National Youth homelessness reaches five-year high
New research from national youth homelessness charity Centrepoint has found that almost 122,000 young people in the UK and 15,200 across London approached their council for help, as they were homeless or at risk last year as coronavirus gripped the country.
This record-high figure comes despite a year of exceptional interventions implemented by the government, including furlough, the eviction ban, and the temporary £20-a-week increase to Universal Credit.
The figure covers April 2020 to March 2021. It is based on Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and provides the only accurate measure of the scale of youth homelessness in the UK.
Youth homelessness actually decreased in the capital for the first time in years. The number of young people approaching their council for help in London decreased by 12 per cent, from 17,200 in 2019-20. Centrepoint speculates that this is likely to be due to greater resources and more government interventions during the first months of the pandemic.
Assessment rate and positive outcomes in England at all-time low
The headline increase also carries a worrying trend that many of those young people in England asking their local council for help are not being properly assessed.
This year, only 66 per cent of the young people that presented as homeless or at risk were assessed, compared to 71 per cent in the financial 2019/20 and 79 per cent in the financial year 2018/19. This means that one third presenting as homeless are not even getting an initial assessment to determine their support needs.
Of the young people that presented, only 37 per cent had a positive outcome, meaning six in ten presentations ended without the young person having their homelessness prevented or a housing solution found.
The Databank provides the most robust analysis of the scale of youth homelessness, and the charity highlights that this is a much more reliable picture than that provided by government statistics. Currently, local authorities are only required to report to central government the number of people whose support needs are assessed, rather than the total number of those asking for support. Without this, the government is failing to identify and address the true scale of demand.
More young people homeless due to family breakdown and domestic violence
Centrepoint’s research also reveals the number of young people becoming homeless in England because of family breakdown has increased from 45 per cent (2019/20) to 49 per cent last year. The charity suggests that this could be down to increased tensions felt in the households of young people during the pandemic.
A Centrepoint Helpline staff member said: “We saw a lot of people getting furloughed, loss of income, but also pressure cooker environments: not being able to leave home…that exacerbated any family tensions, and not being able to sofa surf, which is what so many of our young people end up doing.”
Domestic violence was the second most common driver of youth homelessness in England during the first year of the pandemic – and the number of young people reporting it increased on the previous year. In 2019/20 4,530 young people (7.9 per cent) faced homelessness because of domestic abuse and this figure has risen to 5,296 (9.3 per cent) in 2020/21.
Centrepoint notes that national and local lockdowns led to the sudden disappearance of support networks and informal accommodation arrangements that many would have relied on to alleviate their homelessness, particularly those facing domestic abuse.
Worries over the end of Everyone In
The Everyone In initiative to get rough sleepers off the streets was also rolled out during this period, and designed to end rough sleeping during the first lockdown. Centrepoint research revealed that at least 5,600 young people were housed nationally through Everyone In, with just over 550 young people in London, over April 2020 to the end of March 2021.
However, a number of practitioners Centrepoint engaged with for the research noted concerns about what has happened to those who were housed through Everyone In, and the impact this will have on street homelessness in the long-term.
Balbir Chatrik, Centrepoint’s director of policy said: ”It’s clear from our findings that the Homelessness Reduction Act is failing young people in crisis. This year we have seen the number of young people facing homelessness rise at a time when the government pulled out all the stops to prevent people ending up on the streets. Even more concerning though is the fact that an increasing number of these young people were not even assessed, let alone given the support they so desperately needed.
“This simply shouldn’t be happening – but the experience of the last year or so makes clear the current approach of throwing money at piecemeal rough sleeping initiatives won’t change things. Instead, if ministers want to see rough sleeping end and homelessness reduced they can start by ensuring the Act is properly resourced.
“Funding is only part of the story here though. Homelessness devastates too many young people’s lives and ultimately ends up costing more money than preventing and making timely interventions ever will. Despite this, the government continues to prioritise older rough sleepers and more visible types of homelessness with no strategy for supporting the thousands of young people with no safe place to stay.”