Almost 1,000 UK homeless deaths recorded in 2020, say campaigners

There were almost 1,000 homeless deaths in the UK in 2020, according to a social justice group (Victoria Jones/PA Wire) Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Almost 1,000 homeless deaths occurred last year across the UK, a social justice group has said.

The Museum of Homelessness (MoH) said the figure rose by more than a third on the previous year, and called for more to be done to stop such “terrible loss of life”.

The museum’s Dying Homeless Project recorded 976 deaths across the four nations in 2020.

It said it had verified 693 homeless deaths in England and Wales, 176 in Scotland and 107 in Northern Ireland.

The total figure was up 37% on the 710 UK deaths reported in the 2019 study, it said.

The Government’s “Everyone In” scheme saw thousands of homeless people rapidly brought to safety at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

Campaigners said figures included the deaths of people living on the streets, sofa surfing, and in emergency or temporary accommodation Credit: Nick Ansell/PA

The MoH said its findings showed that less than 3% of recorded causes of death were directly attributed to coronavirus, which it described as a “significant achievement” of the scheme.

But it added that the efforts could not make up for pre-pandemic cuts to services, coupled with the disruption caused by the outbreak.

It said of the cases for which they had confirmed details of the cause of death, 36% were related to drug and alcohol use and 15% were suicide.

Jess Turtle, co-founder of MoH, said: “The Government touts ‘Everyone In’ as a runaway success.

“But it didn’t stop a staggering increase in the number of people dying while homeless – despite the best efforts of our colleagues around the country who worked 24 hours a day on emergency response.”

She said their findings show that the pandemic affected a system “already cut to the bone from 10 years of austerity” and called on the Government to “stop repackaging old funding commitments as new support and do more to stop this terrible loss of life”.

The project uses information from coroners’ enquiries, media coverage, family testimony and freedom of information requests – in their latest research they gathered data through more than 300 requests – to verify details of each case.

The figures included the deaths of people who were living on the streets, sofa surfing, and in emergency or temporary accommodation for people who are homeless.

The MoH said it has formed the Dying Homeless Project coalition, which includes people affected by homelessness, experts, charities, grassroots activists, academics, journalists, artists and campaigners, and is now calling for a national confidential inquiry into homeless deaths “to make the critical changes needed to save lives”.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “Every death of someone sleeping rough on our streets is a tragedy.

“We agree a safe home for all is vital – that’s why we’re providing over £700 million this year and £750 million next year to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping, including delivering 3,300 long-term homes this year.

“The latest figures show that our ongoing Everyone In initiative had housed 33,000 people, supporting 23,000 into settled accommodation or with move on support – and it will continue to protect thousands of lives.”

The MoH said campaigners plan to light candles on Tuesday in memory of those who died while homeless last year, and are calling on the public to do the same and share their efforts on social media due to restrictions on gathering in person.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “A lot of hard work went into getting thousands of people off the streets at the start of the pandemic. But more become homeless every day because there aren’t enough homes they can actually afford to live in.

“Pre-pandemic, there were over a million households on the social housing waiting list. As we look towards recovery, ending the housing crisis must be a priority.

“Now is the time to challenge the status quo and actually build the social homes we need to give everyone the security of a safe home.”

Official figures on deaths of homeless people in England and Wales in 2020 are due to be released by the Office for National Statistics in October.