Nearly 600 homeless people died last year in the UK, first official government figures show

Homeless deaths soar by 24 per cent in five years

May Bulman – Social Affairs Correspondent – @maybulman – Fri 21 December 2018

Nearly 600 homeless people died last year in England and Wales, according to government figures published for the first time.

The figure marks a 24 per cent increase over the last five years, according to the data.

Only two days ago, a homeless man was found collapsed yards from parliament. He later died in hospital, prompting claims ministers were ignoring the growing problem of street homelessness on their doorstep.

Another homeless man died in the same place during a freezing cold night in February.

The latest figures, collated by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), show more than half of all deaths of homeless people in 2017 were due to drug poisoning, liver disease or suicide.

London and the northwest of England had the highest mortality of homeless people, both in numbers of deaths and per million population of the region.

Some 84 per cent of those who died were men. The average life expectancy for homeless people was found to be 44 years for men and 42 years for women.

For the general population of England and Wales in 2017, the mean age at death is 76 years for men and 81 years for women.

The records identified are mainly those sleeping rough, or using emergency accommodation such as homeless shelters and direct access hostels, at or around the time of death.

Separate figures published by Crisis last week revealed levels of rough sleeping in the UK – including sleeping on public transport and in tents – had doubled in five years, rising by 20 per cent to 24,000 in just 12 months.

Gyula Remes, a 43-year-old Hungarian national, was found by British Transport Police on Tuesday night outside Westminster underground station. Although officers administered first aid, he died hours later.

He was initially found by his friend Gabor Kasza looking “all blue” near a set of revolving doors used by politicians and staff in the House of Commons.

Mr Kasza said Mr Remes had been drinking that night and had been given a cigarette, which he suspected had been laced with the synthetic drug spice.

He said the Hungarian had recently begun work as a chef’s assistant. He said that Mr Remes was due to receive his first pay cheque “some time this week”, which he had hoped would enable him to get off the streets for good.

Mr Remes’ death caused widespread outrage. Labour MP Neil Coyle said: “We should all be ashamed that Westminster – a world heritage site – is also a place homeless people are forced to try to stay warm.”

Responding to the latest figures, shadow housing minister Melanie Onn said: “These figures are utterly shameful and reflect a complete failure of Conservative policy on housing, which has seen rough sleeping skyrocket since 2010.

“We are one of the richest countries in the world and there is no excuse for people dying on our streets.”

Howard Sinclair, chief executive of St Mungo’s, which supports rough sleepers across the south of England, said: “The figures don’t surprise me. I wish they did. I have personally been informed of five deaths in the past couple of weeks.

“We’ve seen increased numbers, but also increase in the need of people in terms of range and depth of need, particularly in last three to four years. People’s mental health needs are far greater, people’s dependency on drugs is far higher.

“It’s a result of cuts in funding, particularly to NHS services and local authorities. This is one of the effects of austerity – the services people need have been reduced, so it’s no surprise that it’s what we’re seeing day in day out.”

Greg Beales, campaign director at Shelter said: “This appalling loss of life should be 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.

“Our crippling shortage of social housing and a threadbare safety net are at the root of this national emergency and we call on government to make this year a turning point in the fight to ensure that there is a safe home for all those who need it.”

Ben Humberstone of the ONS said: “Every year hundreds of people die while homeless. These are some of the most vulnerable members of our society so it was vital that we produced estimates of sufficient quality to properly shine a light on this critical issue.”

Communities secretary James Brokenshire said: “No one is meant to spend their lives on the streets, or without a home to call their own. Every death on our streets is too many and it is simply unacceptable to see lives cut short this way.

“That’s why we are investing £1.2bn to tackle homelessness and have bold plans backed by £100m to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and end it by 2027.”

He said he was also committed to ensuring independent reviews into the deaths of rough sleepers are conducted where appropriate and that he would be holding local authorities to account.

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