Government urged to act after two homeless people died every day last year

The Government has been urged to take action on homelessness after new figures revealed that two homeless people died in England and Wales every day last year.

Deaths of homeless people rose by 22% to 726 in 2018 – the largest rise since records began in 2013, according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures.

And drug-related homeless deaths almost doubled, with two in five being related to drug poisoning – an increase of 55% on 2017.

The majority of the deaths in 2018 were men – an estimated 641 deaths – with an average age of 45 for men and 43 for women.

The figures led to calls for action from the Prime Minister.

Asking an urgent question on homeless deaths in the Commons on Tuesday, shadow housing secretary John Healey said: “This shames us all in a nation as decent and well-off as Britain today.

“Every one in shop doorway, in bedsit, on park bench, has been known and loved as someone son or daughter, friend or colleague.”

He added: “This demands a response from the Prime Minister himself tomorrow in his party conference speech.

“This demands that he leads a new national mission to end rough sleeping and this rising level of homeless deaths.”

Housing minister Luke Hall said the statistics were “heartbreaking”, and told MPs the Government is not complacent on homelessness.

He said: “There is no shying away from these statistics. They are heartbreaking.”

He added: “We are increasing funding next year by £54 million, a 13% real-terms increase. I think it is important to note in the rough sleeping initiative area we have piloted we saw a direct fall of 19% of rough sleeping in the first year.

“Next year we are delivering 750 more staff, and 2,600 bed spaces.”

Charities responded to the figures by urging the Government to do more to prevent homeless deaths.

Jon Sparkes (pictured), Crisis chief executive, said lessons from homeless deaths in the past had gone “unlearnt”.

He said: “It’s crucial that governments urgently expand the safeguarding system used to investigate the deaths of vulnerable adults to include everyone who has died while street homeless so we can help prevent more people from dying needlessly.”

Polly Neate, chief executive of the housing charity Shelter, said: “These tragic deaths are the consequence of a housing system and economy that is failing too many of our fellow citizens.

“We desperately need to set a new course and to do that we need urgent action.

“You can’t solve homelessness without homes so we are calling on all parties to commit to building the social homes we need.”

Howard Sinclair, chief executive of homelessness charity St Mungo’s, said: “Years of funding cuts have devastated crucial services supporting people who are homeless. The human cost is a national tragedy.”

He added: “We need to build homes, to make the welfare system truly work for the most vulnerable and to fund homelessness services to help people find a way off the streets, and out of danger, for good.”

Independent think tank Reform said the figures show that Government homelessness policies – such as the Homelessness Reduction Act and the Rough Sleeping Strategy – are failing.

Senior researcher Dr Luke Heselwood said: “Short-term, hand-to-mouth funding for local services has inhibited councils’ efforts to implement this legislation and prevent those at risk from becoming homeless.

“Long-term, sustainable funding for these services is a must to reverse this terrible trend.”

The District Councils’ Network (DCN) and the Local Government Association (LGA) said the Government needed to help local councils to provide the housing and services required to prevent homelessness.

LGA housing spokesman David Renard said: “We need the Government to provide councils with a long-term sustainable funding solution if we are to reduce homelessness and, with two in five deaths related to drug poisoning, adequately fund public health services so that councils can invest in drug and alcohol treatment services to make sure people get the support they need.

“The Government should also adapt welfare reforms to protect families at risk of becoming homeless and give councils the powers to invest in new homes for those that need them.”

Ben Humberstone, head of health analysis and life events at the ONS, said: “The deaths of 726 homeless people in England and Wales recorded in 2018 represent an increase of over a fifth on the previous year. That’s the largest rise since these figures began in 2013.

“A key driver of the change is the number of deaths related to drug poisoning, which are up by 55% since 2017, compared to 16% for the population as a whole.

“The ONS estimates are designed to help inform the work of everyone seeking to protect this highly vulnerable section of our community.”

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