Unless government acts, we face a grim prospect of homeless deaths rising dramatically in 2021
The ‘Cold Weather Fund’ is £3 million lower in 2020 but needs to go further due to Covid, writes Neil Coyle MP. | PA Images
To avoid a dramatic rise in homeless deaths next year, ministers must end exclusions to help rough sleepers and properly resource safe accommodation this winter.
The ONS has published the number of deaths of homeless people in 2019. Once again, deaths rose last year to 778. Despite missing some deaths, the ONS says at least 52 more homeless people died last year than 2018: an extra death every week. 2020 may see a welcome drop, but 2021 will see a dramatic rise if ministers fail to act now.
The APPG on Ending Homelessness has raised concerns about deaths of homeless people, calling for investigations into each death to ascertain whether it could have prevented. Every premature death is a tragedy and the average age of homeless women dying is just 43; for men it is close to 46.
Ministers claim 2020 as something of a success in tackling rough sleeping and this could help reduce deaths this year. The ‘Everyone In’ scheme, developed in response to Covid, aimed to ensure rough sleepers could: protect themselves; help protect everyone by minimising infection risks; and prevent the NHS being overwhelmed. Despite government claiming there were only 5,000 rough sleepers in January, ‘Everyone In’ accommodated 15,000 people. The APPG is seeking a more robust measurement than the annual guessing game which underestimated this problem by 10,000 and undermines efforts to tackle the premature death toll.
‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ prevents funding covering numerous rough sleepers and, as winter encroaches and covid infections soar, they now face evictions and even higher risks on our streets
However, ‘Everyone In’ is a misnomer. Councils and charities have been left to foot the bill for many rough sleepers despite government instruction to house everyone. The Home Office ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ policy prevents funding covering numerous rough sleepers and, as winter encroaches and covid infections soar, they now face evictions and even higher risks on our streets. We face the grim prospect of the homeless death toll rising dramatically in 2021 as a result.
Despite the rise in deaths in 2019, the government has also announced less funding this winter. The ‘Cold Weather Fund’ is £3 million lower in 2020 but needs to go further due to Covid. Communal shelters would risk spreading covid and cannot open. The budget has been cut but needs to cover more costly accommodation.
Ministers must end exclusions to help, which merely shove costs onto councils and charities as well as putting avoidable pressure on an already strained NHS.
Ministers must also properly resource safe accommodation this winter and into 2021. A failure to act will leave Ministers responsible for an avoidable and large rise in homeless people’s deaths in 2021.
Neil Coyle is the Labour MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark and chair of the APPG on Ending Homelessness.