Addressing homelessness: what can the UK learn from other countries?


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According to Shelter, the rate of homelessness in England rose by 14% between 2022 and 2023, meaning that 309,000 people spent Christmas 2023 without a home. 

Coinciding with these rising numbers, the UK Government is looking to introduce the Criminal Justice Bill which, if successful, will criminalise rough sleeping and reinforce a vicious cycle of poverty and homelessness.

While the UK Government continues on this particular path, other countries have reinvented their approaches. Let’s have a look at how some governments are choosing to addressing homelessness a little differently, and what the UK could learn from the results. 


Japan has the lowest rate of homelessness in the world, with 1 in every 34,000 people facing homelessness compared to roughly 1 in 182 people in England. So what is Japan doing right?

In 2002, Japan introduced the Homeless Self-Support Act which made it the government’s responsibility to support people facing homelessness to secure stable employment and housing. This support included access to training courses and incentives for businesses to hire those who found themselves with no secure place to call home. The legislation was extended during the COVID-19 pandemic as the government offered vacant hotel rooms to those sleeping rough. 

However, despite the staggeringly low rates of homelessness in Japan, there are some criticisms of the government’s approach, including its criminalisation of homelessness and hostile urban architecture designed to prevent rough sleeping. There are also concerns around how accurate the figures are, and whether the support offered encompasses those who are experiencing homelessness hidden and out of sight. 


Singapore has one of the highest rates of homeownership in the world, with around 90% of the population owning their own homes. This is largely due to initiatives set up in the 1960s. The ‘Housing Development Board’ saw the government rapidly building a large number of flats to address overcrowding and unsafe or unstable housing situations. The ‘Home Ownership for the People Scheme’ then meant that government-built units were sold at a subsidised price to help buyers get on the ladder. 

In most countries, public housing is seen as a poor quality last resort. But in Singapore, the government carefully maintains these blocks of flats and regularly updates them to ensure that all residents have access to affordable, high-quality housing. 

Despite the quality public housing and high rates of home ownership, there is still a relatively high rate of homelessness in Singapore, with around 17 in every 100,000 people sleeping rough*, compared to 7 in every 100,000 in England. Common factors contributing to homelessness included family conflict and irregular work. 


While the rates of people facing homelessness are increasing in countries like the UK, Germany and France, Finland is one of the only countries in Europe to report a decline in homelessness. In fact, the number of people living in temporary accommodation such as hostels and boarding houses in Finland decreased by 76% between 2008 and 2017. 

That’s a huge achievement, and it’s pretty much entirely down to Finland’s Housing First scheme. 

As we know, there are many reasons for people becoming homeless, from issues around drug or alcohol use to family breakdowns. Many countries’ approaches to homelessness mean that individuals are responsible for addressing these issues before they can access housing. Housing First is the opposite. It gives individuals access to a permanent home and tailored support, making it easier to address the other challenges they may be facing. 

In a 2017 feasibility study, Crisis estimated that adopting a Housing First approach in the UK could save £1-4 million compared to the current emergency housing system.

What can we learn?

First thing’s first; it’s clear that homelessness is a global issue. And whilst we may have our concerns about the approach of the UK government, they’re most certainly not alone in their shortcomings. 

The biggest takeaway however, when looking at how other countries approach housing and homelessness, is that governments have to provide tangible support to people who are facing (or at risk of) homelessness. Whether that’s by adopting a Housing First approach, offering routes into employment, or providing support with any of the causes behind an individual’s situation, we have to come from a place of empathy and not criminalisation. 

You can help us to stand against any legislation that seeks to make homelessness a criminal offence by emailing your local MP. You can do this through the Crisis campaign here

You can also support our work to provide hope for those without a voice by making a donation. We hugely appreciate anything you are able to give. 

*Estimate based on roughly 1,000 people sleeping rough and approximate population of 6 million.

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