Has the increase in the number of homeless people been lower than population growth?

By Tiffanie Turnbull and William Ton

The Statement

“Over the census period numbers [of homeless people] have increased slightly, but the point that I was making is the increase is lower than population growth.”

Assistant Minister for Community Housing and Homelessness Luke Howarth. July 9, 2019.

The Analysis

Lord mayors across Australia are pressuring the federal government to tackle the homelessness crisis and are meeting the Assistant Minister for Community Housing and Homelessness Luke Howarth for a two-day summit in Brisbane to focus on the issue.

Ahead of the meeting Mr Howarth said “it is important to put a positive spin” on homelessness. Prime Minister Scott Morrison created the homelessness portfolio after the May election. [1]

AAP FactCheck examined Mr Howarth’s claim made on ABC RN (Radio National) Breakfast that homelessness was growing at a slower rate than Australia’s population.

Mr Howarth’s office told AAP FactCheck the source of his claim was Australian Bureau of Statistics Census data, but didn’t clarify which census period he was using to support his claim.

The first Australian census was conducted in 1911, and it has been held every five years since 1961. [2]

According to the two most recent censuses of 2011 and 2016, the number of homeless people living in Australia grew by 13,988 or 13.65 per cent in 2011-16, from 102,439 to 116,427. [3]

In the same period, the Australian population grew by 1,850,883 or 8.29 per cent, from 22,340,024 to 24,190,907. [4]

AAP FactCheck asked Mr Howarth’s office to clarify what “census period” he was referring to.

In a written response Mr Howarth’s office told AAP FactCheck he used a different metric - the rate of homelessness - to justify the claim on RN Breakfast. “The rate of homelessness in Australia in the last ABS data shows that in 2016 it’s actually 2 per cent lower than it was in 2001, and this is a reflection of the good work that organisations and government has been doing in this space, but there’s more to be done,” Mr Howarth’s office said.

The rate of homelessness is the proportion of the homeless population to the general population, not the number of homeless people as Mr Howarth claimed.

During his RN Breakfast interview, Mr Howarth referred to three census periods 2001-06, 2006-11 and 2011-16. [1]

Looking at these three census periods, the number of homeless people grew by 21,113 or 22.15 per cent from 95,314 to 116,427. [3]

The Australian population grew by 4,916,206 or 25.51 per cent, from 19,274,701 to 24,190,907, between 2001 and 2016. [4]

Based on these three census periods, Mr Howarth’s claim that the number of homeless people in Australia grew at a slower pace than the population is true.

But it is also misleading because using 2001-2016 figures hides the spike in the number of homeless people revealed in the last 2011-16 census period. The number of homeless people living in Australia grew by 13,988 or 13.65 per cent in 2011-16, from 102,439 to 116,427. [3] In the same period, the Australian population grew by 8.29 per cent. [4]

Based on this evidence AAP FactCheck found Mr Howarth’s claim to be true but misleading.

The Verdict

  • Misleading - The claim is true but somewhat misleading.

The References

1. ‘It is important to put a positive spin on it: Assistant Homelessness Minister on housing’. RN Breakfast. ABC Radio. (4 minutes). July 9, 2019: https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/breakfast/assistant-homelessness-minister-luke-howarth-on-housing/11290742

2. ‘1911-2011 Census data - a record of Australia’s growth and development’. Australian Bureau of Statistics. June 21, 2012: https://www.abs.gov.au/websitedbs/censushome.nsf/home/CO-57?opendocument&navpos=620

3. ‘Table 1.1, 2049.0 - Census of Population and Housing: Estimating Homelessness, 2016’. Australian Bureau of Statistics: https://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/2049.02016?OpenDocument

4. ‘Table 1.2, 3105.0.65.001 - Australian Historical Population Statistics, 2019 - Population Size and Growth’. Australian Bureau of Statistics: https://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/3105.0.65.0012016?OpenDocument

  • First published July 9, 2019 16:55 AEST