22% increase in homeless deaths

A shocking 726 homeless people died in England and Wales in 2018. This is a rise of 22%, the highest year-to-year increase since the Office of National Statistics (ONS) began its recordings in 2013.

The figure is a fifth higher than 2017 and the ONS numbers also show that, at 641, the majority of deaths were men (88% of the total).

While the mean age at death across England and Wales was 76 for men and 81 for women last year, among the 726 homeless people who died it was 45 for men and 43 for women.

Two in five deaths of homeless people were related to drug poisoning in 2018 (294 estimated deaths) – an increase of 55% on 2017.

Geographically, London with 148 (20% of the total) and the North West with 103 (14%) recorded the highest numbers of homeless deaths last year.

Ben Humberstone, ONS head of health analysis and life events, 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.”

The figures were built from death registration records held by the ONS itself, which calls the figures “experimental statistics” still in the testing phase and not yet fully developed.

The body adds that the figures are the total estimated numbers, except where described as being based on identified records only, but that the method it used “provides a robust but conservative estimate, so the real numbers may still be higher”.

The definition of homelessness used in the ONS' release follows from what is available in death registrations data, and mainly includes rough sleepers or those in emergency accommodation, such as homeless shelters and direct access hostels, at or around the time of death.

The ONS applies an upper age limit of 74 “to avoid accidental inclusion of elderly people who died in some institutional settings”. However, it admits that this may means “a small number of genuine deaths of homeless people aged 75 years or over might have been excluded”.