homeless rough sleeping
Rough sleeping in Manchester has dropped for the first time in years according to official figures released today, but research carried out by the BBC suggests the official figures underestimate the true scale of the problem five-fold.

The rough sleeping count in Manchester has dropped for the first time in six years. In 2018 a snapshot count on one night recorded 123 people sleeping rough in the city centre area; in 2019 there were 91 people recorded: a 26% drop.

There has been a rising trend in rough sleeping in Manchester since 2010 when 7 rough sleepers were recorded. Today’s figures released by the Ministry of Housing Communities & Local Government still show a 13-fold increase from the low in 2010.

Whenever these figures are released there are regularly comments from homelessness charities included in reports that claim that the true number of rough sleepers is around five times the official figures. Evidence gathered by a BBC investigation into rough sleeping suggest these estimates are in the right ball-park.

Freedom of information requests sent by the BBC to local authorities in England showed that nearly 25,000 people were recorded as sleeping rough over the twelve months of 2018. Yet the official figures for sleeping rough, coming from a snapshot count over one night, came to 4,677 in 2018. That is equal to a 5.3 fold increase over the official figures nationally.

Manchester City Council has been well aware that the official figures underestimate the real problem. At a Manchester council meeting in 2015, Councillor Hazel Summers said, “The headcount is set up in a way as to undercount the problem as a snapshot of one particular night”.

In the same meeting Jenny Osborne, Senior Strategy Manager of Public Health Manchester, indicated how inaccurate the rough sleepers headcount was likely to be by comparing it to data gathered from the Severe Weather Emergency Protocol (SWEP), where the council has an obligation to house rough sleepers in very cold/bad weather. Osborne said:

“Last year [2014] the headcount for rough sleepers was 47; we know that from the severe weather protocol we operated last year that 234 separate individuals accessed that provision during the cold weather period.”

That equals a 5-fold increase in the figures counted using the SWEP, compared to the official local rough sleeping figures for Manchester: not too far from the BBC’s recent findings.

Across England the official rough sleeping snapshot figures released today show a 9% drop to 4,266 people, compared to last years total.

Shadow Housing Secretary John Healey said of the latest rough sleeping figures:

“Any apparent fall in street sleeping is welcome but everyone knows these misleading statistics are an unreliable undercount of the true scale of the problem.

“Even on these partial figures, the Government is still set to break its own pledge to end rough sleeping by the end of the Parliament, which it isn’t set to achieve until 2037 at the current rate of progress. “Ministers won’t fix the crisis of rough sleeping until they deal with the root causes of the problem, which means facing up to the impact of deep cuts to housing, social security and homelessness services since 2010.”

Well aware that the rough sleeping figures would be revealed today, the government unveiled £236 million extra this year for reducing rough sleeping in the UK. To put the government’s proposed extra funding into perspective, a report by WPI Economics showed that local authorities in England were spending £1 billion less a year in 2017-18 on support for single homeless people than they were in 2008-9, due to austerity driven cuts to local authority budgets.

Conrad Bower

Feature image: Andrew Garthwaite for Bureau Local

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  • Conrad Bower

    Reporting interests include social justice, the environment, and human rights. A staunch advocate for the scientific method and rational debate for understanding the world - he believes only greater public understanding and engagement with the problems affecting society, can produce the progressive change we need. Co-founder of The Meteor.


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