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Charities question official homeless numbers

13 February 2015


Making the difference: an offices with a resident at one of the Salvation Army's centres - Lifehouses - for people experiencing homelessness 

Making the difference: an offices with a resident at one of the Salvation Army's centres - Lifehouses - for people experiencing homelessness&n...

A NEW report suggests that homelessness in England is much greater than Government figures claim.

Official statistics suggest that 52,000 households were homeless in England in 2013/14, but the survey Homelessness Monitor, commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and Crisis UK, the national charity for single homeless people, found that about 280,000 people asked councils in England for help to keep them off the streets. That is nine per cent higher than last year, and a rise of more than a third since 2009/10.

The survey, which is part of a five-year investigation into the problem, suggests that the discrepancy in the figures is a result of local authorities' turning to informal ways of aiding people, such as help to stay in a tenancy, and debt advice. It also points to changes in benefit rules, which created severe hardship leading to homelessness and a lack of affordable housing.

In the preface to the report, the chief executive of Crisis, Jon Sparkes, and the chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Julia Unwin, write: "The bottom line is that we can no longer rely on these figures to show national trends. Clearly, the Government need to collect better information from councils . . . Welfare cuts and changes have left growing numbers of people struggling to keep a roof over their heads, with more than half of councils fearing worse is yet to come.

"Combined with a housing crisis that successive governments have failed to tackle; welfare cuts and sanctions are taking a dreadful toll on people's lives."

They call for all parties in the run-up to the General Election to take the issue seriously. They conclude: "The problem is even worse than we feared, and we need a firm commitment to tackle it."

Survey carried out on homelessness

A survey for the Salvation Army in south-west England has disclosed a significant gap between public perception and the reality of homelessness.

Online research by Ipsos MORI among 2119 adults found that almost a quarter of respondents in the south-west thought that the main cause of homelessness was alcohol or drug addiction, followed by debt (14 per cent).

But the Salvation Army's own questioning of 314 residents of its Lifehouse homeless centres found that the main cause was relationship breakdown (43 per cent). Ten per cent of residents attributed it to drug or alcohol addiction, and debt accounted for six per cent.

The MORI poll also suggested that 82 per cent of people in the south-west would take no heed of a homeless person they met in the street.

The deputy territorial director of homelessness services at the Salvation Army, Major Howard Russell, said: "We find it quite shocking that such a large proportion of the public polled would simply walk on by, doing nothing for a person sleeping rough. It isn't an issue that can be ignored, and we believe awareness needs to be raised."

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