Skip to main content
Shelter Logo

Research and insights

Sharp increase in rough sleeping and child homelessness: the next government cannot afford to ignore the housing emergency 

Published date: 29 February 2024

Ella Nuttall

Research Officer

New government data shows that rough sleeping has continued to increase, and there’s a record number of households in temporary accommodation as the housing emergency deepens.

Another sharp increase in people sleeping rough

Government data published today reveals that 3,898 people are sleeping rough in England. The number of people rough sleeping has increased by more than a quarter for two years in a row.

This means the current government has failed to meet its 2019 manifesto commitment to end street homelessness by 2024, and the next government is set to inherit a deepening housing emergency.

In 2023, 3,898 people were estimated to be sleeping rough in England: a 27% annual increase despite the government making an election promise in 2019 to end rough sleeping by 2024.

This is likely to be an underestimate. For example, women are not properly represented in statistics. 

Record number of households homeless in temporary accommodation

Further government data released today shows a new record high in both the number of households and the number of children who are homeless in temporary accommodation provided by local councils.

  • 109,000 households are homeless in temporary accommodation – up 10% in a year

  • 142,490 children are homeless – up 16,960 (14%) in a year

Successive governments have deprioritized investment in social rent homes and shrugged off the urgent need for robust reform of the private rented sector. This has pushed more and more families into homelessness and temporary accommodation. And yet, no political party has a clear and comprehensive plan that addresses the root causes of all forms of homelessness.

This is happening across the country.

Urgent action is needed to tackle the housing emergency

With a general election looming it’s vital every political party promises urgent action to tackle record homelessness, as well as the big increase in the number of people sleeping rough.

You can’t solve homelessness without homes. This is why it’s so vital the next government makes it a priority to invest in a new generation of social rent homes.

Unless they do, our social care system and our schools will continue to struggle with the effects of damaging temporary accommodation, destabilising ‘no fault’ evictions and appalling housing conditions. One in three adults in Britain  (17.5 million people) are impacted by the housing emergency – living in overcrowded, dangerous, unstable or unaffordable housing.

Until enough social homes are built, it’s vital people can find an affordable and secure home in the private rented sector. With 172 families served with a ‘no fault’ section 21 eviction notice every day, the government must enact a watertight and loophole-free Renters Reform Bill to put an end to ‘no fault’ evictions and inflation-busting in-tenancy rent hikes. But, despite overwhelming public support, this bill is being put at risk by a small group of MPs – many of whom are landlords.

The next government must:

  1. build a new generation of social rent homes

  2. make private renting secure and affordable

  3. raise the standard of rented homes

  4. improve housing rights and help to enforce them

Most people who experience street homelessness have no right to accommodation. The government’s Everyone In pandemic response showed how people can be quickly helped off the streets if the political will is there. Everyone at risk of street homelessness must have a right to suitable emergency accommodation and adequate support.

Homelessness damages families

Melanie is one of the over 300,000 people in England currently experiencing homelessness. Melanie has three children and works full time for the NHS. She was issued a section 21 notice for her home after the landlord decided to sell the property in July 2023. She shared her story with us after receiving support from Shelter.

'I was widowed within weeks of receiving the section 21, and quickly found that as a single parent on a single wage it was impossible to afford private rent. We were evicted in October and the council placed us in a Travelodge. We had no facilities to cook, we only had a kettle. I work at the hospital, so we often had to go and eat in the hospital canteen.

‘There were three beds in the room, two singles and a double. I shared with my eldest daughter and the two younger ones had a bed each.

‘The council only booked the Travelodge a week at a time, on your checkout day, which was really awkward, so we had no longevity and couldn't plan. One day at 11.30am the council said the Travelodge was full and we had to move everything out and go to a Travelodge in a different city just for one night.

‘My younger children in particular absolutely need stability, and that was impossible living there. My younger daughter paces when she’s stressed, which was pretty tricky when we were all in one room. My son has ADHD so he found it really difficult in the hotel and missed a lot of school.'

Melanie has since been moved out of the Travelodge but is still in temporary accommodation. Melanie is not alone: over 109,000 households are living in temporary accommodation in England today.

What can you do?

Today's homelessness statistics make it clear that a deepening housing emergency will be a major problem for the next government. A failure to tackle rising street homelessness and record levels of child homelessness is not something that can be kicked into the long grass.

It is crucial that all political parties understand the urgency of the situation and adopt all the policies we know are needed to end homelessness for good. Shelter's general election manifesto outlines what this must look like.

You can join Shelter in making the message clear to political leaders that they must address the housing emergency by signing our open letter to party leaders.

Thanks to the kindness and solidarity from supporters like you, we will end the housing emergency together.

Our services help and support people like Melanie every day. Please donate today to help us support more people and campaign for change.