Nearly 600 homeless persons died on the streets in 2017 according to the first set of such figures released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS).
Out today (20th Dec), the report records an estimated 597 deaths of homeless people in England and Wales over 2017 – an increase of 24% over the last five years.
As reported by 24housing, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism yesterday released the results of its own research showing 449 UK homeless deaths between October 2017-Oct 2018.
The LGA says every such death is preventable should councils be properly resourced, to homelessness charity St Mungos the numbers are a “national scandal”.
Men made up 84% of deaths – with that mean average age of 44.
For women the average was 42, with an overall 44 years for all persons between 2013-2017.
In comparison, in the general population of England and Wales in 2017, the mean age at death was 76 years for men and 81 years for women.
“Every year hundreds of people die while homeless. 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,” said Ben Humberstone, ONS Head of Health and Life Event.
“Our findings show a pattern of deaths among homeless people that is strikingly different from the general population – for example, homeless people tend to die younger and from different causes.”
Over half of all deaths of homeless people in 2017 were due to drug poisoning, liver disease or suicide – drug poisoning alone made up 32% of the total.
London and the North West of England had the highest mortality of homeless people, both in numbers of deaths and per million population of the region.
LGA housing spokesman Cllr Martin Tett said that every such death was preventable where councils were properly resourced to stop homelessness from happening.
“This is becoming increasingly difficult with homelessness services facing a funding gap of more than £100m in 2019/20,” said Cllr Tett.
“Councils also need to keep 100% of the receipts of any homes they sell to replace them and reinvest in building more of the genuinely affordable homes they desperately need and the ability to adapt welfare reforms to prevent people from losing their home where possible,” he said.
St Mungo’s is calling for a new programme to ensure every homeless death is adequately investigated.
Chief executive Howard Sinclair said the stats were further confirmation of what the charity had long known and feared.
“These numbers are a national scandal. 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,” said Sinclair.
He added: “We want the government to deliver on its commitment to ensure a formal review when someone dies while rough sleeping.
“We think there is a strong case for government to fund a separate programme outside of the Safeguarding Adult Review process to ensure every death of someone sleeping rough is reviewed.
“This way we can identify the changes needed, at the local and national level, to stop these tragedies.
“That’s what it will take to end rough sleeping and the scandal of people dying on the streets,” he said.
CIH chief executive Terrie Alafat CBE said the “shocking, shameful” stats were a stark reminder of suffering at the “very sharpest end” of housing crisis.
“And we must remember that they are only an estimate, so the true figure could be even higher.
“In England, the government’s rough sleeping strategy aims to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and end it by 2027 – this is achievable, but only with the right level of investment and all of us pulling out the stops to end homelessness.”
She added: “We believe that a chronic shortage of affordable homes combined with the welfare reforms introduced since 2012 has created a toxic mix.
“To truly get to the root of the problem, the government must invest in more genuinely affordable housing as well as reviewing the cumulative impact of welfare reforms like the benefit cap, universal credit and the housing benefit freeze for private renters.”
Previous UK research on homeless deaths has focused mainly on London or other specific cities, and has used a variety of methods.
Nevertheless, those findings do show some clear similarities to the ONS stats.
Reports for the charity Crisis by Keyes and Kennedy in 1992 and Grenier in 1996 studied coroners’ records, the former for central London only and the latter extending a similar approach to London, Manchester and Bristol, finding an average age of death between 42 and 47 years.
Shaw and colleagues estimated in a paper in 1999 that the death rates for hostel residents were seven times greater, and those of rough sleepers 25 times greater than the general population.
A 2012 study for Crisis called Homelessness Kills estimated the mortality of homeless people in England for the period 2001 to 2009, using ONS death registration data by matching the recorded postcodes against known addresses of homeless projects.
The study found 1,731 deaths in the nine-year period, an average of 192 deaths per year.
ONS acknowledges this cannot be directly compared with its 2013-2017 figures, which are based on more comprehensive searches of the data and an additional element of statistical modelling.
Points of interest in the Crisis study were that 90% of those identified were male, nearly one-third were in London, and the average age of death was 47 years for men and 43 years for women.
Drug and alcohol poisoning were among the most common causes of death.
This year’s Scottish Government health and homelessness study covered all households who were assessed as homeless or threatened with homelessness in Scotland between June 2001 and November 2016, and used a case-control design to compare the health and mortality outcomes of the cohort with other population groups.
Although this is a much wider definition of homelessness than was used for ONS estimates, it is notable that the highest relative mortality risk was in the 31-to-40 age group, while drug poisoning conditions accounted for 22.8% of male deaths and 18.0% of female deaths in the group.
Research carried out in Glasgow and published in 2009 found that over five years of observation, 1.7% of the general population and 7.2% of the homeless cohort died.
Also, homelessness had differential effects on cause-specific mortality.
Among patients who had been hospitalised for drug poisoning conditions, the homeless cohort experienced a sevenfold increase in risk of death from drugs compared with the general population.
The research was a retrospective five-year study of two fixed cohorts, homeless adults and an age- and sex-matched random sample of the local non-homeless population in Greater Glasgow National Health Service Board area for comparison.