Deaths of homeless people in UK jumps 80 percent in two years

  • The number of deaths among homeless people has risen greatly in two years, ITV News Correspondent Lucy Watson reports

Deaths of unhoused people in the UK have increased 80 percent in two years, with Covid accounting for only a small number of fatalities, new data shows.

The Museum of Homelessness initiative called on the government to reverse its decision to cut the budget for discretionary housing payments by £40 million as it revealed the "heartbreaking" figures.

Its Dying Homeless Project found 1,286 unhoused people died in 2021 - an 80 percent rise since 2019 and a 32 percent increase on 2020 figures.

As well as rough sleepers, the figures include the deaths of those placed in emergency accommodation and other insecure settings. Many of those included in the figures had died in "unsafe, unregulated, tax-payer funded accommodation," researchers said.

Cuts to housing, a lack of mental health facilities, cost of living and a lack of funding for addiction services are to blame for the surge, according to the Dying Homeless Project.

Cases with confirmed causes of death showed 41 percent were related to drug and alcohol use and 12 percent took their own lives. Covid accounted for only seven of the fatalities.

Researchers verified each death across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland by a freedom of information request, coroners' report, charity or family member.

Deaths of unhoused people have increased significantly in these areas:

  • Northern Ireland – 325

  • Glasgow - 80

  • London borough of Westminster - 33

  • Bristol - 28

  • Edinburgh - 22

Jess Turtle, co-founder of the Museum of Homelessness, described the findings as "heartbreaking" and said "government neglect means things keep getting worse".

"If the government took this situation seriously, it wouldn’t have slashed the budget for discretionary housing payments by over a third last month – making it harder for councils to offer the people the breathing space they need to avoid homelessness."

More than 1,280 unhoused people in the UK died last year Credit: PA

She said reversing the decision to cut £40 million from the discretionary housing payments fund - which is designed to prevent homelessness - should be "an immediate priority".

Many more lives will be "at risk" as the cost-of-living crisis is set to push 1.3 million people into absolute poverty, Turtle warned.

Researchers said more than 90 percent of deaths happened after unhoused people were placed in insecure accommodation and called on the government to "urgently regulate" businesses that manage what is known as exempt accommodation.

Museum of Homelessness co-founder Matt Turtle said deaths of unhoused people often happen in exempt accommodation, such as taxpayer-funded hostels, many of which he said "fail to meet their most basic obligations".

"The companies managing exempt accommodation now receive over £800 million a year from the public purse," Turtle said.

"The government needs to urgently regulate these businesses – providing proper oversight so people are protected and our taxes stop funding negligent landlords."

A government spokesperson said: "Every death on our streets is a tragedy. Our most recent statistics published by the ONS estimated that homeless deaths decreased by 12 per cent in 2020 compared to the previous year.

"Even one death is one too many, which is why councils will receive £2 billion over the next three years to support the homeless. We also are working closely with the health and care sector to ensure people sleeping rough get the support they need for substance misuse and mental health assessments."