Rise of homeless deaths to pre-pandemic levels ‘utterly awful and unacceptable’ – Shelter

Some 741 deaths of homeless people were registered in 2021 in England and Wales, up 8% on the previous year, estimates show.

The increase means the number of deaths has returned to pre-pandemic levels after a drop in 2020.

It is “too early” to say whether the rise signals the return of an upward trend in deaths that was under way before Covid-19, however.

The estimates published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that 26 homeless deaths registered last year involved coronavirus – twice the number in 2020.

Nearly two in five deaths (35%) were related to drug poisoning, which was consistent with previous years.

London had the highest number of deaths at 154 – 21% of the total – followed by north-west England at 114 (15%).

James Tucker, of the ONS social care and health division, said: “The latest figure is more in line with pre-pandemic levels following a notable fall in 2020, although it’s too early to say whether this is a resumption of an upward trend in homeless deaths.

“Any death in these circumstances is a tragedy and our estimates are designed to help inform the work of everyone seeking to protect this highly vulnerable section of our community.”

Estimates of homeless deaths in England and Wales rose in the years before Covid-19, from 482 registrations in 2013 to 778 in 2019.

The dip in 2020, to 688, is likely to reflect the impact of the Everyone In scheme, which saw thousands of homeless people given emergency accommodation at the start of the pandemic to protect their safety.

This made it difficult to identify some of the deaths of homeless people housed under the scheme.

While the 741 deaths in 2021 represents a return to pre-pandemic levels, it is “significantly higher” than estimates for the period 2013 to 2017, the ONS added.

Polly Neate (pictured), chief executive of homeless charity Shelter, said the figures were “utterly awful and unacceptable”, adding: “Our frontline services are seeing more people who’ve run out of options, are facing homelessness, and the very real possibility of sleeping rough.

“This is going to be one of the toughest winters yet as so many people battle rising rents while housing benefit stays frozen.

“The Government promised to end rough sleeping, but things are getting worse not better. They must immediately unfreeze and increase housing benefit to protect people from the ravages of homelessness this winter, and to keep people off the streets for good it has to invest in building good quality, supported social homes.”

Due to delays in registrations, around half of the deaths registered in 2021 took place in previous years, the ONS said.

The figures mainly cover people who were sleeping rough or using emergency accommodation such as homeless shelters at or around the time of death.

The total number of deaths includes people who were identified from death records held by the ONS, together with an estimate of the most likely number of additional registrations not identified as homeless people.

Males accounted for 87% of deaths registered in 2021 compared with 13% for females, a ratio similar to previous years.

An estimated 259 deaths were related to drug poisoning, accounting for 35% of the total.

Alcohol-specific causes and suicide accounted for 10% (71 deaths) and 13% (99) respectively.

Together these three causes accounted for an estimated 58% of homeless deaths registered last year, a proportion consistent with previous years.

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