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The latest Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government statistics, released 27th February 2020, reported that there were around 4,266 ‘rough sleepers’ in England. (This publication provides information on the single night snapshot of rough sleeping that is taken annually in England using street counts and intelligence driven estimates.)
For the fifth consecutive year veterans were not identified as a discrete cohort. Classifications considered relevant are: Female (14%); Non-UK Nationals (22%) and Under 25-years old (5%).
The number of people estimated to be sleeping rough on a single night is down by 411 people or 9% from last year and down 10% from the peak in 2017, but is up by 2,498 people or 141% since 2010 when the snapshot was introduced.
For the first time in six years there has been a decrease in the number of people estimated to be sleeping rough in London and the largest decrease since 2010. London represented 27% of the England total rough sleepers in autumn 2019, the same as last year. There has also been a decrease in the rest of England again, following a decrease last year for the first time since 2010.
Where reports do include numbers of veterans they relate to individuals ‘claiming’ a military connection. ‘Claim’ because many, on further investigation, prove to be lying about their service or aspects or it. This illustration of ‘stolen valour’ is not surprising given that there are more than 2,000 ex-Service support bodies operating in the UK, offering help that is not available to those who are not veterans. This number seems to be growing, with new programmes and niche ‘help’ organisations appearing daily. (For latest information, check regularly with the Charity Commission). Of the 6% of rough sleepers described as ‘Armed Forces’ in the CHAIN Annual Report for London (2019/20) only 2% were from the UK.
The ex-Service (i.e ‘veteran’) community in the UK stands at around 2.4 million and tracking confirms that around 94/95 per cent of those who leave the Armed Forces quickly settle into employment in civilian life (See: National Audit Office – Leaving The Services and Ministry of Defence – Strategy for Veterans).
MOD’s Annual Population Survey, released 31 January 2019, offers useful comparisons between ‘veteran’ and ‘non-veteran’ status.
Clearly it is impossible to give an accurate number because there is no ‘register’ of rough sleepers, most are itinerant and the ‘homeless’ who are sofa surfers (i.e. moving around staying with family and friends) do not appear on any official radar. There are various definitions of ‘homelessness’ – and many people (journalists and politicians included) do not know who qualifies to use the title ‘veteran’.
As for what is being done – a great deal! That said, one homeless veteran is one too many – and there are undeniably individuals suffering from the effects of poverty, unemployment, social isolation, substance (drug/alcohol) abuse, relationship breakdown, mental health issues and PTSD. This must be seen in perspective however – the numbers of servicemen undergoing amputations are relatively low (See: Ministry of Defence Amputation Statistics) and the numbers presenting (to Veterans Aid) with PTSD were very low (See: UK Armed Forces Mental Health). (See: Current operations have not changed this: The Lancet/Kings College study conducted by Dr Nicola Fear and Prof Simon Wessely).
It is also worth noting that PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a condition also experienced by non-military personnel for a variety of reasons. It is surprising and disturbing to learn how many people are unaware of this. Professor Dinesh Bhugra, a former president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, believes the ‘diagnosis is being hijacked and bandied about too flimsy, doing a major disservice to the few who do seriously suffer from it.’
Overall, veterans are under-represented in both the homeless and the prison fraternity, suggesting that Service life provides them with better ‘coping skills’ than those who have had no significant military experience. (See the Ministry of Justice Official Statistics: ‘Ex-service personnel in the prison population, England and Wales’).
The real debate that needs to be conducted in the UK today revolves around whether veterans should have special rights – and if so, what should they be? Unlike their US counterparts British Veterans are not supported by a ‘Bill’ – on the other hand, US Veterans do not have access to universal healthcare in the form of an NHS. Homelessness is not caused by lack of housing, nor can simply putting roofs over people’s heads solve the problem. According to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) there are more than 634,000 empty homes in England, and around 216,000 of those have been empty for over 6 months. Moreover, the latest annual report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reminds us that having a job no longer guarantees financial security, with data showing that more than three in five people in poverty are in a working family.
If individuals are not socially/economically/physically/mentally able to ‘sustain’ themselves the solutions will be short term – which is why Veterans Aid operates holistically and offers bespoke solutions. Life in Britain today is hard and complex for the stable and able . . . for those with serious or mounting problems, it is frightening! Veterans Aid does not support the view that there is a causal link between military service and homelessness, but it does offer immediate and practical help for ALL Veterans in crisis.
See Veterans Factsheet (Office for Veterans’ Affairs, 2020) HERE.
You can find all the MOD National and Official Statistics by topic HERE.
UK Defence in Numbers booklet is available HERE.
The Homelessness Monitor: England 2019 – the annual report from I-SPHERE, Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) – of the homelessness impacts of recent economic and policy developments in England. Report is available HERE.
Useful links & Information