Housing

First official count reveals that Scotland has highest UK homeless death rate

The National Records of Scotland's experimental figures found that the number of deaths had risen by 16 per cent from 2017 to 2018 with 195 people tragically dying on the streets or in temporary accommodation

homelessness and rough sleeping

The first-ever official homeless deaths count in Scotland has uncovered the “devastating scale” of the 195 people who died without a home in 2018.

That was the view of Crisis Scotland director Grant Campbell after the National Records of Scotland (NRS) also revealed that those figures were a 19 per cent increase on the 164 people estimated to have died in 2017.

Now Campbell is calling for every death to be fully investigated so that local authorities and services can learn from systemic failings.

He said: “For the first time, we can see the true, devastating scale of the number of people who have died without a place to call home, because of failings within the very system which should have prevented them from falling into poverty and homelessness in the first place. Behind these figures are human beings – mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters.

“Every death must be fully investigated so that we can learn from the failings which caused someone to die without a home.

“We still have the highest rates of homeless deaths in Great Britain. This is a damning and urgent reminder that we need to do so much more to support some of our most vulnerable citizens.”

NRS’s experimental statistics are the latest result of a sustained movement to quantify the number of homeless deaths on Britain’s streets and in temporary accommodation. They follow the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) England and Wales figures that were first revealed in December 2018.

Compared to those figures, Scotland has the highest rate of homeless deaths with 35.9 deaths per million of the population compared to 16.8 in England and 14.5 in Wales.

The 100.5 deaths per million in Glasgow City and the 67.8 per million in Aberdeen City marked the pair out as having the highest rate of deaths in 2018 while, tragically, the average age of recorded deaths was 43 for women and 44 for men.

Men also accounted for the majority of deaths – 74 per cent in 2017 and 79 per cent the following year – while more than half of the deaths in 2018 were drug related.

The experimental nature of the statistics means that “the true number may be higher”, according to Julie Ramsay, the NRS statistician responsible for publishing the Scottish statistics. Like the ONS’s statisticians, NRS searched death registration records for signs of homelessness.

Paul Lowe, the chief executive of National Records of Scotland and Registrar General for Scotland, said: “NRS has developed a method of estimating the incidence of homeless deaths in response to user demand. It is important to stress that these are experimental statistics and we will continue to work with users and stakeholders to assess their suitability and quality, as we continue to develop our methodology in future years.”

Outgoing Shelter Scotland director Graeme Brown looked to Housing First to prevent future deaths.

“The housing, health, social care and justice sectors need to work more closely together to ensure people get the tailored support they need for health issues such as mental illness and addictions,” he said. “We also need to see housing that supports people to recover and stay well.

“The Housing First model is a good example of how this can be done but only if it is adequately resourced with good housing and highly-skilled professionals providing support services to ensure it reaches those most at risk.”

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