At least 78 homeless people have died on the streets and in temporary accommodation this winter – equivalent to more than two deaths a week and more than the number who died in the Grenfell Tower fire, which has dominated the social housing agenda for the past year.
Research undertaken by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed the number of deaths on the streets and in shelters. It brings the total number of recorded deaths of homeless people to more than 300 since 2013. The figures could even be an under-estimate of the true figure as no part of Whitehall records homeless death statistics at a national level, and local authorities are not required to record the information. The rise in homeless deaths comes as the BIJ launches its Dying Homeless project, which aims to establish accurate statistics on the issue by putting pressure on the Government to officially record the data.
Last month, the Guardian newspaper reported the annual number of recorded deaths of homeless people has more than doubled over the last five years, rising from 32 in 2013 to 77 in 2017. So far, 40 deaths have already been recorded in the first four months of 2018, meaning at least 318 homeless people have died since 2013.
The average age of rough sleepers who died in the last five years was 43, around half the usual life expectancy in the UK. Where local authorities provided a gender, the figures showed that 88 per cent of those who died were men.
Rough sleeping has increased by 169 per cent since 2010 with an estimated 4,751 people bedding down outdoors in 2017. Charities say the official figures fail to capture the true level of street homelessness. Austerity, rising rents and a lack of social housing have all been blamed for the rise in homeless deaths, with charities calling for multi-agency investigations after every death.
Jeremy Swain, chief executive of Thames Reach works with homeless people in London. He called on the Government to record statistics to help identify the true extent of the problem. “Triggered by public concern at the inexorable rise in rough sleeping, there is now much greater urgency from Government to tackle rough sleeping across the country. In order to understand the issues that lead to people sleeping rough and find solutions to end their homelessness, we need strong data about who is sleeping rough. It is extraordinary and unacceptable that national data on rough sleepers is so limited,” he said.
By Patrick Mooney, editor