At least 440 homeless people died in UK in past year, study shows


More than 440 homeless people have died on streets or in temporary accommodation in the UK in the past year, an investigation has found.

A former soldier, an astrophysicist and a Big Issue seller are among the hundreds who have died since October 2017. They were found dead in shop doorways, hostels and camping in tents in woodland, with some lying dead for months before their bodies were discovered, requiring forensic testing for identification.

Charities have called the deaths a national disgrace and have blamed soaring homelessness on austerity, expensive private rents and a lack of social housing. They called on local authorities to hold investigations into every death as standard.

The figures, compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), are likely to be a substantial underestimate as no official organisation counts homeless deaths in Britain. Data shows there were at least 449 deaths in a year – more than one per day.

A previous investigation by the Guardian found that at least 230 deaths of homeless people were recorded by local authorities in the UK between 2013 and 2017.

The BIJ project found 69% of deaths were men, 21% were women and no gender was recorded for the remaining 10%. January was the deadliest month, in which at least 33 people died.

Deaths were caused by violence, drug overdoses, illnesses, suicide and murder, among other reasons. The average age at death was 49 for men and 53 for women, but those who died ranged from 18 to 94.

Jon Sparkes, the chief executive of the homelessness charity Crisis, said: “To learn of the sheer scale of those who have lost their lives in the past year is nothing short of horrifying. This is a wake-up call to see homelessness as a national emergency.”

Polly Neate, the chief executive of the charity Shelter, said: “This important investigation lays bare the true brutality of our housing crisis. Rising levels of homelessness are a national disgrace, but it is utterly unforgivable that so many homeless people are dying unnoticed and unaccounted for.

“To prevent more people from having to experience the trauma of homelessness, the government must ensure housing benefit is enough to cover the cost of rents, and urgently ramp up its efforts to build many more social homes.”

The BIJ project has prompted the Office for National Statistics to request access to the database to help produce their own estimates on homeless deaths, which they hope to publish this year.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “Every death of someone sleeping rough on our streets is one too many and we take this matter extremely seriously. We are investing £1.2bn to tackle all forms of homelessness and have set out bold plans, backed by £100m in funding, to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and end it by 2027.

“We have committed to make sure that safeguarding adult reviews, in the case of the death or serious harm of a person who sleeps rough, to ensure that lessons are learned for services.”



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