Homeless person dying every 19 hours in UK, figures show

At least 235 deaths recorded in last six months as campaigners call for urgent action

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 14 August 2019 06:26 BST
Chronic lack of social housing blamed for increased homelessness
Chronic lack of social housing blamed for increased homelessness

A homeless person dies on average every 19 hours in the UK, according to figures that have prompted calls for the prime minister to address the country’s housing crisis.

Data collated through coroners’ enquiries, media coverage, family testimony and freedom of information requests reveals at least 235 people affected by homelessness have died over the last six months, ranging from the ages of 16 to 104 years old.

The same figures from last year showed 449 deaths were recorded in 12 months – on average one every 20 hours – indicating that the frequency at which homeless people are dying has risen slightly, despite increased awareness of the issue.

The new data, published by the Museum for Homelessness, suggests more than 30 per cent of fatalities since 2017 have occurred where people were in emergency or temporary accommodation, raising concerns that services provided to the most vulnerable people regularly fail to meet an acceptable standard.

Homelessness charities and MPs called on Boris Johnson to address the “sheer lack” of affordable social housing across the country and to increase housing benefit so it covers the true cost of renting, as well as ensuring that all homeless deaths are investigated.

Shadow housing minister John Healey said: “The scale of rising homelessness shames us all. After nine years of failure on housing, falling homelessness under Labour has turned into rising homelessness under the Conservatives.

“It doesn’t have to be this way. Ministers urgently need to get a grip, back Labour’s plans to end rough sleeping and build thousands of more affordable homes.”

Matthew Downie, director of policy and external affairs at Crisis, said it was disgraceful that hundreds of vulnerable people across the country had died without the dignity of a secure home.

“What makes this even worse is that a lot of these fatalities are happening not while people are rough sleeping, as you may expect, but when they are in temporary accommodation that is simply not fit for purpose.

“We know that homelessness can be ended across the UK, but only by the government tackling the root causes.”

Chris Wood, head of policy at Shelter, said: “Appalling levels of homelessness across the country should shame us all, but the fact that so many people die in such awful conditions – including teenagers and the elderly – is a national scandal.

“These deaths cannot be ignored and we demand urgent action from the new prime minister. The new government needs to increase housing benefit so it covers the true cost of renting, and tackle the root cause of the housing crisis by investing in 3 million more social homes over the next 20 years.”

The report comes after research by academics at the University of Birmingham found that homeless people were being denied access to basic healthcare, with “perceived stigma and discrimination” in health settings causing “unnecessary deaths”.

The research found that homeless people were being denied registration at GP surgeries and discharged from hospital onto the streets with no referral to primary care providers.

It comes amid a surge in rough sleeping in England, with government figures showing the number of people sleeping on the streets has increased by 165 per cent in the past eight years.

A government spokesperson said: “It is simply unacceptable that any life should be cut short due to homelessness.

“This government is committed to ensuring everyone has a safe place to live. Councils are responsible for helping people at risk of being homeless so they can get the safety and support they need.”

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