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The cold hard truth about homelessness

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More than 600 people have died throughout Europe recently as a result of the cold snap we have been experiencing. Clearly this is having an effect on the 3 million people currently sleeping rough in Europe. 

According to statistics, the number of homeless people across Europe is currently at its highest level in over 50 years with rates like this not seen since World War II. The highest recorded rates of homeless people are found in Germany, France and the UK, where between 4 and 12 per thousand of the population is estimated to be homeless. Worryingly, these figures include a significant number of women and children. Other Member States appear to have homelessness rates of less than 2 per thousand.

The issue of homelessness and responsibility for tackling it falls with the Member States themselves according to EU law however the scale of this issue is such that MEPs are urging the EU to step in and try to present a solution. They have so far made three calls for an EU strategy on homelessness which have not yet been responded to. 

However, during a plenary session on social policy in European Parliament on Monday 13th February, MEPs put forward proposals for a combined strategy which would aim to combat homelessness and food waste thus extending existing programmes aimed at improving access to services. It is hoped that the introduction of this strategy would prevent social exclusion and speakers in parliament on Monday also urged those member states that treat homelessness as a crime to stop doing so.

Given the statistics, this strategy would be particularly useful in the UK where homelessness has all sorts of implications in terms of access to services. Those currently sleeping rough are unable to claim benefits unless they can provide a permanent address and this will surely lead to vulnerability and social exclusion.  From a social policy perspective it will be interesting to see Europe’s response to this issue – particularly in light of their current preoccupation with the economic climate.

By housing law expert, Jayne Croft