Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Knowing What You're Talking About

Eoin Clarke makes a post about the shortfall in the number of new houses being built. In the middle of the post he says that:
More than 40,000 people sleep on our streets every night.
Tim Worstall picks him up on it pointing out that actually only 1,768 people sleep rough in England. What's going on?

The answer is that Clarke is relying on the following line from the ONS report on Housing and Planning:
During 2009-10, local authorities made 89,120 decisions on eligible applications for housing assistance under homelessness legislation. Nearly half of these - 40,020 - were accepted as owed a main homelessness duty, 70 per cent lower than the peak in 2003-04.
However, he wasn't careful enough with what he's talking about. Elsewhere, the ONS has a page with "Notes and definitions for homelessness data" which states:

The term "Homelessness" is often considered to apply only to people "sleeping rough". However, most of our statistics on homelessness relate to the statutorily homeless i.e. those households which meet specific criteria of priority need set out in legislation, and to whom a homelessness duty has been accepted by a local authority.
Such households are rarely homeless in the literal sense of being without a roof over their heads, but are more likely to be threatened with the loss of, or are unable to continue with, their current accommodation.
So there are about 40,000 people considered homeless under the ONS definition but only 1,768 people sleeping on the streets.


  1. It's not just that - you've got the number of decisions in a year, not the number of sleeping rough each night. If you credit his assumed definition and assume that people spend, on average, a month homeless before they are murdered by the evil Thatcherite street-cleansing squads, you've only got some 3,500 on the streets each night.

    So, two category errors in a single statistic. Aren't we lucky he concentrates on something important like feminism!

  2. Actually, it is three category errors. There are also a significant number of homeless people who really don't want help from the council.

  3. But, you do have to say, unlike Ritchie, point out a basic error and not only does he correct it, he even apologises.

    Mind you, he hasn't worked out I'm a libertarian yet (as I'm arguing with him about facts not solutions.)