Edinburgh homeless deaths: Nearly 150 per cent increase in homeless deaths since 2017

Huge rise in homeless deaths in the city
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The number of people who have died while homeless in Edinburgh has increased by nearly 150 per cent in four years, new data has revealed. Annual figures published by National Records of Scotland (NRS) show there were 39 recorded deaths of homeless people in the capital in 2021, 11 more than 2020 – a rise of 39 per cent. The estimated total deaths last year was 44.

The latest shocking statistics follow a trend of increased mortality among the city’s homeless population; 16 people on the streets lost their lives in 2017 when records began and a death rate of 53.9 per million was reported, jumping to 105.5 per million by 2021. This means that across the four-year period, homeless deaths rose by a staggering 144 per cent in Edinburgh, with the mortality rate almost doubling in that time and now sitting at the third-highest in the country behind Midlothian and Glasgow.

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Across Scotland last year there were an identified 222 homeless deaths, and an estimated 250, up slightly from the 215 that were confirmed the year previous. However, a significant increase can also be seen nationally from 2017 when the reported figure was 121. In 2021, 81 per cent of those who died were male and 60 per cent were aged under 45, NRS confirmed. And whilst drug-misuse deaths of people experiencing homelessness fell for the first time since records began, it still caused over half of all deaths reported.

Stock photo by John Devlin.Stock photo by John Devlin.
Stock photo by John Devlin.

Director of homeless charity Shelter Scotland Alison Watson said the data is an indicator of “public services failing people” and a broken housing system. She added: “We should be doing more to prevent homelessness.”

It comes as separate figures published by Edinburgh City Council showed the number of local households assessed as being homeless or threatened with homelessness rose by almost a quarter in the 12 months to April this year.

And it is feared this will only continue to increase against a backdrop of the rising cost of living which is pulling more people into poverty.

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The council has warned of a “huge spike in homelessness” unless “urgent action” is taken to address “rising rents, spiralling energy bills and insufficient welfare support.”

Councillor Jane Meagher, housing, homelessness and fair work convener for the City of Edinburgh Council, said: “It’s really sad when anyone passes away especially while being supported by the council and our registered social landlords. Working alongside all our partners, including Streetwork and the Bethany Christian Trust, we’re also continuing to engage with some of the most vulnerable adults in the city to help those who may be at risk. We will continue to work with partner agencies to see if there is any more we can do to help prevent these deaths.”

Ms Watson, of Shelter Scotland, added: “If ever there was an indicator that what we’re doing isn’t enough, then this is it.

People are dying and the ‘system’ responses we currently have in place aren’t working. This is not solely on homelessness services – this is a wider indicator of public services failing people – and we should be doing more to prevent homelessness. But at the very least, when it does reach homelessness services, we should be able to galvanise action and those systems should be well resourced enough to help.

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“The budget needs to reflect this failure, this need, and ensure crisis services like homelessness are fully funded, as outlined in our Scottish Housing Emergency Action Plan, as well as addressing the issue upstream in terms of health and social care services, and ensuring there are enough social homes to give everyone a solid foundation to live their life from, with dignity.

“Scotland has some of the strongest laws protecting people against homelessness in the world, but that system is constantly undermined by the shortage of permanent social housing. We can’t afford to wait a minute longer.”