Claims about 47,000 homeless veterans need context

31 October 2022
What was claimed

We have 47,000 homeless veterans.

Our verdict

This was a 2015 estimate for the number of veterans in the US who lacked a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence. The number in the UK is likely to be significantly lower, though we don’t know for sure.

What was claimed

Illegal immigrants receive welfare benefits.

Our verdict

Those people in the country illegally or seeking asylum are prevented from claiming mainstream benefits. Destitute asylum seekers are given accommodation and some money towards living expenses.

A viral Facebook post shared by a Facebook page called ‘British Media Force’ says: “No welfare benefits for illegal immigrants while we have 47,000 homeless veterans”. 

Although the page is about the British armed forces, the claim that there are 47,000 homeless veterans seems to be based on figures from  the US. The Facebook post was first shared in 2017, but has been circulating again recently.

The figure comes from a 2015 report by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, which estimated that on a single night in January 2015, 47,725 veterans were experiencing homelessness in the United States. 

The report defined someone homeless as a “person who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence”. Of these veterans, 16,220 were experiencing ‘unsheltered homelessness’ which is defined as people whose “primary nighttime location is a public or private place not designated for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for people (for example, the streets, vehicles, or parks).” 

This appears to be broadly equivalent to the definition for rough sleeping used in UK statistics.

The Facebook post is from 2017, and the equivalent report from that year said a single night count found 40,056 veterans were experiencing homelessness in the US.

The most up-to-date version of that figure was taken in January 2021, during the pandemic, so the parameters are different and the department said the numbers “should be viewed with caution, as the number could be artificially depressed”. On a single night in that month, 19,750 veterans were experiencing “sheltered homelessness, staying in emergency shelters, safe havens, or transitional housing programs”.

The picture at the top of the image, which image company Alamy lists as an “American patriot minuteman revolutionary soldier”, is also a clue the figure comes from the US.

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We don’t know how many UK veterans are experiencing homeless or rough sleeping

Equivalent statistics on homeless veterans in the UK aren’t collected in the same way, and the data that does exist is mostly focussed on London. 

Of the 8,329 total who were seen rough sleeping in London between April 2021 and March 2022, 110 were identified as being from the UK and having had armed forces experience. A further 181 were identified as having had armed forces experience but weren’t British nationals. These figures are not comprehensive, as not all those seen rough sleeping were assessed on whether they had served in the armed forces. 

'Illegal immigrants' aren’t usually eligible for mainstream benefits

The term “illegal immigrant” is poorly defined, but could refer to people who do not have the legal right to remain in the UK. Some of these people may have entered the UK illegally (e.g. asylum seekers crossing the Channel on small boats), or legally (e.g. someone who entered the UK on a legitimate tourist visa, but has overstayed).  

These people would be classed as “subject to immigration control” and therefore have no recourse to public funds.

People subject to immigration control are prevented from claiming most social security benefits (including housing and child benefit, and universal credit) and tax credits, except in certain limited circumstances. 

Some people who arrive in the UK illegally, such as on small boats, may go on to apply for asylum. Asylum seekers who are destitute may be eligible for somewhere to live and cash support of £40.85 per week, or £8.24 per week if they are housed in catered accommodation

They are usually not permitted to work and can’t claim mainstream welfare benefits.

Image courtesy of Diego González on Unsplash

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