DEATH is reaping a rising toll on the nation’s homeless population, according to the latest official figures, prompting housing charities to express their shock and dismay.
The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveals there were an estimated 726 deaths of homeless people in England and Wales in 2018. At 22%, this is the highest year-to-year increase recorded since the ONS began compiling the figures in 2013.
Here in the North West, the death toll ranks second only to London; in 2018, there were 103 and 148 estimated deaths of homeless people respectively, or 14% and 20% of the total number.
“This is a moment to pause and reflect on what matters to us as a society,” said Polly Neate, Shelter’s chief executive, reacting to the figures.
“These tragic deaths are the consequence of a housing system that is failing too many of our fellow citizens. We desperately need to set a new course, and to do that we need urgent action.
“You can’t solve homelessness without homes, so we are calling on all parties to commit to building the social homes we need to form the bedrock of a more humane housing system.”
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: “It is heart-breaking that hundreds of people were forced to spend the last days of their lives without the dignity of a secure home. This is now the second year running where we have known the true scale of the human cost of homelessness, yet still the lessons from these tragic deaths go unlearnt.
“Behind these statistics are human beings, who like all of us had talents and ambitions. They shouldn’t be dying unnoticed and unaccounted for. It’s crucial that Governments urgently expand the safeguarding system used to investigate the deaths of vulnerable adults to include everyone who has died while street homeless, so we can help prevent more people from dying needlessly. Because in this day and age, there is no excuse for anyone dying without a safe place to call home.”
According to the latest figures from the ONS:
- Most of the deaths in 2018 were among men (641 estimated deaths; 88% of the total)
- The mean age at death was 45 years for males and 43 years for females in 2018; in the general population of England and Wales, the mean age at death was 76 years for men and 81 years for women
- Two in five deaths of homeless people were related to drug poisoning in 2018 (294 estimated deaths), and the number of deaths from this cause has increased by 55% since 2017
In further reaction, the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils in England and Wales, said the tragedy was compounded because such deaths do not have to be inevitable.
“What is especially saddening about these worrying figures is that every single case of a homeless person dying could have been prevented,” said Councillor David Renard, the LGA’s housing spokesperson.
“It is really important that we make this everybody’s business to work together to stop this tragic loss of life and prevent homelessness and rough sleeping from happening in the first place.
“This is why we need the Government to provide councils with a long-term sustainable funding solution if we are to reduce homelessness, and with two in five deaths related to drug poisoning, adequately fund public health services so that councils can invest in drug and alcohol treatment services to make sure people get the support they need.
“The Government should also adapt welfare reforms to protect families at risk of becoming homeless, and give councils the powers to invest in new homes for those that need them, such as through reforming the Right to Buy scheme to enable councils to keep all sales receipts and set discounts locally.”
Labour’s shadow housing secretary, John Healey MP said the figures were a “shameful” reflection of a “country as rich as ours”.
“High and rising homelessness is not inevitable,” he added. “The number of people sleeping on our streets fell under Labour but has risen since 2010 as a direct result of the Conservatives slashing investment for low-cost homes, cutting back housing benefit, reducing funding for homelessness services, and denying protection to private renters.”