Charities and campaigners have reacted in shock to a huge increase in the number of homeless deaths in England and Wales, as the latest figures show a 22% surge in mortality among homeless people.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published today estimate that 726 homeless people died in England and Wales during 2018.
This represents a jump of 22% on the previous year and is the single biggest annual increase since records began.
The majority of these deaths occurred in England (95%), with London seeing the highest number of homeless deaths (148 or 20%).
Other highly affected regions include Birmingham (23 deaths), Newcastle (20), Manchester (19), Bristol (17) and Liverpool (16).
The figures also show that the average age of death was 45 for men and 43 for women, which is 30 years lower than the average life expectancy among the population as a whole.
Responding to the latest figures, Polly Neate, chief executive of homes charity Shelter, 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 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.”
Howard Sinclair, CEO of homelessness charity St Mungo’s, described the 22% increase in homeless deaths as “a national tragedy”.
“Years of funding cuts have devastated crucial services supporting people who are homeless, he said.
“726 people died in 2018. That’s the equivalent of two people every day. The number of people dying has increased by 51% since 2013.
“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.”
John Healey MP Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary, said: “These figures are shameful in a country as rich as ours.
“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.”
A government spokesperson said: “Every single death on our streets is one too many and these statistics are a sombre reminder that there is still much more to do to tackle homelessness and end rough sleeping for good.
“We are also investing £1.2bn to tackle all forms of homelessness and have made the most ambitious change to legislation in a decade.
“This is helping more people than ever before access vital support to prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place.
“But we refuse to be complacent and will continue to work tirelessly to ensure we are providing the right advice and support so that people can escape the streets and stay off them for good.”