THE BLOG

Sofa Surfing Is a Huge Problem for Our Young People - Now We Must Act

05/12/2014 14:46 GMT | Updated 04/02/2015 10:59 GMT

How can you begin to tackle a problem that you know exists but about the scale of which there are no official figures? This is the problem facing charities and the government when it comes to supporting the thousands of under-25s who have sofa surfed over the past 12 months.

Whilst official figures do record the number of people, of any age, who approach their local authority for help with housing; and to a limited degrees estimates of those who spend time sleeping rough on the streets are carried out, especially in London, the same is not true of sofa surfing. It is of course easy to argue that counting the number of young people who have been forced to sleep on the sofa of a friend or family member because they have nowhere else to go is impossible.

However, with sofa surfing affecting potentially thousands of young people every year Centrepoint wanted to attempt at least an estimate of the scale of the problem. That's why we commissioned ComRes to survey just over 2,000 under-25s across the country to ask whether they had experience of sofa surfing.

To avoid 'self-selection bias', that is avoiding the survey only being undertaken by those with experience of homelessness of one form or another, ComRes use a generic title at the outset of the survey. Once opened, the survey had a drop off rate in line with other polls.

The findings were dramatic - certainly beyond what, as a charity working with homeless young people since 1969, we would have expected.

20% of those questioned sofa surfed in the last year, of which 49% had spent a month or more doing so. The problem most marked in London, followed closely by Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and both the East and West Midlands.

Now this may still seem a high number to both the expert and casual reader. But when you put this headline figure together with the reasons for sofa surfing young people gave it becomes even more plausible.

21% of those who had to sofa surf in the last 12 months said they had nowhere else to stay because their tenancy ended or they had been evicted. 20% said it was because their parents were unwilling or unable to accommodate them. 11% said they had suffered domestic violence.

This 20% is the human cost of tough economic times and rental prices which have spiralled out of control in many areas of the UK. Unemployment and welfare reforms mean rents cannot be paid on time or in full; tenancies end and new ones cannot be afforded; overcrowding or substance abuse puts pressure on struggling families. We have all read the headlines. Sofa surfing is one of the consequences.

Of course, this is only one survey. But when 20% of under-25s across the UK are potentially having to rely on sleeping on the sofas of friends and extended family because they have nowhere else to go surely as a nation we owe it to young people to try to officially collect some statistics, without which it is unlikely there will ever be central or local government funding to tackle this hidden blight.