How many people are homeless in the UK? And what can you do about it?

Many people are homeless in the UK

The scale of homelessness is a notoriously difficult thing to quantify. It’s not just rough sleeping — there are people trapped in temporary accommodation or hostels and shelters. 

Homelessness is not always a visible problem. Hidden homelessness, also known as sofa surfing, is virtually impossible to count as people staying at friends or relatives homes are out of sight and often don’t consider themselves to be homeless.

The Big Issue is committed to tackling poverty and preventing homelessness. With the prospect of rising homelessness in autumn 2021, The Big Issue has launched the Stop Mass Homelessness campaign. Thousands of people who have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic are at risk of losing their home as the virus continues to disrupt lives and livelihoods and leaves a cost of living crisis in its wake.

It is vital that we have an accurate idea of how many people are homeless in the UK – if you don’t know how many people need help, how can you help them?

Overall, Crisis estimated that around 227,000 people were experiencing the worst forms of homelessness – rough sleeping, sleeping in vans and sheds, and stuck in B&Bs – across England, Scotland and Wales in 2021.

England made up the large majority of the 227,000 people who experience the worst forms of homelessness in Britain.

There is a higher level of homelessness across England generally, with 0.86 per cent of households experiencing the worst forms of homelessness compared to 0.69 per cent in Wales and 0.57 per cent in Scotland.

However, with the UK the sixth biggest economy in the world, it is an issue that can be tackled when there is political will to do so, as the response to homelessness during the Covid-19 pandemic has proven.

As well as the humanitarian and moral reasons to ensure that everyone is housed, ending homelessness also makes financial sense. Dealing with poverty and homelessness and the associated issues around them is extremely expensive.

It is far cheaper to prevent people becoming homeless – or get them securely accommodated as quickly as possible. The Big Issue found that failing to pay off £360m in rent arrears racked up during the pandemic could cost the economy as much as £2.6bn a year if 250,000 people lose their homes. That takes into account the costs to the NHS, the criminal justice system as well as costs to local authorities and homelessness services.

For more information on homelessness or to help us tackle the crisis, please do reach out.