The impact of austerity on England’s homeless people

While austerity measures are meant to be drawing to end, nowhere is their continued existence — and damage — more obvious than when it comes to the most vulnerable. Today it is reported that homeless people are being admitted to hospital in staggering numbers, with diseases and illnesses that we wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) expect to see in 2019.

“Thousands of homeless people in England are arriving at hospital with Victorian-era illnesses such as tuberculosis, as well as serious respiratory conditions, liver disease, and cancer, with hospital admissions for such conditions surging over a decade,” the Guardian reports. “Austerity, cuts to vital welfare services and an aging homeless population have been blamed for the dramatic surge in largely preventable illnesses, including a sevenfold rise in pneumonia and a tenfold increase in hepatitis C. Deaths in hospital and palliative care for homeless patients have also surged since 2008, NHS figures show.”

In fact, admissions of homeless patients in England rose from 1,539 in 2008/9 to over 10,000 in 2017/18 — a startlingly increase in so short a period. These numbers, along with the severity and types of illnesses being found in homeless patients, is a sobering and embarrassing revelation about the impact of austerity.

“It is my fear that a doctor qualifying in 2019 will inevitably spend her entire professional career dealing with the health inequity arising from the austerity measures put in place since the 2008 crash,” the medical director of Pathway said in response to the figures. “At least this time around we have built an evidence base and know what to do, if there is the will.”

Jon Sparkes, the chief executive at the homeless charity Crisis, also spoke out. Sparkes explains that those without fixed, secure homes are far more likely to develop severe health problems and that the current situation is unsustainable. While there have been attempts to downplay the effect of austerity measures — the cuts, the Bedroom Tax, the switch to Universal Credit — when looking at the most vulnerable populations in the UK there is no denying that the impact has been brutal and irreversible.

While much of the political oxygen in the UK continues to be taken up by Brexit, it’s important to keep some focus where it’s needed most. While debates, splits, alliances and negotiations continue to rumble and progress slows to a snail’s pace, people are left behind.