85% rise in UK homeless tent/doorway deaths since 2019, annual figure reaches 1,300

Charity says stronger policy and investment needed to tackle ‘appalling loss of life’, after 85% rise in deaths since 2019

– Thu 20 Apr 2023

More than 1,300 people in the UK died while homeless last year, according to figures that highlight the stark regional differences within the UK, as cuts to health, mental health and drug and alcohol services took their toll.

Research by the charity Museum of Homelessness shows that the number of homeless people who died in 2022 was 1,313, an 85% increase on the numbers recorded by the study just three years earlier.

The figures include people sleeping rough as well as those placed in emergency accommodation and other insecure settings. Each death was verified by a freedom of information request, coroners’ report, charity or family member.

Matt Turtle, co-founder of the Museum of Homelessness, said: “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.”

The research showed that while there was a small year-on-year increase over the past year (2%), the differences between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were significant.

Fatalities in England rose by 22% to 875, and by 27% to 76 in Wales. In Northern Ireland the number of deaths fell by 37% to 205, but are more than double the level seen in 2020 after a large spike last year. Scotland’s 157 deaths were a 15% decrease on the previous year.

The UK-wide figures were an increase on the verified 1,286 deaths in 2021, 976 in 2020, and 710 in 2019.

The annual audit by the Museum of Homelessness found most deaths occurred among people living in emergency housing or hostels, with 83% of deaths taking place when the person was in some form of accommodation. The figures also showed that 85% of those who died were under the age of 65.

Turtle said: “The fact that so many people continue to die in unregulated, taxpayer-funded accommodation run by rogue landlords is a disgrace.”

The charity said that its figures were likely to be an underestimate as not all local authorities had replied to FoI requests, including large councils such as Birmingham, Blackpool, Ealing and Hackney.

Paula Barker, a Labour MP and the shadow homelessness and rough sleeping minister, said: “This government’s track record in tackling all forms of homelessness is abysmal. It’s been clear for a long time that there are deep-rooted problems across supported and temporary accommodation. Each death is a tragedy and these figures are deeply worrying.”

According to the research, the number of deaths has increased in all different categories of homeless accommodation since last year. The largest increases include those in rough sleeper accommodation and temporary accommodation, both marking 10% increases.

Where the cause of the death is recorded, 36% of deaths related to drugs and alcohol and 10% died by suicide.

Jessica Turtle, co-founder of the Museum of Homelessness, said: “The leading cause of death, year on year, is people dying either from overdose or from drug and alcohol use. That’s a way of self-soothing, self-medicating. People who usually have active addictions like that is usually because life is really hard.”

Francesca Albanese, acting director of policy and external affairs at the 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.”

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 £2bn cross-government strategy setting out our plan to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping over the next three years.

“This includes £186m to help those with drug and alcohol addiction access recovery services and up to £53m for suitable and stable accommodation.

“Councils have a duty to ensure temporary accommodation is suitable and we are providing them with £654m over two years to help prevent homelessness.”

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