NEW rules requiring councils to report the scale of dire poverty and destitution in their areas have revealed the number of rough sleepers across England continues to rise.
The number of people sleeping on the streets is now up by more than a third since 2010, in what critics called a “clear warning sign” of the impact of benefit cuts.
Counts and estimates compiled by local authorities in the autumn put the number at 2,414 - that's 105 more than the previous year and a 37% increase over three years.
Statistics sent by Wirral show there were seven people sleeping rough in the borough.
But homeless people's charity Crisis, which has a centre in Merseyside, said these figures only tell part of the story and that homelessness agencies across England often report seeing many more rough sleepers than official figures record.
In recognition of this, the Government recently overhauled the way it counts rough sleepers in an attempt to make it more accurate.
The new methodology consists of snapshot street counts and estimates by local authorities.
There has also been a broadening of the definition of what constitutes a "rough sleeper."
However, Crisis warns it should be noted these figures are a snapshot taken on one night and fall well short of what local agencies report over the course of a year.
Councillor George Davies, Wirral Council cabinet member for neighbourhoods, housing and engagement, said: “The figure of seven Wirral submitted for the number of rough sleepers on a typical night in 2013 is based on robust data provided by all agencies which work with rough sleepers in the borough.
“The council strives to do everything possible to prevent people from becoming homeless and take our legal duty to do so very seriously.
“We have a number of services in place to help vulnerable people who are struggling with their housing, many of which can be accessed through our network of One Stop Shops.”
He continued: “We have also seen an increase in the number of individuals and families presenting as homeless, who we have been able to support by providing emergency accommodation.
“We work closely with other public sector partners and voluntary organisations on a number of initiatives, including the ‘No Second Night Out’ campaign, which aims to put an end to rough sleeping across Merseyside.”
Labour said the rough sleeping rise was a “direct consequence” of Government policies.
Shadow housing minister Emma Reynolds said: "The Government was warned its policies risked increasing homelessness and rough sleeping but these warnings fell on deaf ears.”
Housing Minister Kris Hopkins said: “For years, the national figure on the numbers of rough sleepers failed to reflect the true situation on our streets.
“We've changed that so every council now has to report the scale of the problem in their area.
“We've also introduced the No Second Night Out initiative, which actively seeks to find and help hidden rough sleepers and means that 70% of rough sleepers spend no more than one night on the streets."
If you are concerned about someone who may be sleeping rough in Merseyside you can contact No Second Night Out on 0300 123 2041.
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Homeless and sleeping on the streets:
It says sleeping rough is a dangerous and traumatising experience.
People who sleep rough are 35 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population
It is difficult to get an absolute figure for the number of people sleeping rough.
One reason for this is that, in order to protect themselves, many rough sleepers hide themselves away in places where they might be difficult to find and this is especially true for women. 44 per cent of current rough sleepers surveyed by Crisis reported that they had not had any contact with a rough sleepers’ team in the past month.
Homelessness is an isolating and destructive experience and homeless people are some of the most vulnerable and socially excluded in society.
Causes and consequences:
Crisis research looking at people's turning points into homelessness in the UK found that reasons most often cited by male participants were relationship breakdown, substance misuse, and leaving an institution (prison, care, hospital etc.).
For homeless women, the most common causes were physical or mental health problems and escaping a violent relationship.
There are also problems in wider society that can contribute towards homelessness.
These structural causes might include a lack of affordable housing; high levels of poverty, unemployment or worklessness; the way in which the benefits system operates; or the way social housing is rationed.
After years of declining trends, 2010 marked the turning point when all forms of homelessness began to rise.
However, it is likely that homelessness will increase yet further as the delayed effects of the economic downturn, cuts to housing benefit and other reforms all start to bite.