Deaths among homeless people have risen by more than a third in a year, according to an analysis by a social justice group that found that almost 1,000 unhoused people had died across the UK in 2020. Among cases where a cause of death was confirmed, 36% were related to drug and alcohol use and 15% were suicide. Separate figures by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published in December 2020 found that the number of people dying while homeless in England and Wales rose for the fifth year in a row in 2019.
Jess Tuttle, the organisation’s co-founder, said the findings demonstrated how the pandemic had hit a system “already cut to the bone from 10 years of austerity”. She called on the government to “stop repackaging old funding commitments as new support”, urging authorities to “do more to stop this terrible loss of life”.
The steep rise in fatalities comes despite the government’s Everybody In scheme, which was launched at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis to provide safe shelter for thousands of rough sleepers. During the first lockdown, approximately 29,000 people were helped into settled accommodation, with thousands initially housed in budget hotels.
Less than 3% of recorded causes of death were directly due to Covid-19, the MoH found, which it said was one of the programme’s “significant achievements”. However, Tuttle said the scheme failed to prevent “a staggering increase in the number of people dying while homeless”.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said that despite the hard work to get people off the streets at the start of the pandemic, people continue to become homeless daily because of a lack of affordable housing. “Pre-pandemic, there were over a million households on the social housing waiting list. As we look towards recovery, ending the housing crisis must be a priority,” she said.
More than 70,000 households across the UK have been made homeless since the start of the pandemic, the Observer found in January, while tens of thousands more were threatened with homelessness despite a government ban on evictions for most of 2020. The tenants’ union, Acorn, blamed the rise on a combination of factors including illegal evictions, landlords pressuring tenants to leave before eviction, and a lack of protections for lodgers.
The number of people sleeping rough on the streets of London surged by a staggering 170% between 2010 and March 2020.