Rough sleeper numbers plunge 37% in England during pandemic

25 February 2021, 20:33 | Updated: 25 February 2021, 20:38

Most rough sleepers were believed to be male and over 26.
Most rough sleepers were believed to be male and over 26. Picture: PA

By Harriet Whitehead

The number of people sleeping on the streets has fallen by a third following efforts to reduce rough sleeping during the Covid-19 pandemic.

On any given night in autumn in 2020 there were 2,688 people sleeping rough across England, a drop of 37% compared with 2019, figures from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government showed.

However despite the drop, these figures are 52% higher than the number estimated in 2010 when the Conservative Party came to power.

Most rough sleepers were believed to be male, over 26, and from the UK.

The Government has committed £750 million over the next year to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping, and had instructed councils to rapidly house thousands of rough sleepers at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

READ MORE: Ban on bailiff evictions in England extended to end of March

Figures show some 205 councils saw falls in their rough sleeper estimates from 2019, 78 saw rises, and 31 saw no change. Thirty areas recorded no rough sleepers.

About 44% of people sleeping rough on a single night in autumn were in London and the South East, areas which saw the largest annual decrease.

The North East had the lowest number of estimated rough sleepers, and was the only region that showed a small annual rise.

The areas with the highest numbers of people estimated to be sleeping rough were Westminster, Manchester and Bristol. The largest increase was in Tower Hamlets, east London, with 40 people estimated to be sleeping rough, compared with 17 last year.

READ MORE: Local authorities braced for second wave of homelessness as pandemic continues

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said he was "heartened" by the fall and said the priority is to "maintain this momentum", promising a "marriage of health and housing".

Jenrick told MPs: "We will never live in a country, sadly, where there is not a single person sleeping rough on the streets. But the litmus test for a civilised society must be that nobody has the need to, and that everybody is offered support swiftly - not so much no second night out, but no first night out."

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said "every week" its frontline staff were witnessing new cases of homeless people being refused help.

he said: "Whether someone is offered a safe bed for the night instead of a cold pavement should not be up for debate. The pandemic isn't over and we must continue to keep people safe.

"The Government needs to ensure its hard work is not undone by giving councils explicit guidance to provide everyone with emergency accommodation and support."