By Isabel Ringrose
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2799

Deaths while homeless up a third—the fatal toll of Tory policies

The Tories have slashed the budget for discretionary housing payments, making more deaths likely
Issue 2799
Homeless person's dwelling, a tent in a city back street

Homeless people are forced into desperate situations (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Some 1,268 people in Britain died while homeless in 2021—a 32 percent surge from the previous year. Overall in the last two years homelessness deaths have skyrocketed by 80 percent. Cuts to services for people with mental distress or drug and alcohol issues, and the lack of affordable housing are at the root of the rising numbers. That’s according to research conducted by the charity Museum of Homelessness (MoH).

Last year 1,286 “real and actual” deaths were verified, up from 976 in 2020 and 710 in 2020. MoH said that the total number of deaths is likely to be higher as several local authorities didn’t respond to freedom of information requests, including such important cities as Birmingham.

Of the 12 local authority areas which had recorded the highest numbers of deaths in 2020, 11 recorded a rise last year. Seven recorded triple-digit percentage increasesGlasgow, Enfield, Bedford, Barnet, Southampton, Stoke and Tower Hamlets.

For those whose living situation was known when they died, the majority of deaths occurred while living in temporary accommodation. Of 253 deaths where a cause of death was known, around 12 percent were due to suicide. “Government neglect means things keep getting worse with new provisions for mental health, addiction and social housing failing to make up for previous cuts,” said MoH co-founder Jess Turtle.

“There needs to be a confidential inquiry into the deaths of homeless people to allow an honest appraisal of what’s happening to the UK’s most vulnerable people.” She also called for fatality reviews for all local authorities “so lessons can be learned from each death”.

The Tories slashed the budget for discretionary housing payments by over a third in February making it harder for councils to offer assistance. Turtle added that reversing the £40 million cut and ending the freeze on Local Housing Allowance rates “should be immediate priorities” to fight the spike in private rents.

MoH co-founder Matt Turtle added, “Too many people are dying in dangerous accommodation run by unregulated landlords and funded by the taxpayer.” 

These hostels are exempt from the price cap local authorities apply to shared accommodation, but fail to meet basic obligations. “The companies managing exempt accommodation now receive over £800 million a year from the public purse,” Turtle added. He said the government needs “to urgently regulate these businesses” to “stop funding negligent landlords”.

But the cost of living crisis, increasing evictions and lack of council housing will make more people homeless. And the lives of those who already are homeless will continue to be at risk while the Tories make matters worse.

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