Housing

Scotland could soon start counting the number of homeless deaths

The National Records of Scotland is in talks to make whether someone was homeless included on death certificates as they look to follow England and Wales

A homeless man sits on the floor of a trin station, wrapped in blankets with a cup in front of them

Image credit: Getty images

Last year homeless deaths were finally recognised with an official count for the first time in England and Wales – now Scotland appears to be following suit.

The National Records of Scotland has confirmed that they are in talks with the Office for National Statistics to mark homelessness on death certificates.

That was a key part of the method that the ONS used to count the number of rough sleepers who died in England and Wales. That count, the first official count on record, found that 597 people lost their lives while homeless in 2017.

And now plans for a count in Scotland are underway.

An NRS spokesperson said: “The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has developed a method to estimate the number of homeless deaths in England and Wales, using data from a range of sources including death certificates.

“NRS has been in contact with ONS with the aim of producing comparable estimates of deaths of homeless people in Scotland.

“At present, the homeless status of people who die in Scotland, England and Wales isn’t recorded on death certificates. This means it isn’t possible to identify instances where a deceased person was homeless.”

This is welcome news to theatre group Cardboard Citizens, who are currently performing their newest show Bystanders at the Edinburgh Fringe all throughout August to shine a light on the issue of homeless deaths.

The group, who were also heavily involved in The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s crowdfunded count of homeless deaths last year, started a petition to coincide with the show calling for a national register of homeless deaths in Scotland.

Adrian Jackson MBE, the artistic director and founder of Carboard Citizens, told The Big Issue that their show in Edinburgh is encouraging people to unleash their “activist anger”.

“We just found it amazing that homeless deaths weren’t properly recorded in Scotland,” he said. “Why would you not record that? We are pleased to see that there has been some progress with that. It is common sense stuff really.

“Our show in Edinburgh is very moving, it is strong stuff and we don’t pull any punches.

“It does seem to be moving people and quite a lot of tears are shed and there is an activist anger released at the shows. We are encouraging to become part of our campaign.”

Following on from The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s count, the Museum of Homelessness have continued their work and revealed that a homeless person died every 19 hours between January and June this year.

That means 235 have already lost their life in 2019, ranging from the age of 16 to 104 years old.

MoH co-founder Matt Turtle said: “People affected by homelessness continue to die at a shocking rate despite the passage of the Homelessness Reduction Act nearly 18 months ago.

“We regularly hear from people who feel they’re safer on the streets than in hostels and this data shows why. People are placed in inadequate, unsafe accommodation, whether badly run hostels or other forms of private rented accommodation, with all too often fatal consequences.”

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