Rough sleeping soars by 41% on Parliament's doorstep, stark new figures show

Posted On: 
31st January 2019

Rough sleeping in Westminster has jumped by 41% in the past year despite an outcry over two high-profile deaths at the door of Parliament, bleak new government figures have revealed.

A homeless man pictured in Westminster.
Credit: 
PA

An additional 89 people are now sleeping rough in the borough - home to the Houses of Parliament and Whitehall - compared to last year.

Westminster has the highest number of rough sleepers of any borough in England and Wales, with 306 now sleeping on the streets at the latest count.

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That figure is more than double the number for London's neighbouring Camden, the next borough on the list, where 141 people were counted as sleeping rough.

MPs expressed horror before Christmas last year when a 43-year-old homeless man died after being found unconscious in the underpass between Parliament and Westminster underground station.

That followed another death in Westminster tube station just months earlier.

Hitting out at the figures, Labour MP Jess Phillips told PoliticsHome: "The homelessness crisis in the UK - especially in London and Birmingham - is a national crisis that is being handled as if it is minor issue.

"These figures were totally predictable and therefore avoidable and the government fails to see that this isn't just on their watch - it is their doing.

"Their welfare policies and cuts to councils have caused this: that is a burning injustice."

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran - who has launched a Commons bid to scrap the Georgian-era Vagrancy Act criminalising rough sleeping - meanwhile told PoliticsHome: "The fact that thousands of people sleep rough every night, not least on the doorsteps of Parliament, shames our whole country. It is a human crisis of national proportions."

She added: “Even worse, hundreds of homeless people die each year, as the tragic death of Gyula Remes in Westminster just before Christmas reminded us."

Ms Moran urged ministers to tackle the problem by backing her bill, pumping more money into social housing and boosting accommodation and support services for people struggling on the streets.

Cllr Ian Adams, Cabinet Member for public protection at Westminster City Council, said: “As these latest figures show we face a growing challenge to help those sleeping rough in our city. Westminster City Council provides the only 24-hour, 7 day-a-week outreach service in the country, investing £6.5m a year.

"Working with our partners we make sure more than 8 out of 10 new rough sleepers do not spend a second night out.

"However, this is an increasing national and international issue so that is why we have asked Government to work with us and our partners to tackle the increasing flow of people to our streets, not just deal with the effects on our streets."

NATIONAL PICTURE

The Government last year unveiled its strategy to wipe out rough sleeping by 2027, handing councils cash to "provide swift, bespoke interventions to rough sleepers in their area".

The latest figures show that, for the first time in eight years, England as a whole has seen a slight year-on-year dip in the number of people sleeping rough - with the movement hailed as a "step in the right direction" by the Housing Secretary.

Across the country, there were 74 fewer people sleeping rough in 2018 compared to 2017 - a 2% drop.

However, critics seized on the finding that there are now 2,909 more people sleeping rough compared to 2010.

That represents a 165% increase since the Conservatives came to office.

Shadow Housing Secretary John Healey said the latest figures were "desperately disappointing".

The Labour frontbencher added: "This new count shows that rough sleeping has more than doubled since 2010, but even these figures mask the true scale of the problem, as the Government’s numbers are well known to be flawed and a massive undercount of the true level of rough sleeping."

'STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION'

A string of charities meanwhile urged the Government to do more to tackle the problem.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of homelessness charity Crisis, said it was a "damning reflection of our society" that so many people continue to sleep rough.

Ellie White of mental health charity Mind meanhile warned: "Everyone deserves a safe, stable and appropriate place to live.

"Homelessness isn’t just the people we can see sleeping on the streets though – it’s also those staying on sofas, in hostels or temporary accommodation, so these figures are just part of the picture."

Kate Henderson of the National Housing Federation said the figures - which were published on what was expected to be the coldest day in Britain for seven years - should be a source of shame.

She said: "As a country we should be ashamed that there are thousands of people forced to sleep rough in England today, many of whom could die in the bitter winter weather.

Despite a slight drop from their peak last year, rough sleeping figures have still increased by nearly three thousand people since 2010 - that speaks for itself, nowhere near enough is being done to help people off the streets and into secure accommodation."

But Housing Secretary James Brokenshire said the Government had begun to turn the situation around.

Housing Secretary James Brokenshire said: "The number of vulnerable people sleeping on our streets has now fallen for the first time in eight years.

"But while these figures are undoubtedly a step in the right direction, I do not underestimate the task ahead in achieving our ambition of eliminating rough sleeping altogether by 2027."