'A national tragedy': 49 homeless deaths in Yorkshire in 12 months revealed

Forty-nine homeless people died in Yorkshire and the Humber last year - an increase of almost 60 per cent in five years that has been described as 'a source of national shame'.

Thursday, 20th December 2018, 12:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 20th December 2018, 3:28 pm
Almost 600 homeless people died in England and Wales last year.

New figures released by the Office for National Statistics today show a 58 per cent rise in the number of estimated homeless deaths in the region in 2017 compared to 2013, when 31 deaths were estimated.

Of the 49 estimated deaths, 40 were based on identified records and the ONS said its modelling method “provides a robust but conservative estimate, so the real numbers may still be higher”.

Thirteen of the deaths were in West Yorkshire, with nine in the Sheffield City Region, which covers South Yorkshire and parts of North Derbyshire. Earlier this month, rough sleeper Lee Jenkins became the eight homeless person to die in Leeds in the past 12 months.

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In the past five years, there have been an estimated 189 homeless deaths in Yorkshire and The Humber,

Across England and Wales, some 597 people sleeping rough or in emergency accommodation were estimated to have died last year - a 24 per cent increase on 2013.

The scale of homeless deaths was today branded a “national tragedy”.

Life expectancy for the homeless is nearly half that for people in stable housing, with homeless men and women dying on average at the age of 44.

While London had the highest mortality rate, the North West of England saw the largest increase over the period, with homeless deaths more than doubling.

It was estimated that last year more than one in 10 homeless deaths were due to suicide, while more than two-fifths was due to drug poisoning or alcohol-related.

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson described the death toll’s jump as “abhorrent”.

Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes said: “This is nothing short of a national tragedy - especially when we know that homelessness is not inevitable.

“In one of the world’s wealthiest countries, no one should be dying because of homelessness. It’s imperative that governments act now to stop this tragedy once and for all.”

Shelter campaign director Greg Beales branded the deaths “a source of national shame”.

“There is nothing inevitable about homelessness or about these tragic deaths which are a consequence of a housing system which fails too many people,” he added.

The charity blamed a “crippling shortage of social housing” as well as a “threadbare safety net”, as it called on the Government to change tack to end the scourge.

The Local Government Association said ending homelessness was becoming “increasingly difficult” with a funding gap, as it called for “proper resourcing”.

LGA housing spokesman, Councillor Martin Tett, said: “Every death of a homeless person is preventable. We must make this everybody’s business to work together to stop this tragic loss of life and stop homelessness from happening in the first place.

“Councils are determined to prevent homelessness and rough sleeping from happening in the first place and support families affected. This is becoming increasingly difficult with homelessness services facing a funding gap of more than £100 million in 2019/20.

“Proper resourcing of local government funding is essential if we are going to end rising homelessness.”

The statistics came a day after MPs were told about the death of a homeless man, a 43-year-old known as Gyula Remes, who was found outside the Houses of Parliament.

He was the second homeless man known to have died near the Palace of Westminster this year, but the fresh statistics show the scale of such deaths across the nation.

London was the worst hit last year with more than a fifth of the estimated deaths, at 136, while the North West had 119.

But over that period the estimated toll in London remained largely stable, whereas the North West saw a jump of 115 per cent from 55.

Estimates for the North East also saw a 71 per cent increase, from 18 to 32.

Government figures released last week showed the number of households living in temporary accommodation in England had risen by five per cent in a year to 82,310.

Data previously showed the number of people officially recorded as sleeping on the streets of England rose from 1,768 in 2010 to 4,751 in 2017, but charities warned the true figure could be more than double this.

Work on the latest ONS figures was prompted by research from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, supported by The Yorkshire Post and other regional newspapers, in October, which found that at least 449 homeless people had died in the UK in the previous 12 months.

The ONS defined homeless people as those sleeping rough or using accommodation such as homeless shelters or hostels at around the time of their death.

Ben Humberstone, head of health and life events for the ONS, 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. We estimate that in 2017 there were 597 deaths of homeless people in England and Wales, a rise of 24 per cent since 2013.

“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 per cent of overall deaths last year.”

Homeless men died on average at the age of 44 and women at 42 in that period, compared to 76 and 81 for the general population respectively, the figures suggested.

Government 'has a moral duty to act'

Communities Secretary James Brokenshire said the Conservatives are investing £1.2bn to tackle homelessness and end rough sleeping by 2027.

“It is simply unacceptable to see lives cut short this way. I believe we have a moral duty to act,” he said.

Shadow Housing Minister Melanie Onn said council and social housing cuts had played a part in the figures.

The MP for Great Grimsby said: “These figures are the result of an increasingly fracturing system of social security and support, results of Government decisions, Government choices.”