There were almost 600 deaths of homeless people in England and Wales in 2017, according to ONS figures, an increase of 24 per cent over the last five years. Men accounted for 84 per cent of the deaths.
More than 30 per cent of all the deaths were as a result of drug poisoning, says ONS, an increase of 51 per cent over the same period. Opiates were involved in more than three quarters of the drug poisoning deaths, while a third also mentioned alcohol on the death certificate. Drug poisoning, liver disease and suicide accounted for more than half of all deaths, with the mean age of death 44 for men and 42 for women, compared to 76 and 81 for the general population.
The highest death rates – both as a total and as a proportion of the population – were in London and the North West. The records identified were ‘mainly people sleeping rough, or using emergency accommodation such as homeless shelters and direct access hostels, at or around the time of death’, says ONS.
‘Every year hundreds of people die while homeless,’ said the agency’s head of health and life events, Ben Humberstone. ‘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. Our findings show a pattern of deaths among homeless people that is strikingly different from the general population. More than half were related to drug poisoning, suicide, or alcohol, causes that made up only 3 per cent of overall deaths last year.’
Separate research commissioned by Crisis estimates that there are currently 12,300 people sleeping rough on the street and almost 12,000 sleeping in tents, cars or on public transport. The numbers are more than double the government’s official figures, which are based on local authority estimates or street counts on a given night.
‘The ONS report is further confirmation of what we have long known and feared – that the number of people dying while homeless is nothing short of a national scandal,’ said chief executive of St Mungo’s, Howard Sinclair. ‘These numbers are shocking. People are not just stuck sleeping on the streets, they are dying on the streets. Worse still many of these deaths are premature and entirely preventable. The statistics do not do justice to the individuals who have died. Their stories must be told and lessons learned. We want the government to deliver on its commitment to ensure a formal review when someone dies while rough sleeping.’
Deaths of homeless people in England and Wales: 2013 to 2017, at www.ons.gov.uk
Rough sleeping figures at www.crisis.org.uk