Nine years of government cuts have left local services for single homeless people with a shocking £1bn a year funding gap, according to major new research commissioned by St Mungo’s and Homeless Link.

The charities are warning that punishing cuts to council budgets are leaving increasing numbers of people at risk on the streets, and calling on the Government to act now to make up the funding shortfall – or inevitably face missing its target of ending rough sleeping by 2027.

The report, Local Authority Spending on Homelessness, by WPI Economics, shows that council spending on support for single homeless people in England fell by 53% between 2008-9 and 2017-18. This means that local authorities in England are now spending almost £1bn less a year on these vital homelessness services compared to ten years ago.

Overall, more than £5bn less has been spent on services for single homeless people over the past nine years than would have been spent had funding continued at 2008-9 levels. During the same period, homelessness in England has risen dramatically, with the number of people sleeping rough now 165% higher than it was in 2010.

Single people and couples without children are the least likely to have a legal right to be housed by their council and so are the most likely to end up sleeping on the streets. Support for this group is crucial to help them find and keep accommodation, and cope with the complex problems that may be contributing to their homelessness, including poor mental health, substance use and domestic abuse.

Government cuts to funding for single homelessness services have hit hard. Until 2009 the Supporting People programme, funded by the Government, provided local authorities with ring-fenced funding for people struggling to live independently to avoid and escape homelessness. The impact of the removal of this ring-fence along with the reduction in the levels of housing-related support funding has been felt acutely by homelessness services.

The charities are warning that these cuts are leaving vulnerable people with nowhere to turn, and could be putting lives at risk. Data from Homeless Link shows a 30% fall in the number of bed spaces in accommodation projects for single homeless people, including hostels, from an estimated 50,000 in 2008 to 35,000 in 2017.

Researchers asked councils and service providers about the impact of the cuts, and found a worrying reduction in services aimed at preventing homelessness, such as family mediation and tenancy sustainment. Without early intervention services, people cannot access support until they reach crisis point, and for many this means being forced to face the dangers of sleeping rough before getting any help.

While the Government’s Rough Sleeping Strategy has provided welcome additional funding for homelessness services, it falls short of replacing the lost funding identified in this research.

St Mungo’s and Homeless Link are calling on the Government to use the upcoming Spending Review to redress the shortfall by investing an extra £1bn a year in homelessness services through a ring fenced grant to local authorities.

Howard Sinclair, Chief Executive of St Mungo’s, said:

“This shocking billion pound a year funding gap must be a wake-up call for the Government. Councils have a crucial role to play in preventing and reducing homelessness and rough sleeping, but years of cuts have left them struggling to tackle rising homelessness with fewer and fewer resources. If the Government does not act to restore funding to previous levels, it is likely to miss its target of ending rough sleeping by 2027.

“The human cost of these cuts is all too real. The people we work with – many struggling with poor mental health, substance use or domestic violence – are often being left with no option but to sleep rough. With nearly 600 people dying on our streets or while homeless in a year, this really is a matter of life and death. The Government must use this year’s Spending Review to put the money back and to turn the tide of rising homelessness. It can only do this by committing to a programme of guaranteed, long-term funding, so that everyone can find and keep a home for good.”

Rick Henderson, Chief Executive of national membership body for the homelessness and supported housing sector, Homeless Link, said:

“There are too many people sleeping rough and facing homelessness in this country – we can see it every day on our streets and it is unacceptable. Local authorities have a key role in supporting people who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness, but they can only do so if they have enough money to fund services properly.

“Guaranteed and long-term funding for councils to prevent and resolve homelessness would be a game changer. It would allow for focused, joined-up, strategic commissioning of services that truly work. The Government have a chance to do this in the upcoming Spending Review and we urge them to do so.

“This, alongside building more genuinely affordable homes and creating a robust welfare system that adequately supports people and stops them from being locked in poverty, should be an essential part of their plan to end rough sleeping. It’s only right that people have a place to call home and the support they need to keep it.”

Read our Local Authority Spending on Homelessness report summary briefing.