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When everyone has a home

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Homelessness in the UK: who is most at risk?

Researchers at Heriot-Watt University have examined the evidence to increase our understanding of why some people are more at risk of becoming homeless than other people. 

Glen Bramley and Suzanne Fitzpatrick (I-SPHERE) set out to question the validity of “the common pressure group and media refrain that we are ‘all two pay cheques away from homelessness’” (p. 1), by analysing the characteristics and circumstances of people who have experienced homelessness.  The study explores the relative impact of a range of potential causal factors in accounting for the frequency and distribution of homelessness in the UK.

Bramley & Fitzpatrick’s analysis illustrates that, in the UK, homelessness is not randomly distributed across the population.  Instead, the likelihood of experiencing homelessness is structured around a set of identifiable individual, social and structural factors.  The researchers emphasize that the vast majority of these factors are outside the control of those directly affected.

Socio economic factors influence probability of homelessness

The research underlines:

  • The centrality of poverty, particularly childhood poverty, on increasing a person’s likelihood of experiencing homelessness. 
  • The impact of broader labour and housing market contexts.
  • The influence of certain demographic, personal and social support characteristics.

To illustrate the point that the probability of homelessness is very high for some systematically disadvantaged groups, the paper draws two examples from either end of the risk spectrum to demonstrate just how unequal the chances of having experienced homelessness in the UK by age 30 are:

Profile White male Mixed ethnicity female
Upbringing Relatively affluent childhood in rural South of England Experienced poverty as a child and was raised by a lone parent
Educational attainment Unproblematic school career, graduated university at 21 Left school or college at 16
Housing situation at 26 Living with parents at age 26 Living as a renter at age 26
Employment   Spells of unemployment
Household status No partner, no children Lone parent
Predicted probability of homelessness by age 30 0.6% 71.2%

Bramley & Fitzpatrick’s paper encourages all those working to prevent homelessness to move away from the idea that ‘it could happen to anyone’ and, instead, understand that there are opportunities to develop preventative interventions for groups who are at a high risk of homelessness and where the greatest need for intervention lies.  The paper strongly reinforces the need for targeted policy action to prevent homelessness across the UK, given “its predictable but far from inevitable nature (emphasis original)” (p.18). 

Housing Rights has three projects that work specifically with particular socially disadvantaged groups to prevent homelessness. You can find out more about these projects via the links below:

Tagged In

Research, Homelessness


Lizzie Scott

This article was written on 17 July 2017. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.