Is England fairer...for people who become homeless?

Monday, 14 March 2016 - 3:48pm

England’s biggest ever study into equality and human rights reveals that people experiencing homelessness are among some of the most disadvantaged groups in our society and are being left further behind because they face particular barriers in accessing important public services, face multiple disadvantage and are locked out of opportunities.

They are not well protected by policy or legislation

A divergence in homelessness policy since devolution suggests that the housing system is contributing to the increase in homelessness in England.  There is a shortfall in house building compared with the rising number of households. Local authorities are increasingly using the private rented sector to provide emergency and temporary accommodation, they do not provide longer term secure housing and place people deemed 'less vulnerable' at risk of homelessness (such as single people and couples without dependent children). Use of temporary accommodation is at crisis point. In September 2014, the number of households placed in temporary accommodation by local authorities was the highest it had been in the last five years. Furthermore, the ability of the private rented sector to house those who are homeless is largely dependent on housing benefit and, consequently, on the Government’s programme of welfare reform.

There is a lack of data  

A lack of evidence limits us in our ability to assess the true level of disadvantage for people who become homeless in England making it impossible to understand the extent of their inequality and offer opportunities to correct the imbalance.

Homelessness is invisible to policy makers

Although we now see more people sleeping rough in England (an increase of 102% in 2015 compared with 2010) and a greater number of 'hidden' homelessness, including concealed, overcrowded and shared households, homelessness continues to be invisible, both in terms of a lack of data and priority to the decision-makers who shape services.

Some people are particularly vulnerable to homelessness

Around a quarter of those living on the streets had a background in care. Single people who become homeless at a young age may become homeless several times and be trapped in a vicious cycle that leaves them vulnerable to violence and poor health. Vulnerable transgender people may also have experienced homelessness more than once and there has been a reported rise in homeless asylum seekers and young refugees seeking support.

They have distinct service needs that are currently not met

Many people experiencing homelessness in England have considerable health problems, and their life expectancy is well below the national average - 37 years lower than average for homeless women and 26 years lower for homeless men. Someone who becomes homeless is more likely to suffer long-term physical and mental health problems and have a higher prevalence of physical ill-health, alcohol and substance misuse. Their situation is made worse by poor access to healthcare. Despite being heavy users of health services (their use of hospital services is between three and six times that of the general population and they access GPs between 1.5 and 2.5 times more than the general public), they still face strong barriers stemming from social stigma stereotyping and prejudice and risk being passed between agencies but receiving help from none.

Is England Fairer? has identified a number of important areas that need to be improved in the future. One is to improve the evidence and our ability to assess how fair society is. Another is to tackle inequalities experienced by those who are most disadvantaged, by unlocking opportunities and improving access to public services.

We hope that Government and statutory bodies will look at these challenges alongside organisations already supporting people with their homelessness and think about concerted and joint efforts over the coming years to reduce inequality.

Read the full report

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Preeti Kathrecha

Equality and Human Rights Commission

Preeti is Research Manager at the Equality and Human Rights Commission and works on monitoring the equality and human rights progress in England, Scotland and Wales.

Twitter: @EHRC