How Much Has Homelessness Increased In The UK

Jun 8, 2022
5 min read
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Homelessness in the UK has always been around and it has increased significantly in the last few years. The Salvation Army has reported that there was a 23% rise in the number of people sleeping on the streets in England and Wales during 2017.

In a report published in September 2017, The Dept for Communities and Local Government estimated that more than 320,000 people across the UK were homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Rough sleeping statistics in the UK

Rough sleeping has increased by 169% in England since 2010

The number of people sleeping rough in the UK has risen by 169% since 2010, according to figures published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. Rough sleeping is the most visible form of homelessness, and it's important to note that these figures are not the same as the total number of homeless people in England.

Rough sleeping counts only include those who sleep outside or in hostels on a single night, and do not include people who have bedsits or some other form of accommodation but have had an unfortunate experience (e.g., lost their job) which has led them down this route.

This means that rough sleeping figures tend to be higher than actual homelessness figures—but they're still an excellent indicator of the scale of homelessness in any given area.

In England, there were 3,569 people sleeping rough on any given night in 2017—an increase of 1% from 2016 and 74% since 2010. That same year, more than 9,000 households were accepted as being unintentionally homeless across England—a rise of 8%, or 741 households more than the previous year.

National statistics on homeless households

Homeless households in England rose by 74% between 2010 and 2017.

In England, homelessness has increased by 74% since 2010. That’s more than double the rate of inflation over the same period and more than three times the average annual change in house prices.

  • The number of homeless households in England rose by 169% between 2010 and 2017, from 26,280 to 61,830 (ONS 2018).
  • The number of homeless children has increased by 87%, from 16,530 to 28,310 (ONS 2018).
  • The number of households with children that are homeless has risen 74%, from 14,240 to 23,870 (ONS 2018).

How many people in the UK are homeless today?

It is extremely difficult to know the exact number of people who are homeless in the UK. In December 2021, Shelter conducted a study to find out the number of homeless people on one given night in England and they included:

  • People who have been accepted as homeless and now live in temporary accommodation arranged by their local councils
  • People who have been accepted as homeless and now live in temporary accommodation arranged by themselves or are living ‘homeless at home’ – meaning that they are legally homeless because it is not reasonable for them to continue to live in their home, but they are yet to be moved into temporary accommodation
  • People who are sleeping on the streets
  • Single people who are homeless and living in hostel accommodation, but who are not counted amongst those in the statutory homelessness figures above
  • People who are owed a duty under the Children’s Act and are living in temporary accommodation that has been arranged by Social Services

Shelter concluded that on a given night in 2021 there will have been over 274,000 people who were homeless, which is a rate of 1 in 206 people. This population is mainly made up of people who are homeless and living in temporary accommodation (just under 250,000). 

Why has homelessness increased in the UK?

Homelessness affects people from all walks of life and is caused by a range of factors including unemployment, low wages, high housing costs and family breakdowns. These factors are compounded by a lack of social housing (affordable homes provided by councils) which means there aren't enough places for people who need them.

Lack of options for young people looking for somewhere to live also contributes to homelessness among 18-24 year old's - this age group accounts for more than half (53%) of all newly accepted applications for temporary accommodation in England alone.

In 2015/2016 there were over 300,000 households living in temporary accommodation such as hostels or B&Bs across England due to issues like overcrowding or difficulty paying their rent.

In the last five years, there have been drastic cuts to housing benefits and homelessness services. The government has cut funding for council housing and social housing. The government has also cut funding for temporary accommodation and homelessness prevention.

The result is a situation where there are more people than ever struggling to pay their rent or mortgage, and more people living in unsuitable accommodation such as hostels or sofa surfing with friends because they don't have anywhere else to go.

Poverty is one of the biggest drivers of homelessness and when life events happen it pushes people to the brink. The statistics illustrate that breaking the cycle of homelessness is more difficult for some people than others due to losing a job, escaping an abusive relationship or experiencing discrimination.

Unless the UK government prioritises stable housing and the right support to help people keep a home, we will continue to see people trapped in the homelessness system.

