Rough sleeper numbers in Black Country nearly triple in seven years

The number of rough sleepers in the Black Country has almost tripled over the last seven years, according to new official figures.

The number of rough sleepers is rising
The number of rough sleepers is rising

The National Audit Office says homelessness of all kinds has increased 'significantly' since 2010/11.

An 'snapshot' overnight count last Autumn found that nationally there were 4,134 people sleeping on the streets – an increase of 134 per cent since the Conservatives entered power.

But in the Black Country the spike was 163 per cent, with 58 rough sleepers found compared with 22 in 2010/11.

However South Staffordshire bucked the trend and saw the number of people sleeping rough drop from seven to just one over the same period.

Walsall saw the highest number of rough sleepers of the Black Country boroughs. The most recent figures showed in had 26 in 2016/17, an increase of 225 per cent from seven years ago.

The biggest increase came in Sandwell, which saw a rise of 450 per cent from two to 11.

In Wolverhampton the number of homeless people found on the streets doubled from nine to 18. In Dudley the figure remained static on three.

The NAO has accused the government of having a 'light touch approach' to tackling the problem.

It's report said that homelessness cost more than £1 billion a year to deal with, noting that rents in England had risen at the same time as households have seen a cut to some benefits.

Reforms to the local housing allowance are 'likely to have contributed' to making it more expensive for claimants to rent privately and 'are an element of the increase in homelessness,' the report added.

Government welfare reforms announced in 2015 included a four-year freeze to housing benefit - which was implemented in April last year.

Auditor General Sir Amyas Morse said the Department for Work and Pensions had failed to evaluate the impact of the benefit changes on homelessness.

"It is difficult to understand why the department persisted with its light touch approach in the face of such a visibly growing problem," he said.

"Its recent performance in reducing homelessness therefore cannot be considered value for money."

Councils spent £1.1bn on homelessness in 2015/16 - with £845m going to pay for temporary accommodation, the NAO added.

The Local Government Association, which represents councils, called on the Government to support councils by allowing them to invest in building affordable homes and 'provide the support and resources they need to help prevent people becoming homeless in the first place'.

The Government said it was investing £550 million by 2020 to address the issue.

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