Crisis-Level Catastrophe: The UK Surpasses the US in Homelessness

homelessness crisis in UK: a homeless person sitting on the sidewalk
The UK has surpassed the US in homelessness rates, with a lifetime literal homelessness rate of 7.7%, highlighting a severe affordability crisis.

When people talk about homelessness in the so-called “developed world,” their minds often shift to California, New York City, and other places in the United States where we are undoubtedly dealing with an unprecedented homeless crisis. But here’s something that might surprise you: Statistically, there is even more homelessness in the UK.

The UK Has the Highest Rates of Lifetime Literal Homelessness in the First World

The lifetime literal rate of homelessness in the UK stands at 7.7%, which is higher than in the United States of America. This homeless rate also soars over homelessness in Belgium, Italy, and Germany, breaking all the worst records in all the wrong places.

The global shame of holding these astronomical rates of homelessness might serve as an incentive at any other time. But rough sleeping in the UK recently shot up another 27%.

This reflects a staggering 120% increase in unsheltered homelessness over the past 14 years, a stark reminder of the human toll of the ever-burgeoning affordability crisis. Each percentage point represents a life, a story, a struggle, and a plea for help that is going unanswered.

“To bring these numbers down, we urgently need the Westminster government to put long-term funding into the proven solutions we know help people to leave the streets behind, such as Housing First. But crucially, we also need to see a complete change in approach and a commitment to build the levels of social housing we need every year,” said Crisis Chief Executive Matt Downie.

However, the task might be easier said than done.

Systemic Issues: The Leading Causes of Homelessness in the UK are Comparable to US Causes

Experts point to the failure of income to keep pace with the price of housing as the leading reason so many UK residents are becoming homeless. Likewise, in the United States, a lack of affordable housing continues to cause the crisis.

Other underlying issues are also similar in that they are systemic. They include:

  • Poverty
  • Systemic inequality
  • Discrimination

However, the court of public opinion is being swayed.

While academic research cites systemic structural issues as the foremost causes of the UK’s homeless crisis, research from the Homeless Hub reveals that the public feels differently. This could be the reason homelessness is getting worse, going unsolved, and surpassing other otherwise comparable nations.

The US and The UK Both Harbor Hostile Sentiments Toward Homeless People

It’s important to point out that the UK and the US, which lead the “developed” world in rates of homelessness, have something else in common.

Alongside the economic challenges of skyrocketing rent, stagnant wages, and a lack of affordable housing, the UK and the US also share a concerning sentiment toward homeless individuals. This shared negative perception could be a key factor in the UK’s more severe crisis compared to Germany, where the lifetime literal homeless rate is relatively low at 2.4%.

By looking at these figures, we can understand how public sentiment shapes political policy and how attributing the fault of homelessness to the wrong group of people (in this case, the people being victimized by the problem) can have shattering nationwide effects.

Increased Criminalization Legislation Leads to More Homelessness, or in the Case of the UK, the Most Homelessness

The UK and the US have been neck and neck in this shameful race to the bottom, proving, if nothing else, that their punitive approaches to homelessness only make the crisis worse.

In response to the 27% increase in rough sleepers, UK leaders broke out the handcuffs, arresting more than 3,000 homeless individuals, some of whom were reported to be as young as ten years old.

The Vagrancy Act, a 200-year-old piece of legislation that was said to be scrapped but is still enforced, pales in comparison to new, harsher propositions like the Criminal Justice Bill, which promises even harsher punishment for rough sleeping.

Meanwhile, affordable housing continues to plummet, to the point that UK residents are now expected to spend more on housing and accommodations than people living elsewhere in the world, including in places like New York and California.

The story of wealth inequality is being told in the richest nations in the modern world. A tent here, a luxurious mansion overlooking a pond right next door—this is our stark reality. Fortunately, it is not too late to change.

Tell Your Legislators to Make Housing a Human Right

Human rights are a cherished European tradition, and housing should be included on that list. Let us rewrite this shameful history of homelessness by urging our lawmakers to prioritize housing and make it an irrevocable human right for all. The power to change this narrative is in our hands, and together, we can make a difference.

Cynthia Griffith

Cynthia Griffith


Cynthia Griffith is a freelance writer dedicated to social justice and environmental issues.

Related Topics

Get the Invisible People newsletter


homeless woman grants pass


disabled homeless man in Grants Pass


Elderly homeless woman in Grants Pass, Oregon


Homeless woman on the sidewalk in Miami



restrictive zoning laws hinder development of affordable housing

Restrictive Zoning Laws Exacerbate the Housing Shortage Crisis in D.C.

Mental Health Crisis, Homelessness

From Hippocrates to Homelessness: A Journey Through Medical Ethics and Social Neglect

Tiny Homes under construction for homeless people

Homeless Housing Projects Face Delays as Need Grows

public bathrooms

Adding Public Bathrooms in NYC is a Small Step in the Right Direction

Get the Invisible People newsletter