Nearly 600 homeless people died on the streets or in temporary accommodation in England and Wales in 2017, up 24% in five years, according to the first government figures on the issue.
After a slight drop in 2013, deaths have risen every year since, from 475 in 2014 to 597 last year, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show. The average age of a rough sleeper at death was 44 years for men and 42 years for women. Men made up 84% of homeless deaths.
London and the north-west had the highest mortality of homeless people in England and Wales. More than half of the deaths in 2017 were caused by drug poisoning, suicide or alcohol abuse. No figures were calculated for 2018.
On Wednesday a homeless man became the second rough sleeper to die outside parliament this year after he collapsed in a stairwell.
The figures, which are estimates, were calculated by checking death registrations in England and Wales for indications that a person was homeless at or near their time of death. ONS researchers searched for terms such as “no fixed abode” in records, also checking whether the address included in the death registration belonged to a night shelter or a hostel.
The north-west, including cities such as Manchester and Liverpool, experienced the largest increase in homeless deaths, more than doubling in five years, from 55 in 2013 to 119 in 2017.
Fatalities in the north-east and Yorkshire have risen by 71% and 58% respectively since 2013.
The ONS findings show a pattern of deaths among homeless people which is strikingly different from the general population. For example, the causes of deaths recorded provide an insight into the circumstances around people who die while having no home. It is already known that homeless people can have complex health and personal histories, as well as being exposed to high levels of risk and difficulty obtaining good quality medical care.
In October the government pledged that local authorities would hold serious case reviews to investigate all homeless deaths, but it has not provided any funding or support for this work.
More than 24,000 people in Britain will spend this Christmas sleeping rough or in cars, trains, buses or tents, according to figures by the homelessness charity Crisis.
On Tuesday the communities secretary, James Brokenshire, said government policy was not responsible for the rise in rough sleeping. Official figures show it has increased by 169% since 2010, but the true number is believed to be much higher. Instead, Brokenshire blamed the spread of psychoactive drugs such as spice, a rise in non-UK nationals on the streets, and family breakdown.
Ben Humberstone, the ONS’s head of health and life events, said:
“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. Today we have been able to do just that.
“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. The average age of death last year was 44 years, with 84% of all deaths being men. More than half were related to drug poisoning, suicide or alcohol – causes that made up only 3% of overall deaths last year.”
Martin Tett, the Local Government Association’s housing spokesman, said all homeless deaths were preventable, but he said supporting people at risk of homelessness was becoming increasingly difficult for councils because of lack of funding:
“Proper resourcing of local government funding is essential if we are going to end rising homelessness. 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”.
Brokenshire said on Thursday the figures would help the government in its “mission to end rough sleeping for good”.
“No one is meant to spend their lives on the streets or without a home to call their own. Every death on our streets is too many and it is simply unacceptable to see lives cut short this way.”
“To stop people from becoming homeless in the first place, we’ve changed the law to require councils to provide early support for those at risk of being left with nowhere left to go, are boosting access to affordable housing and making renting more secure.”
The first Experimental Statistics of the number of deaths of homeless people in England and Wales. Figures are given for deaths registered in the years 2013 to 2017.