Government condemned as number of homeless deaths hits record high
Ministers have been heavily criticised after the number of homeless deaths hit a record high.
Figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) 726 rough sleepers died in 2018 - a rise of 51% since the figures were first collated five years ago.
According to the ONS, nearly 300 of the deaths were caused by drug poisoning, a jump of 55% since 2017.
The Government admitted the figures were a “sombre reminder” of the work needing done to end rough sleeping.
But John Healey, Labour's Shadow Housing Secretary, said it was Conservative policies which had caused the steep rise in fatalities.
"The number of people sleeping on our streets fell under Labour but has risen since 2010 as a direct result of the Conservatives slashing investment for low-cost homes, cutting back housing benefit, reducing funding for homelessness services, and denying protection to private renters,” he said.
Lib Dem MP Layla Moran said: “These figures are simply shocking, and show that it takes more than a rough sleeping strategy document and the creation of a Minister for Homelessness to fix this epidemic.
"We should all be deeply ashamed that this is getting even worse.
“This out of sight, out of mind mentality needs to stop now. People are dying, and we need to take a more compassionate approach to ending this homelessness crisis.
“We must protect the most vulnerable people in our society, but instead the Tories are sitting on their hands.
The ONS said London and the North West had the highest numbers of deaths in 2018, with 148 - 20% of the total number - in the capital.
Men accounted for 88% of the deaths, with the highest proportion among 45 to 49-year olds.
Homelessness charity St Mungo’s called the numbers “a national tragedy”.
Polly Neate, chief executive of homeless charity Shelter, said: “This is a moment to pause and reflect on what matters to us as a society.
“These tragic deaths are the consequence of a housing system and economy that is failing too many of our fellow citizens.
“We desperately need to set a new course, and to do that we need urgent action.”
A government spokesperson said: “Every single death on our streets is one too many and these statistics are a sombre reminder that there is still much more to do to tackle homelessness and end rough sleeping for good.
“Drugs can devastate lives, ruin families and damage communities, which is why we are undertaking a comprehensive review which will help protect the most vulnerable – including homeless individuals - from the harms that drugs cause and give them a chance to recover and turn their lives around.”
They added that £1.2billion was being invested to tackle homelessness, saying: “But we refuse to be complacent and will continue to work tirelessly to ensure we are providing the right advice and support so that people can escape the streets and stay off them for good.”