We believe that homelessness is an experience that no one should have to endure. St Martin-in-the-Fields Charity strives to tackle homelessness and bring light to those who are at risk of, or currently experiencing homelessness.

However, the latest figures indicate that homelessness is increasing. Several factors contribute to this troubling trend. Understanding the reasons behind the rise in homelessness is crucial. By examining these factors, we can better comprehend the problem and work together towards a solution.

Before we get started

Before we get started

If you’d like to learn more about the various ways we help people at risk of or experiencing homelessness, then sign up to our newsletter for the latest updates.

Is homelessness actually increasing?

Despite the government’s vows to tackle the issue, homelessness is still getting worse in the UK. Research from homelessness charity, Shelter shows that, as of December 2023, at least 309,000 people were without their own home in England, an increase of 38,100 people in a single year. This figure includes 279,400 people who are living in temporary accommodation provided by their local councils.

While the people living in temporary accommodation make up the vast majority of those considered to be experiencing any kind of homelessness, UK government statistics also paint a worrying picture of rough sleeping. Rather than seeing signs of improvement, the number of people sleeping rough rose in every region across England between 2022 and 2023, with the number of people sleeping on the streets on a single night in August 2023 increasing by 27% compared to the previous year. Some areas have experienced an even more drastic rise. London saw an increase of 32%, making it the most affected area in the country.

What’s worse is that these figures only tell part of the story, representing the portion of people who are known to government bodies, including people visibly sleeping rough on the streets or those experiencing statutory homelessness. There are countless other men, women, and children experiencing hidden homelessness, whereby they live with friends or family with no fixed address and often in unsuitable, dilapidated, or derelict properties.

St Martin’s Charity is striving to help those experiencing homelessness via its network, grants and funded projects. Your ongoing support is crucial in helping us make a difference.

Help tackle homelessness.

Reasons why homelessness is getting worse

Long-standing root causes of homelessness persist, but current societal factors and recent political decisions have increased its prevalence.

These include both universal factors that could increase the likelihood of anyone experiencing homelessness, and other factors that have a much greater impact on particular groups. With that in mind, here are the main reasons why homelessness is on the rise in the UK.

Shortages of affordable housing

A key reason homelessness is increasing is due to rising rental costs, forcing more people to seek social housing.

For many people experiencing financial difficulty, acquiring a social home is often their only alternative to paying high private rent. However, this is not always a viable option due to a lack of social housing provision. The rate at which social homes are being demolished or sold is far surpassing the rate at which new properties are being built, resulting in a net loss of 12,000 social homes last year. There simply aren’t enough social properties to meet demand, causing homelessness to rise.

Being able to afford somewhere to live has become an increasingly unlikely prospect for people who can’t secure a social home. With the cost of buying a home rising, the rental market has inevitably followed suit. In London, where homelessness has increased the most, the cost of rent has also taken a significant jump. The Standard reports that, as of October 2023, the average cost to rent in the capital rose by 22.9% from £1,425 to £1,751 over the last ten years. This requires the average tenant to spend almost an extra £4,000 per year simply to maintain their rent, otherwise they will be faced with eviction.

Those already renting are placed at increased risk of not being able to afford their monthly rent, meaning evictions and homelessness go hand in hand. Even if they’ve kept up with their payments, landlords have the power to make them leave through no-fault evictions, knowing that they can find other tenants who are willing to pay more. Government data shows that the number of no-fault evictions in London increased by 52% in a year since March 2023.

The Vicar’s Relief Fund helps people experiencing homelessness through fast emergency grants that prevent eviction or help with accessing accommodation, transforming lives in days.

Homelessness and unemployment

When asking why homelessness is getting worse, we must also look at wages and unemployment. Low wages, zero-hour contracts, and unemployment combined with the rising cost of living all make it more of a challenge to afford somewhere to live.

Despite the minimum wage in the UK increasing in April 2024 from £10.42 to £11.44 an hour, benefiting 2.7 million low-paid workers, it still falls short of the cost of living. The Living Wage Foundation found this new rate leaves workers £1,092 below a real living wage annually, equivalent to 18 weeks of food for an average household. In London, workers need over £3,300 more to match the London living wage, which could cover nearly a year’s worth of food.

The rise in zero-hour contracts has also placed many in unstable employment. Research from Lancaster University indicates that 136,000 more workers were given zero-hour contracts in 2023 compared to 2022. Notably, 65% of these new contracts (88,000) were handed to 16–24 year olds.

