Big Issue Vendor

16 homeless people known to have died with Covid-19 in England

The Office for National Statistics said it was likely that number would rise as more homeless deaths are reported
Image credit: Alexander Baxevanis/Flickr

At least 16 people in England died with coronavirus while homeless, according to new Office for National Statistics (ONS) analysis.

The majority of those who died were men, researchers said, and most commonly recorded in London where six of the deaths occurred.

The mean age of death was 58 for those men, significantly lower than is expected elsewhere in the population with nearly 90 per cent of those who die with the virus aged over 65.

ONS researchers said the new figures are expected to be an underestimate, with some deaths likely still being investigated and not all local authorities providing details of where they are temporarily housing homeless people.

Campaigners said these numbers should push the Government to protect homeless people – including ensuring those currently houses in hotels are not sent back to the streets – and commit to ending homelessness for good as the country rebuilds from the crisis.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “The death of every homeless person from Covid-19 is a tragedy.

“We know that street homeless people, even at a young age, are more likely to have underlying health conditions. This, along with things like a lack of good nourishment and sleep, can weaken their immune systems. They are among our most vulnerable citizens.   

“Nobody should be at risk of catching Covid-19 on the street, where it’s hard to follow even basic public health guidance such as regularly washing hands.

“Whilst this dangerous virus is still in circulation, the Government must make it clear to all councils that they must accommodate anybody facing the streets as the pandemic continues. And as we start to consider what a post-Covid society will look like one thing is for sure: we must end homelessness for good.”

The figures include rough sleepers, people in emergency hotel accommodation, those in homeless shelters and in temporary housing.

Data came from registered deaths from March 26 up to June 26. There is often a lag in reporting homeless deaths as many are investigated by a coroner – the official homeless deaths statistics for this year are not due to be published until 2021.

But Covid-19 cases do not need to be referred to a coroner, according to the Coronavirus Act 2020, meaning the data can be published sooner.

Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes said: “When the outbreak started, it was a stark reminder of the risk people who are homeless face from the virus – with no access to a place to self-isolate nor, in some cases, basic sanitation.

“We need emergency homelessness legislation to guarantee everyone experiencing homelessness has the security of a safe and settled home. Without this, people risk being forced back on our streets or into crowded shelters, with the danger posed by the virus still very real.”