Where is homelessness the worst in the UK?

Jun 8, 2022
4 min read
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The statistics are shocking. In England alone, there were more than 100,000 people rough sleeping on any one night in 2018.

The number of homeless people has risen by 16% since 2010. But while homelessness is a nationwide problem, some areas are worse than others.

Homelessness charity Shelter has crunched the numbers and ranked the local authorities with the highest rates of homelessness in England, Wales and Scotland.

In London, more than 9,000 people are sleeping on the streets every night. The figure for Birmingham is 4,000 and for Manchester, it is 2,500.

But Shelter said it was also an issue in smaller towns and cities such as Brighton and Cardiff.

Homelessness in London

The capital has the largest number of homeless people in England, with a rate of 60 per 10,000 people. Westminster has the highest rate of homelessness in London, with the borough having the highest number of rough sleepers.

Westminster Council said it had taken action to tackle homelessness and was working with local services to help homeless people off the streets. It said it had set up two new hostels, one for single homeless people and one for families, as well as providing grants to help people stay in their homes.

Homelessness in South England

In contrast, many of the areas with the highest levels of homelessness are seaside towns on the south coast.

Why? Because these places have warmer weather and plenty of tourists to keep them busy through the winter months – both factors that make them attractive to homeless people looking for a place where it’s easy to blend in.

Brighton, for example, has always had a reputation for being one of the most welcoming places for the homeless community. In 2015-16 there were 585 rough sleepers in Brighton and Hove – that’s one rough sleeper every night of the year!Homelessness in North East England

The study by Shelter found that the region had the highest proportion (31%) of homeless households living in temporary accommodation, such as hostels or B&Bs. Meanwhile, 19% of homes across England were deemed unfit for human habitation by the charity's definition.

The north west ranked second-worst with 29% of homeless households in temporary housing and 19% of homes considered unfit. The south-west had 28% living in temporary accommodation and 16% unfit homes, while London was third with 25% temporarily housed and 15% uninhabitable.

Scotland fared better than other regions with just 14% of homeless households living in temporary accommodation and 11% of homes deemed unfit for human habitation.

However, it has seen a significant rise in homelessness since 2010 when just 6% of households were in temporary housing and 3% lived in unfit homes.

Homelessness in Scotland

The latest figures from the Scottish Government show that there are currently around 5,000 homeless people in Scotland. This represents a 15 per cent increase since 2009/10.

The most recent English Housing Survey showed that there were 1.15 million households in England living in temporary accommodation (including hostels and B&Bs) in 2012/13 – an increase of 18 per cent on 2010/11.

In London, a quarter of all households were living in temporary accommodation as of April 2014.

Homelessness in Northern Ireland

The situation is particularly acute in Northern Ireland where 4,000 households were living in emergency accommodation at the end of 2013 and another 740 people sleeping rough on any single night throughout 2013/14.

Homelessness in Wales

Wales has a high rate of homelessness. However the Welsh Government said this was due to the fact that it had a more accurate count of people living on the streets and in temporary accommodation than other parts of the UK and insisted that the situation was improving.

It said: "Wales has always had a higher rate of homelessness because we have better data on rough sleepers and those living in temporary accommodation.

Shelter Cymru agreed that there were more people who needed help with housing in Wales than ever before. She added:

"We've seen a huge increase in the number of people coming through our doors who are desperate for a safe place to live, but unfortunately there just aren't enough homes available."

Who is homeless?

Characteristics of homeless households are relatively similar across the UK despite legislative and reporting differences.

The largest categories for households seeking help for homelessness are single-person households without children (those aged between 25 to 49 years) and males.

Households seeking help for homelessness with the main household member aged over 60 years have increased in recent years while those with the main household member aged under 24 to 25 years have decreased.

In 2017/18, there were 56,580 households in England in statutory homelessness, which is when a household is unintentionally homeless and is considered a priority (for example, because it has dependent children).

  • 35,020 (or 62%) were from White households (including White ethnic minorities).
  • 14% of all homeless households were Black
  • 9% were Asian
  • 4% were from a Mixed ethnic background
  • 4% were from the Other ethnic group;
  • Ethnicity wasn't known for 6% of homeless households.

London had the highest overall number of homeless households; it also had the lowest percentage of homeless households made up of White households.

In 2017/18, there were 2.4 homeless households for every 1,000 households in England; there were 4.2 homeless households for every 1,000 households in London, and 2.1 for every 1,000 households in the rest of England.

The local authority with the highest number of homeless households per 1,000 households was Newham in London (9.4 per 1,000), where Asian households made up the highest percentage of homeless households (at 36%)*(Gov, 2018.)

What causes homelessness in the UK?

There is often not one single reason for someone to become homeless, it is often due to a chain of other life events.

Some people are more vulnerable to becoming homeless due to factors such as; poor physical health, mental health issue, alcohol and drug problems, bereavement, the experience of care, and experience of the criminal justice system.

Structural factors are also part of the problem and these can include poverty, inequality, housing supply and affordability, unemployment, welfare and income policies.

Structural and individual factors are often interrelated; individual issues can arise from structural disadvantages such as poverty or lack of education.

While personal factors, such as family and social relationships, can also be put under pressure by structural forces such as poverty. To find out more about the causes of homelessness in the UK, click here. 

What is Greater Change doing to help the homeless?

Founded in 2018, Greater Change supports people who, with some funding, can make a long-term positive change in various areas across the UK including Greater London, Oxfordshire, West Sussex, Essex and Leicestershire.

We support everyone who is homeless, or at immediate risk of becoming homeless. The charities that 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 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. 


There are many factors that cause homelessness, and an individual's circumstances may differ from those of another person experiencing homelessness.

These can include lack of affordable housing, lack of income, family breakdown, domestic violence and mental health problems. To find out more about the causes of homelessness, please click here.

At Greater Change we work directly with people experiencing homelessness to get them the emergency funding they need to give them a path out of homlessness. Please click here to donate today.