New research reveals impact of homelessness on EU citizens living in Britain
People from EU countries living in Britain are nearly three times more likely to experience rough sleeping than the general adult population and are twice as likely to experience homelessness overall because they struggle to access support, new research from homelessness charity Crisis has revealed.
The joint research project, led by Heriot-Watt University and IPPR, is the first of its kind to explore the scale, causes and impact of homelessness experienced by people from the European Economic Area (EEA) who have made their home in Britain.
Following these findings, Crisis is now calling on the Westminster government to make progress on its commitment to end rough sleeping for all by 2024 and introduce a package of employment and housing support for EU citizens, to help them out of homelessness for good and to stop people’s potential from going to waste.
Out of all the people experiencing core homelessness across Britain, 22,200 are originally from EEA countries which is about 9% of the total. The research found startling trends among EEA citizens in Britain experiencing homelessness, including how they’ve been disproportionately affected by job losses over the last eighteen months.
Before the pandemic, in March 2020, for people recently experiencing homelessness who are originally from EEA countries, 25% had been unemployed. This increased to 52% in the winter. For those recently experiencing rough sleeping, job loss and financial difficulties were cited as the most frequent adverse experiences (51% and 49%). This was over other common pressures that can push people into homelessness, regardless of their background, such as health problems or a relationship breakdown.
For those EU citizens experiencing homelessness who were in employment, insecure and exploitative work came through as a common theme. Over a quarter of people (28%) have had to put up with unacceptable employment conditions such as working without a contract and having an abusive employer. Many shared their experiences of being paid below the minimum wage for their work or not being paid at all.
For those with recent experience of homelessness, nearly half had no income, with 87% living below the standard poverty line, while just over half (51%) were on clearly inadequate income and were not receiving any kind of welfare support to help them stay afloat.
One man who took part in the research said: “I worked for a person for seven months and that’s where I slept and received food. However, I didn’t get any money. I didn’t get the money after seven months of work. So that’s why I was basically forced to live on the street… it was very hard.” (Male, 45-54)
The research also identified specific barriers to support. These include rules limiting access and entitlement to housing and welfare support when people needed them. Other issues such as language barriers prevent people from even finding out what help they are entitled to, stopping them from getting the support they need to leave homelessness behind for good.
Crisis is now calling on the Westminster Government to provide an estimated £32m in funding for long-term specialist support for EEA nationals living in Britain experiencing rough sleeping, so people are not left facing homelessness with no route out. Providing emergency accommodation and help to find secure and properly paid employment will help to meet the urgent needs of thousands of people who are often left locked out of the usual avenues of support.
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: “Having a home and job provides a solid foundation for us all to thrive, build our lives and contribute to our community, but this research shines a light on the fact this foundation just isn’t there for many people who have made Britain their home.
“It’s unacceptable people originally from other European countries are experiencing homelessness here and aren’t able to access the system of support when something like a job loss or health problem hits. They want to contribute to their communities and given the shortage of workers in some industries right now, enabling people to do so will not only make a difference to our country, but will also make a difference to these individuals and make sure they can leave homelessness behind for good.
“We know what the solutions are to help people out of homelessness for good. If the Government committed to providing emergency accommodation and help to find secure, properly paid employment, people from EEA countries wouldn’t be left stuck in homelessness but would instead be able to progress with their lives.
“This urgent action is not only needed to help thousands of people avoid the brutalities of homelessness, but it will also help the Government get closer to their own target of ending rough sleeping altogether by 2024.
“Everyone should be able to live in dignity, now is our opportunity to really make sure this is reality for all.”
Stefan, 20, from Bulgaria, moved to Britain when he was 15 to live with his aunt in London after experiencing homophobic abuse. At the start of last year, he was working in a bistro with his aunt, but he lost his job because of the pandemic. Support from Crisis has now helped him find a job and accommodation.
Speaking about his experience, Stefan said: “The pandemic came, and we couldn’t afford to pay the rent. The landlord evicted us and my auntie just told me to pack and we left. I was 18 and we were both out on the streets. I kept my bedclothes, but I had to throw away the rest of my belongings.
“We didn’t know there was anywhere we could go for help. We didn’t realise we were entitled to anything. There was nobody to help us.
“We slept rough in Battersea Park. We were scared someone might kill us. We had to stay there for a very long time – we were very dirty and couldn’t have a shower and felt very bad. I spent Christmas on the streets. I couldn’t stand it anymore.
“I was told about Crisis. They helped me a lot. The temperature was below zero and they helped to get me into a B&B. Now I’m working I hope I can find a permanent place to live.”
Marley Morris, associate director for migration, trade and communities at IPPR, said: “Our research has found systemic barriers to support for EU citizens experiencing homelessness in Britain. Many of the people we interviewed had faced poor conditions at work and at home – from low wages and excessive hours to exploitative employers and landlords. Often, they had lost their job, in some cases as a result of the pandemic. Yet when they looked for help, some faced difficulties qualifying for welfare, while others were simply unaware of their rights and entitlements. This left many without an adequate safety net.”
Glen Bramley, professor of urban studies at Heriot-Watt University, said: “It is particularly striking that large numbers of people have come from EEA countries and made a major working contribution to our economy and society yet are now experiencing homelessness. They’re in situations where they’re getting little or no financial support from the state or anywhere else, having previously often endured insecure and exploitative work conditions.”