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Friday, 21 December 2018

Scale of homeless deaths branded 'national tragedy' as new figures show 24% rise

Written by Sam Blewett and Richard Wheeler

The scale of homeless deaths has been branded a "national tragedy" after official estimates showed a rise of almost a quarter over five years.

Some 597 people sleeping rough or in emergency accommodation were estimated to have died last year in England and Wales, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

This represents a 24% leap from 482 in 2013, according to the department's first research of its kind.

Life expectancy for the homeless is nearly half that for people in stable housing, with homeless men and women dying on average at the age of 44.

While London had the highest mortality rate, the North West of England saw the largest increase over the period, with homeless deaths more than doubling.

It was estimated that last year more than one in 10 homeless deaths were due to suicide, while more than two-fifths was due to drug poisoning or alcohol-related.

Communities Secretary James Brokenshire said the figures are "stark" and reiterated a Tory pledge to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and end it by 2027.

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson described the death toll's jump as "abhorrent".

Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes (pictured) said: "This is nothing short of a national tragedy - especially when we know that homelessness is not inevitable.

"In one of the world's wealthiest countries, no one should be dying because of homelessness. It's imperative that governments act now to stop this tragedy once and for all."

Shelter campaign director Greg Beales branded the deaths "a source of national shame".

"There is nothing inevitable about homelessness or about these tragic deaths which are a consequence of a housing system which fails too many people," he added.

The charity blamed a "crippling shortage of social housing" as well as a "threadbare safety net", as it called on the Government to change tack to end the scourge.

The Local Government Association said ending homelessness was becoming "increasingly difficult" with a funding gap, as it called for "proper resourcing".

The statistics came a day after MPs were told about the death of a homeless man, a 43-year-old known as Gyula Remes, who was found outside the Houses of Parliament.

He was the second homeless man known to have died near the Palace of Westminster this year, but the fresh statistics show the scale of such deaths across the nation.

London was the worst hit last year with more than a fifth of the estimated deaths, at 136, while the North West had 119.

But over that period the estimated toll in London remained largely stable, whereas the North West saw a jump of 115% from 55.

Estimates for the North East also saw a 71% increase, from 18 to 32.

Mr Brokenshire told MPs the Conservatives will invest £1.2 billion to tackle homelessness, adding: "It is simply unacceptable to see lives cut short this way. I believe we have a moral duty to act."

Shadow housing minister Melanie Onn accused the Tories of "outsourcing" responsibility, as she replied: "These figures are the result of an increasingly fracturing system of social security and support, results of Government decisions, Government choices."

The Labour MP blamed cuts to council budgets, social housing stock and drug and alcohol support, as well as overstretched mental health services, delays to social security payments and "insecure" work for pushing the the most vulnerable into the streets.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, in a statement, called for the Government to invest in welfare and support services to "bring an end to this national source of shame".

Government figures released last week showed the number of households living in temporary accommodation in England had risen by 5% in a year to 82,310.

Data previously showed the number of people officially recorded as sleeping on the streets of England rose from 1,768 in 2010 to 4,751 in 2017, but charities warned the true figure could be more than double this.

Work on the latest ONS figures was prompted by research from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in October, which found that at least 449 homeless people had died in the UK in the previous 12 months.

The ONS defined homeless people as those sleeping rough or using accommodation such as homeless shelters or hostels at around the time of their death.


Homelessness must be fully recorded on death certificates in order to "shame" the Government to take action quicker, a former minister has said.

Labour's Liam Byrne said MPs need to know the "whole truth about the depths of this scandal" to help push ministers to end rough sleeping in England ahead of their 2027 target.

Housing Secretary James Brokenshire confirmed he would raise the "proper recording" by coroners of deaths linked to homelessness with the Ministry of Justice.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Byrne (Birmingham Hodge Hill) said: "Three weeks ago I joined a census that shames us - counting rough sleepers in Birmingham.

"There beneath the Christmas lights we found a man without legs sleeping next to his wheelchair in doorways.

"We found wounded veterans sleeping in arcades.

"We met a man in the grounds of the cathedral who had had his benefits stopped.

"We met people fresh out of prison.

"We met people self-medicating trauma with drugs and alcohol.

"These are our neighbours, and some will not survive the winter and yet today the coroner does not record homelessness in full on death certificates.

"That has to change because we in this House need to know the whole truth about the depths of this scandal, so perhaps then we can shame this Government into dramatically speeding up its timetable to end rough sleeping for good."

Mr Brokenshire said he recognised Mr Byrne's "passion" on the issue, adding he took "hugely seriously" the cases raised.

The Cabinet minister went on: "He has made a point in relation to the proper recording of deaths linked to homelessness and I will certainly take that up with the Ministry of Justice in relation to this because it is about ensuring not that we have the data that's there, the numbers that are there, it's about how we bring about change, how we learn and apply lessons to see that homelessness is prevented, reduced and equally that we do act to end rough sleeping and save lives."


  • 15-19: 2 males, 1 female
  • 20-24: 12 males, 0 females
  • 25-29: 35 males, 10 females
  • 30-34: 51 males, 9 females
  • 35-39: 78 males, 23 females
  • 40-44: 72 males, 18 females
  • 45-49: 91 males, 11 females
  • 50-54: 60 males, 9 females
  • 55-59: 47 males, 4 females
  • 60-64: 24 males, 4 females
  • 65-69: 18 males, 4 females
  • 70-74: 12 males, 2 females


  • North-east England 32 (up 71%)
  • North-west England 119 (up 115%)
  • Yorkshire and the Humber 49 (up 58%)
  • East Midlands 34 (up 38%)
  • West Midlands 45 (up 11%)
  • East of England 33 (up 16%)
  • London 136 (up 2%)
  • South-east England 84 (up 7%)
  • South-west England 52 (up 6%)
  • Wales 13 (down 40%)

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Crisis.