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Number of homeless people dying 'increase by 24% in five years'

Life expectancy for the homeless is nearly half that for people in stable housing. Credit: PA

Nearly 600 homeless people died across England and Wales last year, almost a 25% increase in five years, new figures reveal.

Deaths of rough sleepers and those in emergency accommodation rose from 482 in 2013 to 597 in 2017, according to the first Office for National Statistics (ONS) research of its kind.

North-west England saw a 115% increase in deaths over the period to 119, while 136 died in London, up two per cent.

Greater Manchester had the highest number of deaths for a city region (50), followed by the West Midlands (34) and Liverpool (32).

Homeless charity Crisis said the figures were "a national tragedy".

"In one of the world's wealthiest countries, no one should be dying because of homelessness," the charity's chief executive Jon Sparkes said. "It's imperative that governments act now to stop this tragedy once and for all."

The Government is committed to halving rough sleeping by 2022 and ending it by 2027.

Housing Secretary James Brokenshire told MPs it is "simply unacceptable to see lives cut short this way"

"The death of anyone who is homeless is a tragedy," he said. "We remain focused and resolute in our commitment to make rough sleeping a thing of the past and where we need to do more, we will."

597
Homeless people died in England and Wales in 2017.
44 yrs
Average age at death for homeless people between 2013 and 2017.
84%
Of homeless deaths were made up of men in 2017.

The ONS research showed that life expectancy for the homeless is nearly half that for people in stable housing, with homeless men and women dying on average at the age of 44.

It was estimated that last year more than one in 10 homeless deaths were due to suicide, while more than two-fifths was due to drug poisoning or alcohol-related.

The statistics also show:

  • There is little evidence of a seasonal pattern in deaths of homeless people, with August seeing the highest number in 2017 (72) followed by February (56) and May (55).
  • 102 homeless people aged 45-49 are estimated to have died in 2017, the highest number for any age group, followed by 35-39-year-olds (101 deaths) and 40-44-year-olds (90).
  • North-west England has seen the biggest increase in deaths over five years, from 55 to 119 (a jump of 115%). North-west England saw an increase from 18 to 32, up 71%. By contrast the figure for London is up just 2% from 134 to 136.

The statistics came a day after MPs were told about the death of a homeless man, a 43-year-old known as Gyula Remes, who was found outside the Houses of Parliament.

He was the second homeless man known to have died beside the Palace of Westminster this year, but the fresh statistics show the scale of such deaths across the nation.

Melanie Onn, Labour’s Shadow Housing Minister, said the figures were "utterly shameful and reflect a complete failure of Conservative policy on housing".

She said Labour would provide £100 million "to ensure that everyone has shelter when it becomes dangerously cold" and "end rough sleeping within five years".

Shelter campaign director Greg Beales branded the deaths "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," he added.

The charity blamed a "crippling shortage of social housing" as well as a "threadbare safety net", as it called on the Government to change tack to end the scourge.

The Local Government Association said ending homelessness was becoming "increasingly difficult" with a funding gap, as it called for "proper resourcing".

Average age at death for homeless people between 2013 and 2017 was 44 years. Credit: PA

More than half (56%) of all deaths of homeless people in England happened in London, the North West and the South East regions.

London was the worst hit last year with more than a fifth of the estimated deaths, at 136, while the North West had 119.

But over that period the estimated toll in London remained largely stable, whereas the north west saw a jump of 115% from 55.

Estimates for the north east also saw a 71% increase, from 18 to 32.

Government figures released last week showed the number of households living in temporary accommodation in England had risen by five per cent in a year to 82,310.

Data previously showed the number of people officially recorded as sleeping on the streets of England rose from 1,768 in 2010 to 4,751 in 2017, but charities warned the true figure could be more than double this.

Work on the latest ONS figures was prompted by research from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in October, which found that at least 449 homeless people had died in the UK in the previous 12 months.

The ONS defined homeless people as those sleeping rough or using accommodation such as homeless shelters or hostels at around the time of their death.

DEATHS OF HOMELESS PEOPLE IN 2017 BY REGION

  • North-east England - 32 (up 71% from 2013)
  • North-west England - 119 (up 115%)
  • Yorkshire and the Humber - 49 (up 58%)
  • East Midlands - 34 (up 38%)
  • West Midlands - 45 (up 11%)
  • East of England - 33 (up 16%)
  • London - 136 (up 2%)
  • South-east England - 84 (up 7%)
  • South-west England - 52 (up 6%)
  • Wales 13 - (down 40%)