The causes of homelessness are complicated and varied. It isn’t just about having a roof over your head; it’s about having a place to call your own – an official address that’s essential for job hunting or claiming benefits. Stats from Homeless Link suggest that as many as 62% of single homeless people don’t even show up in official figures.
Council estimates claim that 4,132 people are sleeping rough, while Shelter's figures include those who live in inadequate properties like temporary housing, B&Bs, hostels or squats, which push the number to 307,000. According to Crisis, another 68,300 are sleeping on sofas, bringing the total to 375,300 – a figure that suggests the scale of the problem.
Hidden homelessness also includes those who either aren’t entitled to housing help, or don’t approach their council.
Priced out of property
The cost of buying and renting plays a big part in homelessness. In the last ten years, property prices have risen by 47% and, since 2011, rents have gone up on average by 15%. In both cases, the jumps were steepest in London and the South East – and it’s no coincidence that rough sleeping is much more common there.
Energy prices have also soared, which has led to the recent promise of price caps. Meanwhile, wages have stagnated and inflation (measured by the cost of essentials like food) has risen, squeezing household incomes. In the worst cases, this can lead to a debt spiralling out of control and property repossession.
Struggling for support
These problems are felt most acutely by those without a support network. The 'Bank of Mum and Dad' already chips in on 25% of mortgages and pays out £2.3bn in rent. Those who aren’t lucky enough to have family and friends who can help out in hard times are likely to be the first facing homelessness.
Public spending watchdog the National Audit Office says the situation has worsened due to benefit cuts: an approach that has removed a safety net for the most vulnerable people. And while the government has committed to action, it will take greater awareness of what homelessness means, more support from local authorities and a wider economic change to really address the problem at its roots.