Sadiq Khan pledges to eliminate rough sleeping in London ‘once and for all’

<span>City hall’s rough sleeping budget has gone up from £8.45m in 2016 to £36.3m in 2023.</span><span>Photograph: Maureen McLean/Alamy</span>
City hall’s rough sleeping budget has gone up from £8.45m in 2016 to £36.3m in 2023.Photograph: Maureen McLean/Alamy

Sadiq Khan has pledged to eliminate rough sleeping in London, where the numbers on the streets have reached the highest level in a decade.

If elected to a historic third term as mayor of London, Khan plans to spend an extra £10m on what has been described as a growing humanitarian crisis in the city.

The fourth quarter of 2023 saw a 23% year-on-year increase in rough sleeping in London, with 4,389 people counted – the most since city hall started recording figures in 2014. More than half were sleeping rough for the first time.

Announcing his latest manifesto commitment on Monday ahead of the mayoral election on 2 May, Khan will describe the situation as a scandal that must be condemned to history.

Khan will say: “A vote for Labour on 2 May is a vote to end the indignity, fear and isolation felt by those forced to endure a life on the street once and for all.”

According to Khan’s campaign team, the new funds will be used to provide specialist assessments and support to help people on the streets to rebuild their lives.

In his speech on Monday, Khan will say it is time “to reject the notion that homelessness is some natural, stubborn feature of modern life that we have no option but to abide”.

He will tell voters that “rough sleeping was all but eradicated” by the last Labour government and will pledge to “condemn the scandal of rough sleeping to history, not just for a short time but for all time”.

Rough sleeping has more than doubled across Britain since 2010 and the number of homeless people in temporary housing has risen to an all-time high.

City hall’s rough sleeping budget has gone up from £8.45m in 2016 to £36.3m in 2023 but the latest figures relating to people on London’s streets have been described by homelessness charities as devastating.

The London boroughs with the most rough sleepers were Westminster, Camden and Ealing. Of those counted, 40% were from the UK and the rest from Europe (24%), Africa (15%), Asia (10%), and elsewhere or not known (11%).

Rough sleeping increased in all regions of England between 2022 and 2023 despite a Conservative 2019 manifesto promise to end rough sleeping before the next general election.

An estimated 3,898 people slept rough in 2023, an annual increase of 27% – the largest annual rise since 2015. The numbers are more than double (up 120%) those in 2010.

Meanwhile, the government is facing a backbench rebellion over plans to criminalise those who sleep on the streets.

Under proposals due to be voted on by MPs before the autumn, ministers intend to give police the powers to fine or move on “nuisance” rough sleepers.

Critics say the draft legislation could result in people being arrested, given a £2,500 fine or even jailed for “excessive odour”, or for merely appearing as though they intend to sleep rough.