POLITICS
20/12/2018 09:38 GMT | Updated 20/12/2018 15:19 GMT

Surge In Homelessness Deaths As 597 People Died On The Streets Last Year, Official Figures Show

It is a massive 24% increase over five years, the ONS says.

An estimated 597 homeless people died in 2017 - a massive 24% increase over the last five years - the Office for National Statistics has said. 

Men made up 84% of the deaths and over half were due to drug poisoning, liver disease or suicide. Drug poisoning alone made up 32% of the total.·

London and the North West of England had the highest mortality of homeless people, both in numbers and per-million population of the region.

Ben Humberstone, deputy director for health analysis and life events at the Office for National Statistics, said: “Every year hundreds of people die while homeless.

“These are some of the most vulnerable members of our society so it was vital that we produced estimates of sufficient quality to properly shine a light on this critical issue. Today we have been able to do just that.” 

He added: “Our findings show a pattern of deaths among homeless people which is strikingly different from the general population.” 

Homelessness has doubled since 2010 and fears are mounting that not enough is being done to help.

The shock figures come after a homeless man was found dying just metres from an entrance to the Houses of Parliament on Tuesday

Gyula Remes was found dying outside parliament on Tuesday 

The government has repeatedly denied suggestions that austerity has been fuelling the rise in rough sleeping. 

Communities Secretary James Brokenshire, was asked to respond to an urgent question on homelessness in the House of Commons from Labour MP Melanie Onn, in the wake of the death and the new statistics. 

“Every death of someone sleeping rough on our streets is one too many; each is a tragedy, each is a life cut short,” he said. “In particular, I share the sadness everyone must feel on learning of the death of a man close to parliament only yesterday.” 

The minister said he would be referring the case to Westminster council’s safeguarding board to ensure “lessons are learned and applied”. 

Reacting to the new data from the ONS, he said the government had “a moral duty to act” and had invested £1.2bn to tackle homelessness and had announced new £100m plans to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and end it by 2027.  

He said: “These figures will support us in our mission to end rough sleeping for good, ensuring we have as much detailed information as possible so we can target support in the right way.”

During the urgent question debate, SNP MP Gavin Newlands told the minister: “Countless charities are pointing to cuts to public services as one of the main contributing factors to this shocking rise in homelessness. 

James Brokenshire in the House of Commons 

“Would he consider visiting some of these organisations and hearing first-hand what everybody else in the country knows: that austerity is pushing people on to the streets and putting lives at risk.” 

Birmingham Hodge Hill Labour MP Liam Byrne also said ministers had questions to answer. 

“Three weeks ago, I joined the centres that shame us counting rough sleeping in Birmingham,” he said. 

“There, beneath the Christmas lights, we found a man without legs sleeping next to his wheelchair in doorways. We found wounded veterans sleeping in arcades. 

“We met a man in the grounds of the cathedral that had had his benefits stopped. We met people fresh out of prison. 

“We met people self-medicating trauma with alcohol. Mr Speaker, these are our neighbours and some will not survive the winter.” 

Meanwhile, the PM’s official spokesman said the homeless death figures were “very concerning” but did not directly address questions over whether the Tories’ austerity policies were to blame.

These are our neighbours and some will not survive the winterLabour MP Liam Byrne

“These are complex issues but we are working hard to find solutions to that,” he said. 

“That is why we are focused with a homelessness strategy and in putting money in to ensure that people don’t have to sleep rough in the first place.”

Asked about the man who died in Westminster station, he said: “I know that there is an investigation which has begun into that but obviously our sympathies to his family and his friends and all those who knew him.”

Emergency services were called to the scene at 11.30pm and found the man, believed to be 45-year-old Hungarian national Gyula Remes, unresponsive. 

Medics administered first aid and rushed him to a central London hospital, where he died in the early hours of Wednesday. 

A fund set up in Remes’ memory has been established online and has already raised around £3,000.

Labour Party chairman Ian Lavery made an emotional statement after learning of the man’s death.

He said: “Like most MPs, I’ve left the palace to head home for the Christmas.

“I was almost brought to tears leaving by the tube station exit to see the homeless people lying there in such a desperate state.

“Christmas is an event which most there will take no part in. No family, no presents, no glad tidings of joy for them - just the constant battle to survive.

“Homelessness has drastically escalated since 2010. A consequence of austerity measures - or simply deliberate neglect - by a Conservative government which has abandoned hundreds of thousands of people who are in desperate need.”