By Marcus Barnett
Charities have called on the British government to take urgent action on the homelessness crisis after a record number of people died on Britain’s streets last year.
Figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Wednesday show that 726 homeless people died in 2018. The findings represent a 22 per cent leap from the previous year and is the largest rise in the number of homeless deaths since 2013.
Labour condemned the government, arguing that the shocking stats are a direct result of Tory policies on housing and homelessness. A massive increase in drug overdoses among homeless people has been a major contributing factor to homeless deaths, the findings show.
In 2018 an estimated 294 homeless people suffered drug-related deaths. This is an increase of 55 per cent on drug-related homeless deaths in 2017, when 190 homeless people died as a result of drugs. Of the homeless people who died in 2018, 641 were men. The average age of those dead was 45 for men and 43 for women.
The highest number of homeless deaths took place in major urban centres. London witnessed the highest number of deaths, with at least 148 homeless people dying on the capital’s streets — more than a fifth of all homeless deaths. North-west England followed London, with the region experiencing the deaths of at least 103 homeless people.
Charities have urged the government to take the statistics seriously and to launch an urgent investigation into the state of homelessness in Britain. Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes said: “It is heartbreaking that hundreds of people were forced to spend the last days of their lives without the dignity of a secure home. “This is now the second year running where we have known the true scale of the human cost of homelessness, yet still the lessons from these tragic deaths go unlearned.”
Shelter chief executive Polly Neate said: “This is a moment to pause and reflect on what matters to us as a society. “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 to form the bedrock of a more humane housing system.”
Labour shadow housing secretary John Healey condemned the findings as “shameful” for a country as rich as Britain. He said: “High and rising homelessness is not inevitable. “The number of people sleeping on our streets fell under Labour but has risen since 2010 as a direct result of the Conservatives slashing investment for low-cost homes, cutting back housing benefit, reducing funding for homelessness services and denying protection to private renters.
“The next Labour government will end rough sleeping within a parliament and tackle the root causes of rising homelessness with more affordable homes and stronger rights for renters.” Independent think tank Reform said the rise in deaths shows that government homelessness policies are failing.