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A good start in trying to deal with a problem is being honest about the extent of it. Housing Minister Grant Shapps has removed the mask on the true scale of the problem of rough sleeping, with plans to overhaul the flawed system for measuring homelessness. This comes on the day of the first meeting of homelessness ministers from eight Government departments set up by the Prime Minister to step up action to help the homeless.

The latest rough sleeping count conducted in 2009 found there were only 464 rough sleepers nationwide. However, the current system means that local authorities only have to conduct a count where there is thought to be a problem – meaning that only 76 out of 353 councils contributed to the last count. And up until 2008, the majority of the estimates that councils submitted were rounded down to zero, which cannot be sensible when looking at the national picture.

So the Government is overhauling the way rough sleepers are counted so the findings better reflect the true scale of the problem.  The changes will come into effect from 2011 and this year’s rough sleeping figure will be published as soon as possible. For the first time, ministers from eight different Government departments across Whitehall will work together to see how the policies for which they have responsibility can help address the complex problems that cause people to lose their home.

Grant Shapps says:

“Councils and charities are doing a great job in helping people off the streets, but the current counting system makes a mockery of the scale of the problem they face. This Coalition Government will not stick our heads in the sand and ignore the true picture of the number of those facing life on the streets. That’s why I am announcing today that we will overhaul the Rough Sleeping Count from 2011 so that it is a credible measure and reflects the reality of the situation.
For the first time, Ministers from across Government are coming together to ensure that the needs of the homeless are being met, not just in terms of housing, but in employment, training, rehabilitation and healthcare.”

As part of "joined up" Government’s  areas that will be looked at include better health outcomes for homeless people, through closer working between local authorities, hospitals and primary care services and the reduction of homelessness amongst ex-offenders, which is linked with re-offending in many cases.

What is the betting that when the true figure for rough sleeping come out we will have Labour press releases saying: "Sharp increase in rough sleeping since the Tories took over…."?

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