Christmas without a home

By Heather Cameron

Last week saw George Clooney launch a campaign to feed the homeless at Christmas by donating the first £5.

When visiting Edinburgh’s branch of Scotland’s not-for-profit sandwich shop, Social Bite, last month, Clooney filmed a video clip on a staff member’s phone in which he pledged the first £5 donation to Social Bite’s £5 Christmas dinner appeal.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Olympic star Sir Chris Hoy, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, comedian Rob Brydon, broadcaster Chris Evans, and Scotland football manager Gordon Strachan have also pledged their support.

Last year’s campaign raised enough money to buy 36,000 meals to feed homeless people in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen for the whole year. Just 24 hours after Clooney’s initial donation, £165,000 was raised with over 33,000 people donating.

How many homeless?

Considering that Scottish local authorities logged 35,764 statutory homelessness assessments in 2014/15, of which 28,615 were assessed as ‘legally homeless’, this figure is impressive.

Nevertheless, the actual number of homeless people is likely to be far greater.

The latest data for Scotland suggests that 50,000 adults experience homelessness each year.

Shelter has estimated that 109,000 children in Britain will be homeless this Christmas, with nearly 5,000 of them in Scotland. According to the Scottish arm of charity, this is a 15% increase on last year’s figure, which:

“is simply not good enough and a badge of shame for such a relatively wealthy country”…The increased number of homeless children indicates a growing bottleneck of families stuck in temporary accommodation due to the major shortage of affordable housing across Scotland.”

upset boy against a wall

Government figures show that the number of people in temporary accommodation has grown over the past five years despite more than £1bn being spent on homelessness since 2010.

And these figures don’t include the hidden homeless that evade official statistics. According to Crisis, “official homelessness figures are masking the true scale of the problem”.

People living in overcrowded accommodation, shared accommodation, young single people and those in ‘concealed households’ (including groups/families/single people who are unable to form separate households and forced to live with others) can all be hidden from the system. And as local authorities only have to accommodate ‘statutory’ homeless people, these people are often hidden from support and advice as well as statistics.

Positive practice

As Social Bite’s Christmas dinner campaign shows though, good work is being done. Many homeless charities work tirelessly across the UK to provide services for people at Christmas time and indeed throughout the year.

The Salvation Army provides support and friendship to the homeless and other vulnerable people and its Christmas appeal for donations of time, money and gifts has seen much success over the years.

Crisis runs their Crisis at Christmas event across the country providing hot meals, fun activities, entertainment, health care and advice for the homeless. This year they have Christmas centres in Birmingham, Coventry, Edinburgh, London and Newcastle.

A new community initiative led by students at Darlington College aims to give homeless people in the town a Christmas lunch at the college, a cooking demonstration and festive meal at a local restaurant.

And as well as providing dinners for homeless people in Scotland, Social Bite will also be using donations to provide food and clothing packs for refugees in camps in Calais, the Serbia/Croatia border, and Lesbos.

Final thoughts

With the sheer scale and complexity of the issue, of course it won’t be possible for such initiatives to reach every homeless person. And with the combination of cuts to welfare and a severe lack of affordable housing across the UK, many more families are likely to face a fight to keep roofs over their heads.

So while we settle down to enjoy the festive period with our nearest and dearest, perhaps we should all spare a thought for those who simply seek the gift of shelter.


Further reading: if you liked this blog post, you might also want to read our previous blog on Britain’s hidden homeless. 

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Out of sight, out of mind? Britain’s hidden homeless

“It was one mate’s floor one night, another mate’s sofa the next night. There’s so much pressure not to let people know how bad your situation is, but deep down, you’re absolutely falling apart.”

In February, the latest Homelessness Monitor was published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) and the homelessness charity Crisis. Official estimates of rough sleeper numbers in England in 2013 were reported to have reached 2,414, a 37% rise since 2010.

But the authors suggested that the true figure could be at least four times that number because of a category of homeless people who rarely make it into the official statistics. These are the ‘hidden homeless’: people living in bed-and-breakfasts, in overcrowded squats, and hostels, on the floors and sofas of friends and family, and sometimes sleeping rough in the unlikeliest of locations. Often, they fall short of getting help from their local authority because they have been assessed as intentionally homeless, or they are not considered as priorities.

The problem is not a new one. But the Homelessness Monitor also indicated that today’s hidden homeless includes higher numbers of families, single and separated people, women and young people.

Any one of us could find ourselves in this position. It might take a breakdown in mental health, or the sudden impact of a job loss, a broken relationship, a rise in rent. In addition, changes to government housing benefit rules have meant people under-occupying accommodation are seeking smaller homes, substantially reducing the availability of one-bedroom social rented accommodation for single homeless people.

In 2012, a Department for Communities and Local Government evidence review of the costs of homelessness in England had difficulty in pinning down a definitive account of the financial costs to the government, or the opportunity costs to the rest of society. However, it did highlight the £345m spent by English local authorities on homelessness in 2010-11. Even though the hidden homeless may not be appearing on official figures, local councils are still providing tens of thousands of people with related support services, such as debt advice and family mediation.

The human costs of hidden homelessness are easier to identify. A ComRes poll last year found that one in five UK 16-25 year-olds had to stay with friends or extended family on floors or sofas in the previous twelve months because they had nowhere else to go.  Some were made homeless after they were evicted, others because of family relationship breakdown, and one in ten was forced to leave home due to domestic violence. Their chances of finding work, or sustaining their education will be greatly reduced.

Tackling the problem of hidden homelessness goes to the heart of a wider issue: the shortage of affordable housing. But it also means addressing the difficulties that can drive people from their homes.

Launching a 2014 report into homelessness among women, Alexia Murphy, head of the St Mungo’s women project, suggested that preventative solutions are achievable:

“An ‘easy win’ is to build better bridges between GPs and social services. Before women become homeless, they are often presenting to health professionals with headaches, depression and stress – but the root cause here is usually social.”

However, the problem also needs resources, and although there are government initiatives and support services to tackle homelessness among vulnerable people, housing campaigners believe more should be done.

In 2004, Shelter published a report highlighting the plight of the hidden homeless, and proposed 17 solutions to the problem. Ten years later, another report, from IPPR North , indicated that things were no better:

“Homeless households living in unsupported temporary accommodation represent a hidden social problem. It is absent from official statistics, and the acute and complex problems associated with such households are left unrecorded. This cannot continue”

Meanwhile, the voices of the hidden homeless, such as the one which opened this blog post are still struggling to be heard.

“If you’ve got nowhere to call home you’re always uncomfortable, always unsettled, you’re not safe.”


The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on housing policy issues. To find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Further recent reading*

Addressing complex needs: improving services for vulnerable homeless people

Search for a home (homelessness in England)

Getting the house in order: keeping homeless older teenagers safe

Not home: the lives of hidden homeless households in unsupported temporary accommodation in England

Homelessness in Scotland 2014: getting behind the statistics

*Some resources may only be available to members of the Idox Information Service

A generation priced out of home ownership?

for sale sign

by Brelda Baum

Danny Dorling’s book ‘All that is solid: the great housing disaster’ has recently launched at the London School of Economics (on18th March 2014) where it was flagged as ‘a ground-breaking examination of the UK’s dangerous relationship with the housing market, and how easily it could, will, come crashing down’, and goes on to voice Professor Dorling’s argument that housing ‘is the defining issue of our times’. Continue reading