Housing

The number of homeless people dying has risen by 20 per cent

The ONS’ official count of homelessness deaths found that 726 people lost their lives in England and Wales in 2018

Rough sleeper

Almost two people per day died while homeless in England and Wales in 2018, according to new figures from the Office for National Statistics, representing a rise of more than 20 per cent on the previous year.

The shocking statistics showed that 726 homeless people lost their lives in 2018 – 22 per cent higher than the 597 estimated deaths in 2017 uncovered ONS’ first-ever official count released last December.

The increase is the highest year-on-year increase in ONS’ time series that goes back to 2013 with their estimates finding that the number of homeless deaths has increased by 51 per cent in the last six years.

For the 2018 count, ONS’ head of analysis and life events Ben Humberstone revealed that drug poisoning accounted for two in every five deaths – that, too, has risen by 55 per cent since 2017 compared to an increase of 16 per cent for the whole population over the same period.

Responding to the figures, Jon Sparkes, Crisis chief executive, 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. In this day and age there is no excuse for anyone dying without a safe place to call home.”

Shelter counterpart Polly Neate echoed his calls for more social housing to help prevent homelessness. “This is a moment to pause and reflect on what matters to us as a society. These tragic deaths are the consequence of a housing system that is failing too many of our fellow citizens,” she said.

“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.”

The ONS figures also identified London and the north-west of England as hotspots for homeless deaths with 148 people dying in the English capital and 103 recorded in the North West respectively.

The majority of deaths were among men in 2018, who accounted for 641 estimated deaths or 81 per cent of the total with the mean age of death at 45 years compared to 76 years for the wider population. For women, the average age of death was 43 years for homeless women compared to 81 years for the those not living on the streets.

Youth charity Centrepoint’s own analysis of the data concluded that 34 young people aged between 15 and 24 died, meaning a death was registered every 11 days.

Balbir Chatrik, the charity’s director of policy and communication, said: “These figures will shock many people who will wonder how we have reached this point.

“As local council budgets have reduced dramatically, there is less and less support available for those threatened with or are experiencing homelessness.”

“The fact is, we know how to reduce homelessness. We need more social housing, ensure housing benefit covers the cost of renting privately, and proper funding for mental health services. What we need now is the political will and financial resources to put these solutions into practice.”

A number of much-loved Big Issue vendors have died in the past year, including Glasgow seller Paul Kelly, whose life was tragically taken away from him in March sparking widespread grief and tributes, and most recently, popular veteran sellers Andy Wotton and Mark Passell.

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