It’s been 50 years since Cathy Come Home was broadcast on the BBC, bringing the plight of the homeless to the attention of the public and policy makers. 

Now, in 2016, London is still facing a homeless crisis. There are more rough sleepers than ever on the streets of the capital, and there’s been a stark increase in families evicted from their homes. Local Authorities are facing a sixth year of brutal cuts, and services and provisions for homeless people are at an all-time low. 

So what has really changed since 1966? We’ve looked at homelessness over the last half century: 


Across Britain there were approximately 1,000 rough sleepers. 

37 per cent of the homeless population of England and Wales could be found in inner London. 

Council housing accounted for a quarter of all households in 1961.

Across the UK, 567 establishments provided 31,932 beds for men and 2,664 beds for women. 

Half of those that slept rough had done so for more than a year, while more than a quarter had been sleeping rough for five years or more. One quarter did so due to lack of money, and almost one quarter did so because they were unable to find accommodation.


3,569 rough sleepers across England

8,096 people slept rough in London over a year

15,170 households were accepted as homeless between April and June of 2016.

Four in 10 cases of homelessness in London were caused by an eviction or the end of a tenancy.

There are just over 35,000 bed spaces for single homeless people across the UK. 

27 per cent of Londoners live in poverty.

Less than eight per cent of people live in a council home.

Of those accessing homelessness services in England in 2014, 70 per cent are male, 53 per cent are aged under 25, 33 per cent have drug use issues, 32 per cent mental health problems, 28 per cent complex/multiple needs, 15 per cent are recent rough sleepers and 27 per cent have an offending history.

The public outcry that followed the first broadcast of Cathy Come Home led to reforms that helped protect families against homelessness. However, the introduction of the “priority need” system pushed single homeless people and those without dependants to the back of the housing queue. This, combined with a chronic lack of social and affordable housing, means that many more people are at risk of homelessness now than they were 50 years ago. 

The Homelessness Reduction Bill, which passed its second reading in October, could mean that local councils have a responsibility to help anyone at risk of homelessness, regardless of whether they have dependants or not. However, unless the government can ensure councils have proper funding in place and that there are enough affordable houses to go around, it is likely that high levels of homelessness are here to stay for the foreseeable future.