London’s first ‘rough sleeping charter’ launched by Khan

Charter sets out six key principles including protecting rough sleepers from violence, abuse, theft and discrimination, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

City Hall and (inset) a rough sleeper in the capital
City Hall and (inset) a rough sleeper in the capital

Sadiq Khan has launched London’s first rough sleeping charter while warning of fatalities amid rising homelessness this winter.

It came as the mayor was criticised for presiding over a 24% increase in rough sleeping across London since taking office. Khan argued that the problem has national causes and has urged ministers to provide £20m in emergency funding.

Speaking at the charter’s launch in Waterloo, the mayor told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “This is a national crisis we’re now facing, that demands a national response. In the absence of that, we’ve got to do what we can.

“We’ve shown in the last few years the progress that can be made, taking 16,000 rough sleepers off the streets [since Khan’s 2016 election], four out of five for good.

“My worry is, unless there’s more support from the government this winter, we may see a further increase in rough sleeping and I fear people will suffer the consequences of that, including possible fatalities.”

More than 100 charities, faith groups, businesses and people with lived experience have helped to design and develop the charter. It sets out six key principles to which signatories have committed – for example ensuring that rough sleepers are safe from violence, abuse, theft and discrimination, and that they have the full protection of the law.

The mayor said rough sleeping in the capital is being fuelled by changes to benefit rules, rising rents, mental health issues, as well as victims of domestic violence having nowhere else to go.

“The other big one in the last year or so is non-British nationals,” he added.

“We’re lobbying the government not to evict those in Home Office accommodation this winter, because unless they’ve got somewhere suitable to go to, they end up on the streets.”

Khan was challenged on his record by Tory assembly member Keith Prince, who said: “We strongly support efforts to end rough sleeping and welcome today’s charter. But today’s announcement is a missed opportunity.

“The mayor did not announce any new policies or actions to tackle rough sleeping. The reality is rough sleeping has increased by 24% under Sadiq Khan.

“A charter does not put a much-needed roof over the heads of those forced to sleep on our streets.”

While 8,096 people were recorded rough sleeping in the capital in 2015/16 – Boris Johnson’s final year as mayor – the figure was indeed 24% in 2022/23, at 10,053 people. While numbers on the city’s streets were significantly reduced in the aftermath of the pandemic, they rose sharply in the last year.

City Hall points out that according to government “snapshot” data, every region in England saw an increase in rough sleeping in 2022, not just London. The percentage rise in the capital was the highest however, jumping 34% between 2021 and 2022, compared with an average rise of 23% in the rest of England.

Khan has more than quadrupled his rough sleeping budget from the £8.45m it was when he took office in 2016, to £36.3m in 2023/24.

Asked what concrete action he will be taking over winter to reduce rough sleeping, the mayor said: “We’ve got an announcement next week, which I’m not going to break the embargo and announce, but we’re doing a number of things.

“As it is, Londoners have been very generous in relation to donating over the last few years, but we know that when temperatures approach freezing, we’ve got to open up the emergency shelters, SWEP [Severe Weather Emergency Protocol].

“So we’re doing a lot of things already, over and above what we’ve done in the past, but we’ve got to be innovative about new things we can do to help rough sleepers.”

The mayor said that London requires an emergency package of £20m from the government to provide the accommodation and support necessary in getting people off the streets.

Asked whether he believes ministers appreciate the scale of the crisis, he said: “I think the government does understand there’s a rough sleeping crisis across the country.

“They must do, because they’re human beings. They’ve got some compassion, I know they do.”

He added: “The issue is persuading the Treasury and the Prime Minister to give this the attention it deserves…

“Governments in the past have done it. They’ve tackled rough sleeping and ended it.

“‘Cardboard City’ was around in the 80s and 90s, I saw it in the West End and Waterloo. It was got rid of because of government policy.

“Actually, by investing in some of the preventative measures, it saves money down the road. So we’re trying to explain to the Government not just the humane argument, the moral argument, but the economic argument in tackling this issue.”

The government has been approached for comment.

According to City Hall’s latest data, outreach teams recorded 4,068 people sleeping rough in London between July and September – a 12% increase on the same period last year. Of that number, more than half – 2,086 people – were sleeping rough for the first time.

It is thought that the 4,068 people recorded is the highest quarterly rough sleeping count in London outside of a pandemic since records began.

No news is bad news 

Independent news outlets like ours – reporting for the community without rich backers – are under threat of closure, turning British towns into news deserts. 

The audiences they serve know less, understand less, and can do less. 

If our coverage has helped you understand our community a little bit better, please consider supporting us with a monthly, yearly or one-off donation. 

Choose the news. Don’t lose the news.

Monthly direct debit 

Annual direct debit

£5 per month supporters get a digital copy of each month’s paper before anyone else, £10 per month supporters get a digital copy of each month’s paper before anyone else and a print copy posted to them each month. £50 annual supporters get a digital copy of each month's paper before anyone else. £84 annual supporters get a print copy by post and a digital copy of each month's before anyone else.

Donate now with Pay Pal

More information on supporting us monthly 

More Information about donations