24 February 2021

An annual piece of work by the Museum of Homelessness, named the Dying Homeless Project, found that 976 people died while homeless across the UK in 2020, a 37% increase on the numbers reported in the group’s 2019 study.

The findings show that the Everyone In scheme, which saw thousands of homeless people offered self-contained accommodation during the pandemic, was largely successful in preventing people from dying with COVID-19 – as less than 3% of recorded causes of death were attributed to the virus.

However, the provision of emergency accommodation did not prevent deaths from rising by more than a third from 2019.

Of the cases for which the Museum of Homelessness has confirmed the cause of death, 36% were related to drug and alcohol use and 15% were a result of suicide.

A total of 693 (71%) of the deaths recorded were in England and Wales, while 176 (18%) were in Scotland and 107 (11%) were in Northern Ireland.

London was the city with the highest number of deaths (180), followed by Glasgow (33) and Manchester (30).

The Dying Homeless Project gathers data on deaths among homeless people using information from coroners’ inquests, media coverage, family testimony and more than 300 Freedom of Information requests.

Its findings are published annually ahead of official government statistics on deaths of people who are homeless in England and Wales.

In 2019, the Office for National Statistics verified 563 real and actual deaths in England and Wales and used this figure to estimate that 726 people had died.

The Museum of Homelessness said the total number of deaths in 2020 is likely to be higher than their figures suggest as they did not receive responses from a number of local authorities, including Birmingham and a third of London boroughs.

Jess Turtle, co-founder of the Museum of Homelessness, said: “A hotel or hostel room is no substitute for a safe home.

“The government touts Everyone In as a runaway success. But it didn’t stop a staggering increase in the number of people dying while homeless – despite the best efforts of our colleagues around the country who worked 24 hours a day on emergency response.

“These heartbreaking findings demonstrate how the pandemic hit a system already cut to the bone from 10 years of austerity and the scale of the challenge we face to recover.

“The government needs to stop repackaging old funding commitments as new support and do more to stop this terrible loss of life.”

Matt Turtle, also co-founder of the Museum of Homelessness, added: “The evidence has been building for years.

“Two years ago, the government agreed to begin recording statistics for the first time but little is being done with the findings.

“We are asking, how are lessons being learned? We believe that far more needs to be done at a local and national level to change things.

“A national confidential inquiry would help ensure government makes the long-term commitment needed.”

A MHCLG Spokesperson said: “Every death of someone sleeping rough on our streets is a tragedy.

“We agree a safe home for all is vital - that’s why we’re providing over £700 million this year and £750 million next year to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping, including delivering 3,300 long-term homes this year.

“The latest figures show that our ongoing Everyone In initiative had housed 33,000 people, supporting 23,000 into settled accommodation or with move on support - and it will continue to protect thousands of lives.”