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We need solutions that permanently address rough sleeping for everyone, including EU citizens

Lucy Mort

Lucy Mort

4 min read

The harsh impacts of Storm Arwen and the emergence of the Omicron variant foretell a potentially treacherous and bleak Winter for all of us, but especially for homeless people. New research showing that EU citizens are almost three times as likely to experience rough sleeping is therefore of deep concern.

No-one – no matter who they are – should be forced to be without safe shelter this Christmas.

The research from IPPR and Heriot-Watt University for the homelessness charity Crisis shows that one in 10 people experiencing homelessness, including those living in temporary accommodation, hostels and sofa-surfing, is an EU citizen.

EU-born migrants make up roughly five per cent of the overall UK population. People from the EU are disproportionately likely to be made homeless and experience rough sleeping. Understanding the reasons for this is vital if policy makers and politicians are going to ensure they keep their commitments to end rough sleeping.

A number of issues tend to create a tangled web of crises that drive homelessness. The causes for EU migrants were often similar to the wider homeless population, such as job loss or insecurity, low or no income, family and relationship breakdown, and mental health challenges. But they are also more likely to experience exploitation at work or to become destitute as a result of being barred from accessing social security. Moreover, migrants from the EU tend to be overrepresented in hospitality, cleaning and construction – industries, which have been especially hit hard by the pandemic.

We need a welfare system that is truly a universal safety net and is not contingent on receiving settled status

The EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) has consistently fallen short when it comes to protecting the rights of the most vulnerable. While grants of settled status have helped some more easily access welfare benefits, delays mean that others end up waiting for many months to access the benefits they need to resolve their homelessness.

A Polish man we spoke to said he had waited over a year and had been unable to rent a home as his passport was with the Home Office. “Right to rent” checks, carried out after the grace period in July 2021, meant he was unable to prove his entitlement to rent – consequently he was forced to live in a tent.  

Language barriers are also a prominent issue. Many people struggle to convey the (often complex) circumstances that led to their homelessness because they don’t have access to interpreters. One woman, who spoke limited English, had been unable to leave her abusive partner due to a litany of insufficient support from services. Neither the police, housing department nor women’s refuge provided her with an interpreter, meaning that she was stuck in a violent and untenable situation.

As a perfect storm brews, with delays in the EUSS and Omicron threatening the shelters that are a vital last resort for many, the government must not sidestep the bold action that is necessary to tackle homelessness.

 In the short term, ensuring that people are brought off the streets and housed is vital to avoid needless tragedies this winter. But looking ahead, we need to see solutions that permanently address the issue of rough sleeping for everyone, including EU citizens who have made – and, in most cases, intend to continue making – the UK their home.  

We need a welfare system that is truly a universal safety net, one that can catch everyone when adversity hits and that is not contingent on receiving settled status.

For people who do not speak English, we need to provide adequate language support. If someone cannot convey their situation to a public servant, then interpreters must be made available to support them to do so. This is fundamental to being able to effectively respond to the complex issues that lead to homelessness. Taking these steps will ensure that no-one is forced to sleep on the street or in conditions that are precarious and unsafe this winter or in the future.


Lucy Mort is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).

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