Parliament challenged to end terminally ill homeless dying on the street

“What is it to wonder when will the pain stop… wondering whether anyone would care or even notice”.

Homeless (2)

Sir Ed Davey MP asked for 10 minutes in a packed parliamentary day – to focus on an issue he told 24housing should shame parliament.

Today, Sir Ed put down the first challenge to definitions of intentional homelessness that, he said, literally “follow to the grave”.

“Intentionally homeless is a cruelly curious legal phrase, it’s definition of doesn’t account for terminal illness – it doesn’t even account for a challenge on the basis of terminal illness,” said Sir Ed.

His wife Emily put him on to the issue – she’s a lawyer specialising in the social housing sector.

Sir Ed says his wife recognised what his fellow politicians have so far failed to see, that the terminally ill are being sent on to the street, ill-equipped hostel or B&B to die – in 21st century Britain.

There are not even the numbers to show how many, he said.

But as the numbers of homeless rise – wasting so much social progress wrecked in the name of welfare reform – it is reasonable to accept the numbers of terminally ill dying on the streets is up too.

“What is it to wonder when will the pain stop… wondering whether anyone would care or even notice.

“We don’t know about it and aren’t focused enough to do anything about it – there has been a political failure to recognise this and it should shame Parliament.

The Bill was to the Commons today (Feb 7) as a 10 minute rule motion bluntly titled Homelessness (End of Life Care).

It was approved – without objection – for a second reading next month.

Sir Ed accepts 10 minute rule motions rarely reach law.

But, through 24housing, he challenged at least one fellow MP – of whatever political persuasion – to pick up the issue as a Private Members Bill.

“The time is right to do so with the Buck Bill on housing standards securing cross-party support.

“In the previous Parliament, Tory MPs voted down measures to housing fit for human habitation – now it’s lost its majority members are… more mindful,” said Sir Ed.

The Fitness for Human Habitation Bill is inching ever closer to statute, having passed its second reading in the Commons.

Proposer Karen Buck – Labour MP for Westminster North – is already on board with Sir Ed’s Bill, as is Bob Blackman, sponsor of the Homelessness Reduction Act.

Beyond work Sir Ed acknowledges as “excellent” being done at street level to show what could be possible, few figures exist to outline the extent of homelessness amongst the terminally ill.

Recent research revealed as increasingly caring for hospice cases as the sickest of London’s homeless reach the end of their lives – with the average age of death on street set at 47.

That research was published in the Palliative Medicine journal and was carried out by Marie Curie Palliative Care researchers at University College London.

Hostel staff with no palliative care training were found as tasked to monitor terminally ill residents in need of specialist support.

Experts warned this resulted in ‘distressing’ unplanned and emergency hospital admissions of the homeless in the last weeks or days of their life.

One hostel provider, which was not named, has seen a 40% increase in deaths over the past year.

But the full number was accepted as unknown because the NHS often does not hold medical records for people who do not have a residential address.

As health services do not routinely record when people are homeless it is acknowledged as very difficult on a local or national scale to know how many are dying without the care and support they need.

Hostels intended for temporary accommodation were shown to be struggling to meet the needs of seriously or terminally ill residents and struggling to secure additional support from social services or palliative care services.

Presenting his Bill, Sir Ed called for more collaboration between health, housing and social services and increased training for those working with the homeless.

But he stressed the need for new responsibilities on local authorities to secure ‘appropriate’ accommodation for those presenting as homeless and terminally ill.

“If a GP judges someone at risk of dying within 12 months then a housing authority should have a duty of support in securing appropriate accommodation,” said Sir Ed.

As to what appropriate could be, the Bill envisages future hostel hospices or hospice care extended to existing hostels.

“We can give decent end of life care to even the most marginalised.

“We, as a Parliament, can say no homeless person should die on our streets,” said Sir Ed.

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