Public not as concerned and sympathetic towards homelessness as 12 months ago, report finds

Homelessness is perceived as a serious problem by the public who expect it to get worse and are supportive of a range of policies designed to address it. However, between 2020 and 2021 there was a trend towards weakening concern and sympathy towards those it affects.

Public not as concerned and sympathetic towards homelessness as 12 months ago, report finds

This is according to a new survey by Ipsos for the Centre for Homelessness Impact, conducted 12 months after the first (November/December 20). The survey is designed to track changes in public perceptions of homelessness.

The report found that 74% of people say more should be done to address homelessness, down from 79%. At the same time, 67% say as a society we do not pay enough attention to homelessness, compared with 71%.

Simultaneously, 24% of the population believe that homelessness is a consequence of bad life choices, compared with 17%. While 65% of the population think poverty is a root cause of homelessness, down from 73%.

The survey reflects the Centre’s interest in better understanding the public’s knowledge and attitudes towards homelessness, and the perceived difference that policy and evidence can make. The Centre is a member of the What Works Network, which supports the use of data and evidence to accelerate an end to homelessness.

Homelessness is seen as a serious problem across the UK, with just over eight in 10 people (83%) viewing it as a very or fairly serious problem. Half this proportion (39%) view it as a very serious problem, which marks a notable drop since 2020, when it was 47%. More think homelessness affects the whole of society (49%) than those who think only those who experience it are affected (25%).

The proportion who believe that homelessness will increase in the next 12 months is also falling, with 62% expecting this, compared with 74% in 2020. The longer-term outlook is also downbeat with only 7% of people thinking homelessness will decrease in the next two years.

There is strong support for clarifying what “ending homelessness” means, with 76% in agreement, and the same proportion (75%) agree we need ways of measuring progress
towards ending homelessness. Across the UK, seven in ten (71%) support the implementation of a similar policy to ‘Everyone In’ during winter periods – providing funding for local councils to support people experiencing street homelessness or in shelters to move into hotel rooms and emergency accommodation – and support is similarly high in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Attitudes and expectations are fairly similar across nations, however, those living in Scotland and Wales are more likely than average to think that homelessness will increase in the next 12 months. Two-thirds (66%) in both countries expect this to happen while 61% think this in England and 64% in Northern Ireland. People living in Scotland are more likely than average to agree that ‘as a society, we do not pay enough attention to homelessness’.

Just under three in ten (28%) say that they have experienced homelessness themselves (10%), or through a family member (10%) or close friend (11%). This increases to half (47%) of those aged 16-34 – a significant increase from three in ten (34%) in 2020. On average, the public believes that 14% of adults are currently homeless in the UK. In reality, the proportion of the population experiencing homelessness is less than 0.5%.

Dr Lígia Teixeira, chief executive of the Centre for Homelessness Impact, said: “Our survey with Ipsos gives us a unique barometer of popular opinion over time. It’s important that we report its findings honestly, good or bad, to create an evidence base on public perceptions of homelessness.

“The movement in opinion on the issue of homelessness might reflect the changing context of the pandemic and is something we should keep a close eye on because we are at a defining moment for homelessness in the United Kingdom. We have seen brave and radical initiatives to protect people experiencing homelessness during the pandemic and significant falls in the numbers of people sleeping out. As Covid-19 restrictions are lifted and the emergency measures are unwound, it is vital that the progress made is sustained and built upon. For that we need public support.”

Poverty is seen by the public as a major factor of many of the problems that can lead to homelessness, but there has been a significant decrease in that sentiment in the past year (73% in 2020, vs 65% in 2021).

Although the commonly held view is that homelessness is driven by issues outside an individual’s control, the most frequently selected cause (from a list of 17) is alcohol or drug problems, selected by half. Compared with 2020, significantly fewer people think homelessness is caused by unemployment (19% versus 25%).

Two-thirds (66%) agree that the situation could be helped with more affordable housing, while 69% think that governments should guarantee the right to access decent and affordable housing for all – a slight decrease from 71% and 74% in 2020 respectively.

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