Now we are in the festive season it is a good moment to take a little time to think about those of us in the North East who will not able to celebrate. Instead they will be struggling to keep a roof over their heads, visiting their local food bank or even sleeping rough on the streets.
Today, therefore, North East Bylines begins a series of reports painting a picture of the North East and its people based on official and other data, including the 2019 English Indices of Deprivation (IoD2019) and the 2021 Census.
While not new, and doubtless well understood in the North East’s town halls and universities as well as in Whitehall, these data contain a wealth of detail that remains relevant and deserves a wider audience. Some of our findings are surprising and even shocking.
In Part 1 we find that the region has seen a jump of more than a quarter in rough sleepers in the past year, a rise of more than half in the number of emergency food parcels handed out, and has the highest proportion of homeless households in England except London and the highest proportion without exception of those threatened with homelessness within 56 days.
Statistics do not tell us everything; human interest stories are vital too. But they can do a lot to enable us to understand and reflect on the condition of our region and its people, and Christmas is an opportune time to do that.
Much of the data in these reports is relative not absolute. The region may see its situation improve or deteriorate without experiencing an equivalent movement up or down national league tables. The North East also has the smallest population of any of the nine in England, so it is usually the proportions or percentages that matter statistically.
There is a huge volume of data: too much to discuss even in a quite lengthy series of reports. Selectivity is essential, and what North East Bylines has done is try to draw attention to some data that appears most important and relevant. Whatever statistics are selected, they are open to various interpretations. Those put forward here are just one possible version of what the data means.
The number of emergency food parcels distributed in the North East by the Trussell Trust soared by a massive 53.9% in financial year 2022-23 to a total of 154,403. It was the biggest year-on-year increase in England and well ahead of second-placed Eastern England on 44.6%.
Even these shocking figures do not reveal the full extent of hunger and poverty that drive people to food banks. Others run even more food banks in total and other forms of food aid than the Trussell Trust, which has 1,300 food banks around the UK. As the Trust itself says: “The Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) has identified at least 1,172 independent food banks, while there are also Salvation Army food banks as well as food banks run from schools and hospitals. There are also thousands of other food aid providers including soup kitchens and social supermarkets.”
According to the Trust: “While the pandemic and cost of living crisis have had a major impact on food bank need, they are not the main cause. Rather, they have exposed and exacerbated a longer-term crisis: that of a weakened social security system that is unable to protect people from the most severe forms of hardship, thereby forcing more people to the doors of food banks.
“Rising food bank need demonstrates more and more people are going without the essentials – we’re calling on the UK government to enshrine in law the amount needed to cover bills and essential items.”
Total homelessness is a difficult problem to measure reliably. Some homelessness is hidden, including people in temporary or overcrowded accommodation and those who are sofa surfing with relatives or friends. According to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC):
“It is difficult to provide an accurate estimate of all homelessness across England. Data used to compile any estimate is collated from different datasets, which sample different subsets of the population over different time frames. Any estimate of homelessness in England will collate datasets that are not discrete from one another, which means some individuals may have been included more than once in the estimated total.”
Nevertheless, we do know from the DLUHC that many, many more people are statutorily homeless than are sleeping rough or at risk of it. In the North East in September this year the number of household assessed as statutorily homeless and owed a duty of relief (if homeless) or prevention (if threatened with homelessness within 56 days) was 4,520.
This was fewer than other regions but was a higher rate of homelessness (1.92 per 1,000 households) than any region except London (2.17 per 1,000) and the highest of all regions without exception for households threatened with homelessness within 56 days (1.88 per 1,000).
Rough sleeping in the North East jumped by 27% in 2022 (latest available). While the absolute number of people living on the streets – 61 – was the lowest in England, and the region had 4.7% of the population but only 2% of the rough sleepers, the increase was slightly above the national average of 26%.
The national figure was itself skewed upwards by London, with a rise of 34%. For England outside London it was 23%. By far the largest number of rough sleepers was on Parliament’s doorstep in Westminster, where there were 250.
The number of rough sleepers fell during the pandemic nationally in 2020 and 2021 and regionally in 2021.
Most rough sleepers in the North East in 2022 were in Newcastle, which had 14 on the single night in autumn 2022 when the national snapshot count was taken. But every council had at least one, as in Gateshead. North Tyneside and Sunderland had two each. Fifty of the region’s rough sleepers were male, 51 were aged over 26 and 57 were born in the UK.
Eighteen people sleeping rough had been evicted or had abandoned off-the-street accommodation such as hostels and shelters. Redcar & Cleveland had the most of these with five followed by Middlesbrough with four. Five councils, including Newcastle, had none.
*In Part 2 we will look at The English Indices of Deprivation (IoD2019) to explore income and employment deprivation in the North East, including income deprivation affecting children and older people.