The number of people sleeping rough on the streets of England has reached the highest level since current records began, new figures reveal.
An estimated 4,751 people were sleeping rough in the autumn of 2017, according to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).
This is a 15% rise, up by 617 from the autumn 2016 total of 4,134.
Homelessness charities slammed the figures as a “scandal” and a “catastrophe” while the mayor of Manchester called it a “humanitarian crisis”.
The figures came from local authorities’ counts and estimates on a snapshot night in autumn last year.
Of the total figure, 1,137 rough sleepers were in London. This is an increase of 18% from the 2016 figure of 964.
In 2017 London accounted for 24% of the total England figure, compared to 23% in 2016 and 26% in 2015.
Andy Burnham, mayor of Manchester, told Sky News: “I think it’s a humanitarian crisis that’s unfolding before our eyes and the public here (in Manchester) don’t just walk past people in the doorways, they want something to be done.”
The Labour MP added: “The problem is getting worse but our response is also getting better.”
Howard Sinclair, chief executive of homelessness charity St Mungo’s, said: “Another huge rise in the number of men and women sleeping rough in England, for seven years in a row and 169% since 2010, is shocking and a scandal.
“While the manifesto commitment from the government on rough sleeping and the initial steps taken to achieve the target is welcome, the latest figures serve as a stark reminder of the need for urgency. Heather Wheeler, the new Minister for Housing and Homelessness needs to bring government departments together to find solutions to end the scandal of rough sleeping and homelessness.”
He added: “Homelessness is not inevitable, it’s about helping people who face housing, health and other complicated problems at the time they need it.”
Homelessness charity Crisis said the figures were a “catastrophe”, adding that the true number of rough sleepers is likely to be far greater, with their own research indicating there are currently more than 9,000 people sleeping rough across England.
Polly Neate, chief executive of housing charity Shelter, said: “These figures expose the worst pain inflicted by our housing crisis. We have failed as a society when so many people are forced to sleep rough.”
Neate said that the “scourge of homelessness extends far beyond our streets”, with hundreds of thousands of homeless people hidden away in emergency B&B’s, temporary bedsits and on friend’s sofas.
She added: “Most of these people are homeless simply because they couldn’t afford to live anywhere, a situation made worse by welfare cuts. While the intentions of the Homelessness Reduction Act are good, it cannot fix this crisis. To do that, the government must act to build a new generation of genuinely affordable homes to rent, as well as ensuring housing benefit is fit for purpose in the short-term.”
Of the 4,751 rough sleepers recorded, 653 (14%) were women. In 2016 women accounted for 12% of the total number of rough sleepers.
There were 760 (16%) EU nationals from outside the UK sleeping rough in autumn 2017 compared to 714 in 2016.
Westminster local authority had the highest number of rough sleepers with 217 people recorded, although this was a decrease of 17% from autumn 2016.
Brighton and Hove recorded 178 rough sleepers - an increase of 24%.
The largest spike in rough sleepers was in Camden, which had 17 in autumn 2016 but rose to 127 - a 647% increase - the following year.
Councillor Nadia Shah, cabinet member for safer communities at Camden Council, said: “Rough sleeping in Camden is now at unprecedented levels.
“On the night of the official count in November 2017 there were 127 people sleeping rough compared to practically none 10 years ago.
“This is an appalling situation made worse by the politics of austerity that have led to cuts in services across the country.
“Rough sleeping has no place in the 21st century, but numbers continue to rise especially as people arrive in central London. It is harmful to the individuals themselves and has an impact on the lives of our residents and businesses.”
The government statistics noted: “Within London, there are rough sleeping communities that move around boroughs. This leads to larger across borough movements in numbers than the change across London as a whole.
“Across the 33 boroughs of London 19 or 58% of local authorities reported increases, 11 or 33% reported decreases and 3 or 9% reported no change in the number of rough sleepers since 2016.”
There were 3,614 rough sleepers in the rest of England - an increase of 444 (14%) from the 2016 figure of 3,170.
Labour said that the number of people sleeping rough has more than doubled since 2010.
John Healey, Labour’s shadow housing secretary, said: “These shameful figures are a terrible reminder of the consequences of a Conservative Government.
“The number of people sleeping rough fell under Labour but has more than doubled since 2010, and is up for the eighth year in a row under the Tories.
“This is a direct result of decisions made by Conservative ministers: a steep drop in investment for affordable homes, crude cuts to housing benefit, reduced funding for homelessness services, and a refusal to help private renters.
“A Labour government will end rough sleeping within its first term in office, and tackle the root causes of rising homelessness.”
An MHCLG spokesperson said: “No one should ever have to sleep rough. That’s why this Government is committed to halving rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminating it altogether by 2027.
“To break the homelessness cycle once and for all, we are providing over £1 billion of funding, supporting rough sleepers with the most complex needs through a new Housing First approach and bringing in the most ambitious legislation in decades that will mean people get the support they need earlier.
“In addition a new cross-Government taskforce supported by a panel of experts will drive forward a new strategy that will make life on the streets a thing of the past.”