Youth homeless in the UK has increased by an estimated two-fifths in five years, rising to more than 120,000. 

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The causes of homelessness in the UK

How much has homelessness increased in the UK? 

Where is homelessness the worst in the UK?

The problem of homelessness is not confined to any one area of the UK. It's a problem in all areas, including the cities and rural areas. London and the South East are particularly hard hit by homelessness.

These areas have high housing costs, low wages and poor services for people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. They also tend to have higher unemployment rates than other areas across England and Wales.

In London, black households represent 30% of those owed homelessness prevention or homelessness relief by their local authorities, despite making up just 12.5% of London’s population.

In the Guardian analysis, homelessness, and being at risk of homelessness, is defined by whether a local authority owes prevention or relief duty to a household.

In the winter months (December through March), homelessness numbers rise dramatically as people seek shelter from cold weather conditions.

Who is homeless in the UK?

When people approach a local authority for assistance, they record whether the household has any support needs.

A wide variety of needs are identified, including whether someone is a care leaver, a young parent, has a learning disability, is at risk of or experiencing sexual abuse, or has a drug or alcohol dependency.

These experiences put greater pressure on people and can make ending people’s homelessness even harder to resolve without the right support. 

Yesterday’s statistics show that 135,780 households had one or more support need.  The most common need identified was a history of mental health problems – identified among over half of households. Whilst there is an increasing awareness of how common mental health issues are, it is even harder to address without a stable home.

There are striking trends on ethnicity too. Households with someone identifying as Black are almost three times as likely to experience homelessness: 10% of households experiencing or at risk of homelessness identified as Black (25,920 households), despite the fact they make up around 3.5% of the wider population.

This contrast is also visible when you focus specifically on London, where 30% of people homeless or at risk of homelessness identified as Black, despite the estimated number of Black people  

87,000 children were recorded as homeless in the UK in 2017; that's enough to fill every school in Birmingham and Bristol combined.

The number of homeless children in Britain has increased by 60% since 2010, according to government figures. That's 87,000 kids—enough to fill every school in Birmingham and Bristol combined.

What is the problem?

These numbers show an increasing problem in the UK, but more work is needed to stop it getting any worse.

In the UK, homelessness is a complex problem that cannot be solved with just one solution. To address this issue properly, we need a multifaceted approach that addresses all its root causes.

The government must provide more funding for housing and other services, increase education about the importance of helping people who are homeless and vulnerable, and provide more support for those who need it most. With the current significant increases in the cost of living, it is more important than ever for us to intervene and help people out of homelessness. 

Greater Change is working to move people who are homeless or who are at serious risk of becoming homelessness, into long term stability.  Founded in 2018, Greater Change has an alternative way of supporting people who, with some funding, can make a long-term positive change. We support everyone who is homeless, or at immediate risk of becoming homeless. 

The charities who we partner with refer people to us who would benefit from our help. We then encourage support workers to build up a relationship with individuals who are homeless, ask them what they want, and need, to return to a home, and create a clear action plan and a savings target to achieve this.

Savings targets are typically for housing deposits, ID, and training courses. However, we do not stipulate what the funding can be used for but take a common-sense approach to fund things which the people we are helping and their support workers demonstrate will help them back into homes and to thrive there.

People who are homeless have control over the process. Offering this budget shows trust, encourages engagement, and differs from typical offers of generic help. We then fundraise for their savings target.

Once the target is reached, the support worker’s charity purchases the saving goal directly, to ensure accountability and transparency. We have now helped over 450 clients out of homelessness and into long term stability. 


The UK has seen a rise in the number of homeless people over the past few years, with more than 4,000 people sleeping rough each night in England alone.

This is not just a problem for cities like London and Manchester but also for rural areas where there is no easy access to services.

We need to do more as individuals and communities to support those who are affected by homelessness (whether through donating time or money) because this will only get worse if we don't act now, especially with the current significant increase in the cost of living.

Please donate to a Greater Change client here and help them out of homelessness and into long term stability. 

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Homelessness in the UK