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Rise in homeless deaths ‘unacceptable’ say doctors

British Medical Association says rise is avoidable

Jo Carlowe

Wednesday, 02 October 2019

New data reveals a rise in deaths of homeless people in England and Wales.

The figures* from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show there were an estimated 726 deaths of homeless people in England and Wales registered in 2018, the highest year-to-year increase (22%) since these figures were collated by ONS.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has described the rise as both unacceptable and avoidable.


Most of the deaths were among men (641 estimated deaths, 88% of the total). The mean age of death was 45 years among men and 43 years for females in 2018. This contrasts strongly with the general population of England and Wales, where the mean age at death was 76 for men and 81 for women.

Two in five deaths of homeless people in 2018 were related to drug poisoning (294 estimated deaths). The number of deaths from this cause has increased by 55% since 2017.

The highest number of deaths were recorded in London and the North West, with 148 (20% of the total number) and 103 (14% of the total number) estimated deaths of homeless people respectively.

Responding to the statistics, the BMA public health medicine committee chair, Dr Peter English, said: “It is truly shocking that in a country that ranks among the richest in the world, we are seeing a rise in the number of homeless deaths; this is unacceptable and completely avoidable.

“For too long, the needs of this population have gone shamefully unaddressed. As well as seeing a radical overhaul of social housing provision, we need to ensure that our health services are adequately resourced to provide innovative and integrated models of care for the homeless population.”

Ben Humberstone, head of health analysis and life events at the ONS, said: “The deaths of 726 homeless people in England and Wales recorded in 2018 represent an increase of over a fifth on the previous year. That’s the largest rise since these figures began in 2013. A key driver of the change is the number of deaths related to drug poisoning which are up by 55% since 2017 compared to 16% for the population as a whole.

“The ONS estimates are designed to help inform the work of everyone seeking to protect this highly vulnerable section of our community.”

Shadow housing secretary, John Healey, yesterday asked an urgent questions in the Commons, stating: “This shames us all in a nation as decent and well-off as Britain today.” He called for a response from the prime minister.


Housing minister, Luke Hall, said funding was being increased by £54 million – “a 13% real-terms increase”.

Polly Neate, chief executive of the charity Shelter, has called on all parties to commit to building social homes.


*Deaths of homeless people in England and Wales. Figures prepared by the Office for National Statistics, 1 October 2019.

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