THE North West finds itself in a grim position alongside London as the two places with the highest mortality rates for homeless people in England and Wales.
New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), published today, reveal that 597 homeless people died in England and Wales during 2017; a 24% rise in mortality since 2013.
London had the highest mortality rate in 2017, with 136 estimated homeless deaths, while the North West had 119. The capital accounted for 23% of the total for England and Wales. In contrast, Wales had the fewest deaths of any of the English regions.
Homelessness charity Crisis has called such figures “shocking” and a “national crisis”, while Labour’s shadow housing minister, Melanie Onn MP described the situation as “shameful”.
These are the first official estimates of deaths of homeless people, the ONS said, and as such still experimental and subject to testing, but key figures reveal:
- Men made up 84% of deaths of homeless people in 2017
- The mean age at death of homeless people was 44 years for men, 42 years for women and 44 years for all persons between 2013 and 2017; in comparison, in the general population of England and Wales in 2017, the mean age at death was 76 years for men and 81 years for women
- Over half of all deaths of homeless people in 2017 were due to drug poisoning, liver disease or suicide; drug poisoning alone made up 32% of the total
- London and the North West of England had the highest mortality of homeless people, both in numbers of deaths and per million population of the region
“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,” said Ben Humberstone, head of health and life events at the ONS.
“Today we have been able to do just that… Our findings show a pattern of deaths among homeless people that is strikingly different from the general population. For example, homeless people tend to die younger and from different causes. The average age of death last year was 44 years, with 84% of all deaths being men. More than half were related to drug poisoning, suicide, or alcohol, causes that made up only 3% of overall deaths last year.”
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: “It’s shocking to think that hundreds of people faced the last days of their lives without the dignity of a secure roof over their head. 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.
“Behind these statistics are human beings – mothers, fathers, daughters and sons – whose families will now be spending Christmas coming to terms with their loss. This has to change. Governments must urgently expand the system used to investigate the deaths of vulnerable adults to include all those who have died while street homeless, so that crucial lessons can be learned to help prevent more people from dying needlessly.
“We must also recognise that many people who are homeless have complex needs that have either led to their homelessness, or developed because of it. It’s crucial that there are services in place to support people in these vulnerable circumstances, before it’s too late.
“And governments must go further. We know that homelessness can be ended if the root causes of it are fixed – like building the number of social homes we need and making sure our welfare system is there.”
Terrie Alafat CBE, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, said: “It is shocking and shameful that so many people are dying on the streets of our relatively prosperous countries – and that the number has jumped by almost a quarter in five years.
“These statistics are a stark reminder of the suffering at the very sharpest end of our national housing crisis. And we must remember that they are only an estimate, so the true figure could be even higher.
“We must take action now. In England, the Government’s rough sleeping strategy aims to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and end it by 2027 – this is achievable, but only with the right level of investment and all of us pulling out the stops to end homelessness.
“We believe that a chronic shortage of affordable homes combined with the welfare reforms introduced since 2012 has created a toxic mix. To truly get to the root of the problem, the government must invest in more genuinely affordable housing as well as reviewing the cumulative impact of welfare reforms like the benefit cap, universal credit and the housing benefit freeze for private renters.”
Labour’s shadow housing minister, Melanie Onn MP, 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. Labour will provide £100 million to ensure that everyone has shelter when it becomes dangerously cold. We will end rough sleeping within five years to ensure that everyone has a place to call home.”