The devastating impact of homelessness has been laid bare by members of a House of Commons committee.
MPs on Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee have accused the government of being “unacceptably complacent” after an investigation revealed as many as 9,100 people are sleeping rough on the streets of the UK every night.
More than 78,000 households, including over 120,000 children, are classed as homeless and housed in often substandard temporary accommodation.
Labour MP and committee chair Meg Hillier said: “The latest official figures hammer home the shameful state of homelessness in England and the abject failure of the government’s approach to addressing the misery suffered by many thousands of families and individuals.
“As we approach Christmas there are thousands of children in temporary accommodation – a salutary reminder of the human cost of policy failure.
“The evidence we heard from organisations that work with homeless people should serve as a wake-up call;government decisions are not made in a vacuum and the consequences can be severe.”
As well as those counted among official figures, there are also large numbers of ‘hidden homeless’ people who are housed by family and friends in shifting circumstances.
According to evidence gathered by the cross-party committee, the average rough sleeper dies before the age of 50, and children in long-term temporary accommodation miss far more schooling than their peers.
Homelessness has been steadily rising since 2010, with the number of households in temporary accommodation skyrocketing by more than 60%.
Since March 2011, the number of people who sleep rough has risen by 134%.
The committee said the “light touch” approach to tackling the issue displayed b the Department for Communities and Local Government had clearly failed.
Hillier added: “The government must do more to understand and measure the real-world costs and causes of homelessness and put in place the joined-up strategy that is so desperately needed.
“That means properly addressing the shortage of realistic housing options for those at risk of homelessness or already in temporary accommodation. More fundamentally, it means getting a grip on the market’s failure to provide genuinely affordable homes, both to rent and to buy.
“Delegating a problem is not a solution and we do not share the government’s faith in the cure-all potential of the Homelessness Reduction Act.
“There are practical steps it can take now – for example, targeting financial support on local authorities with acute shortages of suitable housing, rather than those councils which are simply ready to spend – that would make a real difference to people’s lives.”
The committee has called for the government to show “more urgency” in tackling homelessness and publish a cross-department strategy with clear targets.
Both shadow housing secretary John Healey and Lib Dem MP Layla Moran - a member of the PAC - described the report as “damning”.
“This Christmas, the increase in homelessness is visible in almost every town and city in the country, but today’s report confirms ministers lack both an understanding of the problem and any urgency in finding solutions,” Healey said.
“After an unprecedented decline in homelessness under Labour, Conservative policy decisions are directly responsible for rising homelessness. You can’t help the homeless without the homes, and ministers have driven new social rented homes to the lowest level on record.
“Labour will end rough sleeping within a Parliament, and tackle the root causes of rising homelessness with thousands more genuinely affordable homes and new protections for private renters.”
Moran said: “Soaring levels of homelessness have meant even many people in work are now finding themselves on the streets or in temporary accommodation.
“The complacency ministers are showing on this issue is totally unacceptable and must come to an end.
“Instead of passing the buck to local authorities, the government must take responsibility for ending rough sleeping and building the truly affordable homes the country needs.”