One of the minor amusements of current UK political life is the shrieking going on over the number of people rough sleeping - the truly homeless. There’s, if not an industry then certainly an interest group, a section of the NGO world which insists that the problem is massive, terrible, the economy must be radically changed to deal with it. This might not be a quite accurate description of reality.
So, what should we do about this? Well, one obvious idea is that instead of relying upon estimates from those inside the system we should go and do a direct count. For yes, those in the industry may well know lots - Hayek’s local knowledge - but there’s also the mildest of possibilities that they could harbour the tiniest piece of bias.
Claims that rough sleeping is falling in England should not be trusted until the government has explained how an emergency funding scheme for the worst-affected areas might have skewed the latest figures, the chair of the UK statistics Authority (UKSA) has said.
Sir David Norgrove’s comments are the latest development in a row over the apparent 2% fall in rough sleeping in England in 2018, which ministers said was a sign the government’s Rough Sleeping Initiative (RSI) was tackling the homelessness crisis.
The specific and detailed complaint here is that incentives have changed so don’t trust the numbers before and after that incentive change. Which is fair enough.
However, there’s also complaining about this:All councils recorded significant falls in rough sleeping from 2017 to 2018 after switching from an estimate to a count, which critics said occurred because of the methodology change and did not reflect the reality on the streets.
Well, no, not really, because the incentives didn’t change everywhere. At least some of the change therefore really being that the estimates were a tad too high. But given that admitting this means the government could claim to have reduced rough sleeping that can’t really be admitted.
Ourselves we prefer the actual count. Not because of anything specific about homelessness but just because of our general and long running insistence. Unless you know what reality is it’s rather difficult to change it.