The number of deaths among people experiencing homelessness rose to almost 1,300 last year, according to new research from the Museum of Homelessness charity. The museum’s ‘Dying Homeless’ project recorded 1,286 deaths across the UK, more than 30 per cent up on 2020 and a ‘staggering’ 80 per cent increase on 2019.
While just seven deaths were the result of COVID, cuts to substance misuse and mental health services had ‘taken their toll’, says the charity, with the result that that ‘too many people don’t get the support they need’. Of the cases where the charity had confirmed the cause of death, more than 40 per cent were related to drug and alcohol use and 12 per cent to suicide. Most of the drug-related deaths took place in temporary, hostel or supported accommodation, rather than on the streets, with particularly high numbers in South Lanarkshire, Exeter, Southampton, Stirling, Hull and Leeds. Cuts to housing services have also had a significant impact, with many of the deaths taking place in ‘unsafe, unregulated, taxpayer-funded accommodation’.
The figures – which represent a death occurring every seven hours on average – are based on more than 300 Freedom of Information requests as well as coroner reports and other sources, and include people sleeping rough as well as those in emergency accommodation or other insecure settings. The actual number of deaths is likely to be far higher, says the organisation, as many local authorities – including the UK’s second largest city, Birmingham – did not respond to FOI requests.
‘These findings are a hammer blow,’ said the charity’s co-founder, Jess Turtle. ‘Government neglect means things keep getting worse with new provision for mental health, addiction and social housing failing to make up for previous cuts. Ultimately, the government can’t fix what it doesn’t understand. There needs to be a confidential enquiry into the deaths of homeless people to allow an honest appraisal of what’s happening to the UK’s most vulnerable people. There should also be mandatory fatality reviews for all local authorities – so lessons can be learned from each death.’