The number of beds in homeless shelters has plummeted since the Conservatives came to power, despite homelessness having soared in the same period, The Independent has learnt.
Bed space for single homeless people in England has dropped by almost a fifth since 2010 amid government funding cuts and local council belt-tightening.
There are now significantly fewer places for single homeless people to go, despite the number needing somewhere to spend the night having rocketed. Since 2010, homelessness and rough sleeping have risen in every year.
The number of people sleeping rough has risen by 169 per cent, while the figure for people being declared homeless by local councils is up 48 per cent.
Despite the worsening problem, research by the charity Homeless Link, which represents providers of homelessness services, found there were more than 8,000 fewer bed spaces for single homeless people in England than there were in 2010.
The fall, from 42,655 to 34,497, equates to a 19 per cent reduction, and a 3 per cent drop in the last year alone.
With around 77,000 single people estimated to be homeless on any given night, it means there are now only enough beds for less than half the people who need them.
Homelessness charities said the decrease in bed capacity was a direct result of government cuts, while Labour called the finding “shameful”.
The government’s Supporting People programme, which is a major source of funding for homeless shelters, has been cut by 59 per cent since 2010, Homeless Link said. At the same time, local councils have seen their budgets slashed by an average of 40 per cent.
In the last year alone, 39 per cent of homelessness providers said their funding had decreased, while 38 per cent reported no change in funding over the past 12 months. Despite the escalating homelessness problem, only 15 per cent of providers reported an increase in funding.
The causes of homelessness
Rick Henderson, chief executive of Homeless Link, said: “A 59 per cent decrease in Supporting People funding since 2010 and a removal of its ring fence, along with other local authority funding cuts, have resulted in a fall in bed spaces in services for single homeless people, as councils have been forced to make tough budgetary decisions.
“This decline is very concerning given that levels of single homelessness and rough sleeping have risen every year over the same period. People who become homeless are extremely vulnerable, and continued investment in homelessness services is vital to ensure individuals receive swift and effective support to help end their homelessness for good.
“A further challenge comes from a lack of low cost and appropriate housing, which is preventing people from moving on from homelessness supported housing once they are ready, causing a silt-up effect that denies others a much-needed bed space. There is an urgent need to address the housing crisis so that provision is better targeted to those who need it the most.”
‘I’d have starved without this place’: Homeless shelter in office block faces eviction by court order
Some regions have been hit particularly hard. In the last year alone, London has lost almost one in 10 of its homeless shelter beds, while the East Midlands recorded an 11 per cent fall between 2016 and 2017.
Every region except Yorkshire and the Humber saw the number of beds for homeless people either fall or remain the same last year.
John Healey, Labour’s shadow housing secretary, said: “These shameful figures show the consequences of crude government cuts to homelessness services. Even as homelessness is rising, the number of hostel bed spaces is falling.
“Homelessness fell under Labour but has risen relentlessly since 2010. A Labour government will end rough sleeping within our first term in office, and tackle the root causes of rising homelessness.”
Austerity cuts to local government are hitting areas with the highest amounts of homelessness the hardest, according to analysis by Labour.
And according to the party, of the 10 council areas with the highest levels of homelessness in the country, nine are controlled by Labour and one by the Conservatives.
It says that on average these local authorities will see budgets cut by £799 per household by the end of the decade.
The analysis claims that Newham, which has the third highest level of homelessness in the country with 1,206 accepted as homeless and in priority need, will experience the second largest cut in council spending of any area by 2019-20.
It comes as the party launches its social housing review on Monday with insiders promising plans for a “house building revolution” – forming part of Labour’s local election offering.
Amid mounting criticism of their response to rising homelessness, government ministers set up a cross-departmental taskforce to try to get a grip on the issue. However, ministers faced criticism when it emerged it had taken almost four months for the group to hold its first meeting.
The government says it is tackling homelessness through the recently-introduced Homelessness Reduction Act, which forces local councils to prevent people becoming homeless, but town halls say this must be accompanied by a significant increase in funding.
Mr Henderson said the new law would help ease the burden on homeless shelters.
“Under the Homelessness Reduction Act, local authorities must now intervene earlier to stop people from becoming homeless in the first place, and we are confident that this will help ease the pressure on existing services,” he said.
Homeless families, particularly those with children, are often classed as being “in priority need”, meaning councils have a legal duty to find them a home, but single people are usually deemed not to be a priority, leaving many relying on homeless shelters.
Almost one in five people accepted as homeless are not considered to be in priority need, and therefore receive little support from local councils.
The government has been contacted for comment.