunately this does not necessarily mean they have any entitlements to either benefits or housing; consequently a disproportionate amount of refugees become homeless whilst they look for work. Removing the status of ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ which is often imposed on those granted leave to remain would also alleviate street homelessness.
Action and advocacy
WLM is committed to action and we will continue working to do all we can to help individual homeless people back into accommodation. We also play a role in networks such as Homeless Link, Housing Justice and groups such as the Joint Public Issues Team who advocate on a political level to address some of these structural issues.
We need to reverse the rise of rough sleeping - homelessness is not inevitable!
Mark Palframan, WLM Fundraising Manager