Zero-hour contracts can often result in a lack of job security because workers are only given shifts if the employer requires them. This typically leads to employees receiving fewer hours and earning less income. The Mental Health Foundation suggests that, on average, people on zero-hour contracts earn 7% less in a year than people receiving regular contracted work in similar jobs. 

A lack of suitable job opportunities can also lead to many people facing unemployment and homelessness. Without any income, both adults and their children may become reliant upon support from local councils and charities to provide them with somewhere to stay, whether it be a permanent council-owned property or temporary accommodation.

Housing and disability benefit cuts

Despite recent pledges by the government to increase housing benefits, the UK has seen a range of housing benefit cuts in recent years, reducing support for those struggling with low income. Local Housing Allowance has been frozen for the last four years, meaning private renters claiming this support were receiving the same amount of housing benefit during a period despite the cost of rent and living skyrocketing. Rents in England have risen by 11% in the same period, leaving some of the 1.7 million tenants who claim housing benefits struggling to make their payments, potentially causing evictions and causing homelessness to get worse.

Similarly, the housing benefit cap in London and across England means some families don’t receive enough money to pay for basic essentials. While the cap was increased in April 2023, it still remains too low for many of the households claiming it, particularly those with large families. Research by the Child Action Poverty Group found that the cap is forcing families to live on as little as £44 per week after paying housing costs. With this little money, families are forced to prioritise their housing over food and other necessities such as heating, all while remaining at risk of homelessness if they can no longer afford their rent.

It isn’t just housing that faces a direct lack of support from the government. Cuts in other areas also mean people have to pay more out of their own pocket, impacting their ability to afford rent. For example, the Department for Work and Pensions is enforcing a range of welfare cuts next year in an attempt to drive more people into work.

However, forecasts by the Office for Budget Responsibility suggest that more than 450,000 people will be affected by the cuts by 2029, and only 15,400 additional people will move into paid work in that time. That leaves almost 435,000 who will be receiving less financial support without being able to secure work, potentially causing strain when it comes to renting.

Homelessness and austerity

Many of the benefit and service cuts contributing to the rise in homelessness have stemmed from a prolonged period of austerity. Several services across various sectors are being forced to work with limited budgets, leaving them unable to meet demand and provide support for everyone who needs it.

Local councils are some of the worst affected organisations when it comes to budget cuts. While it isn’t possible for councils to go bankrupt, they can issue a section 114 notice whereby they can’t commit to any future spending with their existing budget. These notices have become increasingly common, to the extent that half of all councils have warned they could face effective bankruptcy within five years, the BBC reports. If this were to happen, housing provision would be just one of the many services councils are unable to offer, potentially leading to a further increase in homelessness.

Likewise, several other non-government organisations are facing the squeeze of tight budgets. Teardrops, a homelessness charity in St Helens, is one of several charities at risk of shutting down simply because they can’t afford the running costs. The combination of high energy bills and rent has placed the organisation at risk of being unable to pay its staff. Other charities are finding themselves in similar positions, leading to a widespread reduction of support for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.

Thanks to your amazing ongoing support, we are fortunate enough to be able to help people in vulnerable positions through our Vicar’s Relief Fund, Frontline Fund and the incredible work of our Frontline Network.

The hostile migration environment

People moving to the UK face unique challenges when trying to access housing and other provisions, which has caused migrant homelessness to get worse in recent times. While these challenges apply to all migrants, asylum seekers are one of the groups most severely affected.

In January 2024, almost 100,000 people were awaiting a decision on their asylum application. This backlog means that their immigration status remains unclear for long periods, restricting their access to essential services and placing them at greater risk of homelessness.

While their applications remain in limbo, asylum seekers and refugees are usually placed in state-provided temporary accommodation. Even if their applications are eventually successful, they’re now being given very little time to find somewhere permanent to live that is both suitable and affordable. Sky News reports that refugees are being given as little as one week to find a home and leave their temporary accommodation following a change in Home Office policy. This meant that, as of November 2023, the number of refugees sleeping rough in London jumped by 800% in just two months. Once someone has fallen out of the system and is no longer known to authorities, it can be difficult for them to access services, employment and housing, contributing to a rise in refugee and asylum seeker homelessness.

People having coffee and pastry at a table.

Show your support.

Sign up to hear more

Give us your details and we’ll keep you updated with all our latest news.

Close Menu