Sadiq Khan vows to 'eliminate' rough sleeping in London by 2030

Sadiq Khan on Monday pledged to “eliminate” rough sleeping in London by 2030 – despite the number of people living on the streets having soared 71 per cent since he has been mayor.

Latest figures show 4,389 people were found sleeping rough between October and January – compared with 2,561 just prior to Mr Khan taking office in 2016.

The 4,389 recorded by outreach teams is the highest for several years and is about 1,500 more since the Covid pandemic was followed by the cost of living crisis.

In January, more than 300 refugees ended up on the streets after being evicted from Home Office hotels, a situation described by London Councils as “deeply alarming”. It said there had been a 32 per cent increase in rough sleepers in the last year, with the capital the worst affected part of the country.

On an average night, more than 1,100 people will be sleeping rough in the capital. Familiar locations include Tottenham Court Road, where the population of tent dwellers appears to have increased. Many others can be found asleep on the Night Tube at weekends.

At the end of Mr Khan’s first term in 2021, rough sleeping had fallen 19 per cent year on year.

Monday’s manifesto commitment – trailed in his TV election broadcast earlier this month - aims to “condemn the scandal of rough sleeping to history” in London – but not until two years after the next four-year mayoral term ends in 2028.

Mr Khan said the reason for this 2030 deadline was because the promise had been “synced” up with national rather than mayoral politics.

“It’s possible the general election won’t be until January 2025,” he said. “The parliamentary term is five years, and so we’ve synced the pledge with the next Labour Government’s timelines.”

The mayor suggested that the promise to end rough sleeping would not be possible without Labour in power nationally.

He said: “The causes of rough sleeping we can’t deal with without a change of Government. We know the causes of rough sleeping. One out of four people sleeping rough was formerly a tenant in private [rented] accommodation - that’s why ‘no fault’ evictions have got to go.

"We also know some of the welfare benefits changes made by the Government have been a source for those sleeping rough. That’s got to go as well.

“If there’s a Labour Government, we’ll have 1.5 million new homes [over five years] across the country. [We’ll get a] big chunk of those in London.

“In relation to landlord licensing, if we had a Labour Government, we could have better quality accommodation across London, which would make it less likely for people to have to leave their homes.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan (PA Wire)
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan (PA Wire)

According to the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN), which is commissioned by the Greater London Authority to provide quarterly and annual statistics on rough sleeping, 1,070 of the people spotted on the streets between January and March were in and around the West End boroughs of Westminster and Camden.

The 4,389 total included 2,283 new rough sleepers, of which 1,652 spent “no second night out”. A further 1,610 people were described as “intermittent” rough sleepers.

More than 1,700 were British, 1,065 European, 680 from Africa and 442 from Asia. The vast majority – 3,630 people - were men, and were most likely to be aged 36 to 45.

Only a third of the 3,384 who were assessed were not found to have alcohol, drug or mental health problems.

More than 800 had been in prison, more than 140 had been in the armed forces and almost 250 had been in care.

The figures do not include the many thousands of Londoners regarded as “hidden homeless” – people who are “sofa surfing” or living in squats.

City Hall already spends more than £36million a year on homelessness services.

Mr Khan plans to boost this by a total of £10million over the next three years and double to six the number of “ending homelessness hubs” across the capital.

By 2028, he wants to help at least 1,700 rough sleepers off the streets and provide specialist assessment and support to help people rebuild their lives.

Mr Khan, who was speaking in Waterloo - known as “cardboard city” in the 1980s - on Monday morning, pledged to “end the indignity, fear and isolation felt by those forced to endure a life on the street once and for all”.

He said it was time “to reject the notion that homelessness is some natural, stubborn feature of modern life that we have no option but to abide” and “condemn the scandal of rough sleeping to history, not just for a short time but for all time”.

Referring to the last Labour Government, he said: “We came close before. This time we will see it through.”

He said the lack of housing meant that one child in every London classroom was “without a place they can call home”.

But Tory mayoral candidate Susan Hall said: "This is yet another promise that Sadiq Khan will fail to deliver, given his appalling record on housing.

“Sadiq Khan has only started building four per cent of the affordable homes he promised in the latest programme, and it is his failure that has kept people stuck in temporary accommodation and made it harder to get rough sleepers off the streets.

"We cannot solve homelessness without solving the housing crisis, which is why I have pledged to build more family homes Londoners can afford."

According to Labour, more than 16,000 rough sleepers have been helped off the streets since 2016. Three quarters of those who received support have not been seen sleeping rough again.

Dr Tom Kerridge, of youth homelessness charity Centrepoint, said: “Everyone should share the mayor’s ambition that we end rough sleeping in London.

“We know it can be done and we know, with the right investment, it should be possible. So, any new money towards achieving that goal is welcome but the fact is the mayor and other local authorities can only do so much.

“In London alone, Centrepoint estimate the shortfall in funding to support young people facing homelessness to run to dozens of millions of pounds with some boroughs requiring huge pots of funding just to be able to cope with the hundreds coming to them for support each month.

“Rough sleeping rightly generates the most coverage, but the level of homelessness more widely is both a moral scandal and deeply-rooted political problem that can’t be solved by piecemeal pots of money."