Despite the dangers of rough sleeping, the Dying Homeless project found people were more likely to die after being given homelessness accommodation than on the streets. Image: Image: Serhat Beyazkaya / Unsplash
More than 4,000 people have died while homeless across the UK since 2019, according to a grassroots count that showed a surge in deaths in England and Wales last year.
The count showed stark regional differences across the UK with the number of deaths counted in England rising 22 per cent to 875 and up 27 per cent in Wales to 76. Meanwhile Northern Ireland and Scotland both saw numbers fall sharply by a third and 15 per cent respectively.
MOH director Matt Turtle said the true figure is likely to be higher and warned the government’s efforts to tackle homelessness may not be enough to prevent more people losing their life without a safe and stable place to call home.
Frontline groups including MOH, Streets Kitchen, Simon Community and The Outside Project will hold a vigil outside Downing Street on Thursday evening to remember the people who lost their lives in 2022.
“The government’s misguided approach to homelessness and housing has fatal consequences,” said MOH director Matt Turtle.
“A toxic cocktail of cuts, criminalisation and crackdowns is making life even harder for the UK’s most vulnerable people. Just tinkering around the edges as the government plans, won’t fix the damage of the last 12 years. Far stronger policy and investment are needed to deal with the appalling loss of life.
“With a heavy heart we expect to report more of the same in 2024, but with our colleagues we will continue to do what we can to save lives.”
A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesperson said: “We are determined to end rough sleeping for good. That is why we published our £2 billion cross-government strategy setting out our plan to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping over the next three years.”
The project uses freedom of information requests, coroners’ reports or submissions from charity or family members to verify deaths.
MOH was not able to establish the cause of death for every person who died in 2022. But the group did find 36 per cents of deaths where a cause was established were related to drugs and alcohol and 10 per cent died by suicide. Both rates were similar to 2021 levels.
Of the cases where MOH were able to establish a person’s living situation, 83 per cent of the deaths in 2022 took place after a person was placed in a form of homelessness accommodation rather than rough sleeping.
However, MOH warned their figures are likely to be an underestimate as the group was unable to obtain statistics from local authorities in Birmingham, Blackpool and London boroughs Ealing, Hackney, Hillingdon and Lewisham.
Francesca Albanese, acting director of policy and external affairs at homelessness charity Crisis, said: “Behind each of these statistics is a human being, a life cut short and potential unrealised. The fact that anyone dies while homeless is shameful.
“That many of these deaths are happening while in emergency or supported accommodation is shocking – these are places that should provide some respite and a foothold out of homelessness and yet in many cases the reverse is true. We cannot let this continue.”
MOH also quizzed councils on the number of people who died while living in exempt accommodation for the first time.
Exempt accommodation is defined as a type of supported housing that is exempt from usual housing benefit limits because of the added support that is provided for vulnerable people.
Last year a Levelling Up Committee inquiry into exempt accommodation warned it was leaving homeless people to become “victims of terrible crimes” and the Supported Housing (Regulatory Oversight) Bill is currently going through parliament to regulate it.
MOH found only 12 local authorities held information on the number of people who died in exempt accommodation. In Manchester 109 deaths were recorded in exempt accommodation compared to 21 among the rest of the homeless population in the city.
MoH director Turtle added: “The fact that so many people continue to die in unregulated, taxpayer-funded accommodation run by rogue landlords is a disgrace.
“The upcoming Supported Housing (Regulatory Oversight) Bill will provide an urgently needed framework to regulate the rogues but it’s clear local authorities won’t have the resources they need to implement it. The government needs to move past piecemeal measures to address both the immediate crisis and the lack of social housing that causes it.”
MOH’s process is different to the one used to create official statistics for homeless deaths, which are compiled in England and Wales by the Office for National Statistics and the National Records of Scotland. For the official stats, statisticians scour death certificates and use modelling to estimate how many people have died while homeless.
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