32 homeless people die in North East as 'abhorrent' death toll leaps 71%

Picture by PA
Picture by PA

The scale of homeless deaths has been branded a "national tragedy" after official estimates showed a rise of almost a quarter over five years.

Some 597 people sleeping rough or in emergency accommodation were estimated to have died last year in England and Wales, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

This represents a 24% leap from 482 in 2013, according to the department's first research of its kind.

Estimates for the North East saw a 71% increase, from 18 to 32.

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".

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% from 55.

Government figures released last week showed the number of households living in temporary accommodation in England had risen by 5% 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 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.