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Homeless deaths: Almost 700 people died while homeless in England and Wales during first year of pandemic

Covid-19 has been recorded as a homeless cause of death for the first time in England and Wales

Some 13 homeless people are believed to have died of Covid-19 in 2020, despite Government efforts to protect rough sleepers through the pandemic.

An estimated 688 deaths of homeless people were recorded across England and Wales in 2020, according to official figures.

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The leading underlying cause of death registered was ‘accident’, affecting 307 people, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show.

An underlying cause of death is a disease or injury which initiated the chain of events leading directly to death.

Two out of five (39%) of all the deaths were related to drug poisoning – 265 in total. There could be many underlying causes for drug related deaths, ranging from accidents to suicides to illnesses caused by drug abuse or dependence.

There were 90 fewer deaths recorded in 2020 than the year before, a drop of 11.6%.

An estimated 13 deaths involved Covid, which includes those where the virus was mentioned anywhere on the death certificate

But the ONS said deaths of homeless people may have been under-reported for 2020 because of the ‘Everyone In’ scheme, where more than 37,000 homeless people were provided with emergency accommodation from March of that year.

The figures are estimates; the ONS uses statistical modelling to account for a likely number of homeless deaths beyond those officially identified. The estimate is still likely to be conservative, it said.

Only people aged 15 to 75 are counted.

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‘Sobering thought’

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “To think at least 688 people’s final days were spent homeless in the pandemic is a sobering thought. If it wasn’t for the Government’s Covid response to help people off the streets even more lives would have been lost.

“As we head into another hard winter with the virus still circulating, we cannot leave anyone out in the cold.

“Our services are already being approached by people in need of emergency accommodation, who are being turned away by councils and often told they have no rights.

“The Government must step in again to keep people safe from Covid and the ravages of homelessness this winter.

“Councils need clear guidance to ensure everyone at risk of sleeping rough is offered emergency accommodation, and the funding to provide it.”

Lives lost in middle age

Men outnumber women seven-to-one in the homeless deaths statistics, with 604 men and 84 women estimated to have died.

Many lost their lives in middle age. The most common age range for male deaths was 45 to 49, with 108 estimated lives lost.

Among women, the most common age range for deaths was 40 to 44, with 22 estimated deaths.

How do areas compare? 

Liverpool topped the table for the local authority with the highest number of estimated homeless deaths, at 29 in 2020 - up 16% year-on-year.

Blackburn and Darwen saw the biggest increase of deaths proportionally - 129.1 per 1 million people.

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Regionally, the North East has seen the highest annual rise in the death toll, with 34 deaths, a 21% rise from the year before. The East Midlands was the only other region to see a rise, with one extra estimated death.

London topped the table with the most deaths per region at 143.

The North West had the highest rate of homeless deaths per 1 million people, at 23.3.

A Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities spokesperson said: “Every death on our streets is one too many which is why we remain committed to ending rough sleeping altogether. “

“The Everyone In scheme launched during the pandemic has helped 37,000 vulnerable people, and we are also providing more £2 billion over the next three years to tackle homelessness.”

“This is on top of £800m committed this year which includes funding for safe and warm accommodation over winter and specialist services for those with drug or alcohol issues. We will also continue to work with partners across healthcare to make sure those sleeping on the streets can access the care they need.”

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