Thursday, 31 March 2016

Homelessness and people with learning disabilities: what do we know?

Prompted by a series of tweets from @CommCats about meeting a woman with Down’s syndrome sleeping rough on a London street after falling behind with the rent on her flat, and a question from @alexsharedlives asking if I knew any statistics about people with learning disabilities who are homeless, I promised to have a dig around and see what I could find. Rather than a tweet bombardment, I thought it would be better to put this into a quick blog, but most of these statistics are new to me so I would be grateful to hear if I’ve got anything wrong or missed out any useful sources of information.

Social services statistics

To start with, I looked at the local authority statistics on the types of accommodation that adults with learning disabilities are living in. There are some massive limitations to this as a source of information on homelessness: 1) It’s only for adults aged 18-64 years old; 2) Up to 2013/14 this was only for adults with learning disabilities known to (i.e. recognised as a person with learning disabilities by) councils; 3) From 2014/15 this is only for adults with learning disabilities getting long-term support from councils.
The table below shows the number of adults people with learning disabilities recorded by councils as being in five types of ‘unsettled accommodation’ that to me suggest homelessness: rough sleeper/squatting; night shelter/emergency hostel/; refuge; placed in temporary accommodation (e.g. a B&B) by the council; and staying with family/friends as a short-term guest.

From 2010/11 up to 2013/14, the number of adults with learning disabilities in these types of accommodation increased by 29% over these three years – by 2013/14, 0.8% of all adults with learning disabilities known to councils (1,170 people) were homeless or in extremely temporary accommodation. The nearest equivalent figure for Scotland in 2014 was 57 homeless adults with learning disabilities, 0.2% of people known to the council (see ).

In 2014/15, councils only returned information on people getting long-term support – the total number of adults with learning disabilities recorded dropped drastically (by 13% in one year) and the number of people reported as being in these types of temporary accommodation dropped even more drastically (by 29% in one year, to 825 people). This isn’t a decrease in homelessness – it’s a shuffling of adults with learning disabilities off the statistical books.

So, even these highly limited statistics suggest a trend towards increasing homelessness for adults with learning disabilities, especially among those people who were known to councils but aren’t getting long-term support from them.

It also ignores the much larger group of adults who as children were recorded by the education system as having learning disabilities, but who are not identified as such in social or health care services – likely to be at least 700,000 people (see here for a discussion of this ). Even taking the rate of 0.8% of people in highly temporary accommodation reported for adults with learning disabilities known to councils in 2013/14 (which is likely to be an under-estimate), this would suggest another 5,600 homeless adults with learning disabilities in England. In total, this is getting up towards 7,000 homeless adults with learning disabilities in England. 

Statutory homelessness statistics

I also looked at the statutory homelessness statistics reported by the Department for Communities and Local Government (see here ) to see if they included any information on people with learning disabilities. I’m new to this information so I may well have got things horribly wrong, but my understanding is that households with a person with learning disabilities should count as one of the ‘priority need’ groups for local authorities in terms of a homelessness duty, on account of their ‘vulnerability’.  

Unfortunately, it isn’t clear from the national statistics that this is the case. Information is broken down by some ‘priority need’ groups (households with dependent children; household member pregnant; homeless in emergency; household member vulnerable through old age, physical disability, mental illness, being a young person, domestic violence, or ‘other’), but people with learning disabilities are not one of these groups and are not explicitly mentioned as being part of the ‘other’ group either.

I don’t know if this means that information on people with learning disabilities is collected but not explicitly reported (so they are part of the ‘other’ group), or if people with learning disabilities are not, in fact, treated as a ‘priority need’ group by councils.

Overall, the number of households in ‘priority need’ groups being accepted as homeless by councils has increased from 2010 to 2015 (from 42,390 people in 2010 to 56,500 in 2015, an increase of 33%). Among the English population generally, there has also been a big increase in rough sleeping (102% increase from 2010 to 3,569 households in 2015 – see ). It would be odd if adults with learning disabilities, particularly those not getting long-term support from councils, were bucking this general trend.

A Shelter report into the 2014 Scottish homelessness statistics (see ) reported that 630 out of 9,999 households with a priority need assessed as homeless included a person with learning disabilities as a ‘priority need’ – this was 2% of all households assessed as homeless by local authorities in Scotland.


Given the severe limitations of the national statistics, surveys conducted by homelessness organisations can be really helpful. For example, Homeless Link do an annual survey of providers of support to homeless people, and in their 2015 report they found that 8% of people using homeless accommodation services were people with learning difficulties, and 7% using day centres for homeless people were people with learning difficulties (see ).

What do we know?

From this initial look at the statistics concerning homelessness amongst people with learning disabilities in England, we know some things but not others:
  1. Whatever information you use, homelessness is a significant problem amongst people with learning disabilities, and is likely to be on the increase.
  2. Official statistics say very little about homelessness amongst people with learning disabilities, and are moving towards making the issue of homelessness amongst people with learning disabilities invisible.
  3. We don’t know how many people with learning disabilities are homeless, how they have been made homeless, the extent to which homelessness services are accessible to people with learning disabilities, and how (if at all) people are being supported to regain a home.


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