The number of homeless people sleeping on the streets has doubled since the coalition came to power in 2010 and has soared by 30% in the last year alone, new figures released today reveal.
The annual 'snapshot' shows an estimated 3,569 people were sleeping rough on any given night across England in 2015, up from 2,744 the previous year.
The five local authorities with the highest number of rough sleepers were Westminster, Bristol, Brighton and Hove, Manchester, and Cornwall.
In London, where the current mayor Boris Johnson had promised to eradicate the problem of rough sleeping by 2012, the number of rough sleepers rose by 27% in the past year alone. Overall, there has been a 126% increase in rough sleeping in the capital since 2009.
A majority of those recorded sleeping rough were judged to have either alcohol, drug, or mental health problems. More than half were foreign nationals. Forty-three per cent were UK nationals with Romanians making up the next largest group at 18%.
Politics.co.uk has reported on the growing number of homeless camps being set up in towns and cities across the country, and the controversial ways some local authorities have used to keep the problem hidden from sight, including taking legal action to stop people sleeping or begging in prominent areas.
The homeless and recovery charity St Mungo's today called the rise in rough sleepers unprecedented and called on David Cameron to take urgent action.
"It’s time for the Prime Minster to lead a new ambitious strategy," said Howard Sinclair, St Mungo's chief executive. "One that ensures government departments and the NHS work together with other partners to reduce the numbers of people sleeping rough.
"We urge the Prime Minister to show leadership to protect our most vulnerable and help transform lives, with funding for specialist mental health support for people on the street and a strong commitment to protect specialist housing so people have somewhere safe to stay," he added.
Earlier this year, after coming under pressure on the issue, the government announced a package of measures to help tackle the problem, including additional funding for services. But, as many campaigners have pointed out, it is the government's own policies which are partly responsible for the rise in homelessness.
The charity Crisis says more needs to be done.
"The government has made positive steps towards tackling homelessness in recent months," Jon Sparkes, Crisis chief executive, said. "Particularly in protecting funding and committing to explore legal options to prevent homelessness. However, today’s rough sleeping figures are a stark and sobering wake-up call and show just how far there is to go before homeless people get the practical help and the legal protection they so desperately need.
"There are practical and immediate measures the government can take to tackle rough sleeping and other forms of homelessness. With the average age of death for rough sleepers being just 47, they must act now."
This isn't a problem that has sneaked up on the government. The number of rough sleepers has increased every year since David Cameron became prime minister. Charities have warned over and over again that the cuts to local authority budgets and welfare reforms would have an impact on society's most vulnerable people, but they have been ignored. Unless Cameron wants to be remembered as the prime minister who presided over a return to cardboard cities, he must not only take urgent action to help those already on the streets, but recognise how some of his own policies have put them there.