230 people have died on Britain’s streets in the last five years – what is being done to help?

Homelessness Deaths UK Rising 2018
Homelessness Deaths UK Rising 2018

Image: Garry Knight

A report from The Guardian published on Wednesday has revealed that the number of deaths of rough sleepers or those in temporary accommodation in the UK has doubled in the last five years. There were 70 recorded homeless deaths in the UK in 2017, whilst 30 were recorded in 2013.

Though the figures are high, they are likely to be much higher, due to the way deaths are recorded by local councils. Local councils are not required by law to count rough sleeper deaths, and any information that is reported is not collected nationally.

According to national homeless charity organisation Homeless Link, the cause of deaths of rough sleepers is also often overlooked, and a formal review is rarely conducted. From their website: “In 2012, we were aware of one Local Authority that had undertaken this procedure and, whilst other areas are known to have conducted them since, it is not commonplace.”

What is being done to help?

In November 2017, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced in his Autumn Budget that the government would launch a ‘homelessness task force’, aimed at tackling the issue in the UK. This tied in to the Conservative party’s pledge to halve rough sleeping by 2022, and eliminating it altogether by 2027.

However, in February, nearly three months after the taskforce had first been established, it was revealed that the group was yet to have held a single meeting. Theresa May told the House of Commons that the first meeting of the taskforce was held on 22 February.

The government’s official website states that the ‘Rough Sleeping Team’ is made up of “rough sleeping and homelessness experts, drawn from, and funded by government departments and agencies with specialist knowledge across a wide-range of areas”, with a budget that currently stands at £30 million for 2018/19, with further funding to follow.

A growing crisis

The number of rough sleepers in the UK has increased by 134% since 2010. This is aided by the fact that low-income households in the UK have seen housing costs rise by 45% over the past six years. Despite these figures, Theresa May has claimed that the government seeks to focus on “the underlying causes which can lead to somebody losing their home”.

The need for more funding for homelessness charities and government bodies has been felt in the last year more than ever, with winter weather in 2017 that saw increased pressure on the NHS due to cold-related illness, and a growing number of people left waiting for treatment. Big issue founder John Bird claimed that the rising number of rough sleepers along with lower funding for services was “likely to make future winters harder”, adding that “next year threatens to be even worse.” 

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Daniel Cody

Daniel Cody is SEO Editor at the New Statesman, and the creator of No Majesty. He is the host of the podcast Britain on the Rocks.