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Homelessness much worse than official figures show – and rising fast

Official homelessness figures are masking the true scale of the problem, according to new research published by Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which reveals that the number of people facing homelessness rose by 9% last year to a total of 280,000 cases – a trend not reflected in the headline statistics.

Drawing on a survey of councils combined with new statistical analysis and in-depth interviews, the report shows how welfare cuts and other 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. Council officials provide stark accounts of people facing severe hardship because of sanctions; being unable to find a home on housing benefit; or being forced out of their local area.

The findings are from state-of-the nation report The Homelessness Monitor: England – an annual independent study analysing the impact of economic and policy developments on homelessness.

It reveals that nearly two thirds of councils think headline homelessness figures no longer reflect local trends. This is because councils are increasingly reliant on more ‘informal’ approaches to homelessness that are recorded separately – such as financial assistance and debt advice, help to stay in a tenancy or family mediation.

Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis, said: “Today’s report reveals the true scale of homelessness in England, which headline figures no longer reflect. Council officials are clear that benefit cuts and sanctions are taking a dreadful toll on people’s lives, with rising numbers facing the loss of their home at a time when councils are being forced to cut services. This is a desperate state of affairs.

“What this report clearly shows is that political choices have a huge impact on homelessness. As we approach the general election, we want all parties to take homelessness seriously as an issue. We want to see manifestos that commit to tackling the woeful lack of affordable housing, reviewing sanctions and cuts to housing benefit and to funding and supporting local homelessness services.”

Julia Unwin, Chief Executive of the JRF said: “This research highlights the growing divergence between regions, with London and the South reporting much higher levels of homelessness than the North, confirming that structural problems in the housing system are one of the main drivers of the under-reported surge in need.

“Homelessness can be catastrophic for those of us who experience it. If we are to prevent a deepening crisis, we must look to secure alternatives to home ownership for those who cannot afford to buy – longer-term, secure accommodation at prices that those on the lowest incomes can afford.”

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