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Health / Shetland tops ‘experimental’ homeless deaths table

Statistics may be skewed by small population

Shetland is top of the homeless deaths table.

CUSTOMARILY near the top of polls for such positive measures as “quality of life”, Shetland has topped a national table for homeless deaths.

According to “experimental statistics” revealed by the Scottish Government on Wednesday, Shetland experienced “111.8 deaths per million” people in 2018, ahead of Glasgow with 100.5 per million and Aberdeen with 67.8 per million.

The Shetland figure, which would equate to one homeless death per 8,945 people, was more than three times the national average of 35.9 deaths per million and well ahead of the comparable authorities of Orkney with 57.9 per million and the Western Isles with 47.9 per million.

According to the National Records of Scotland, which released the figures, the Shetland figure “was based on a very small number of deaths so should be interpreted with caution.”

Shetland Islands Council executive manager of housing Anita Jamieson said that the figure quoted “is accurate but obviously cannot describe context.”

She added: “What this piece of work is doing is applying an experimental statistical methodology in a particular way to generate a ‘deaths per million figure’ across Scotland.

Housing executive manager Anita Jamieson.Housing executive manager Anita Jamieson.

“When you are working with small numbers this is not accurate and the caveat around treating this information with caution applies.”

Chairman of the council’s development committee Alastair Cooper said that he believed that the statistics had been compiled in response to the issue of deaths of rough sleepers in Glasgow.

Cooper added that there were no rough sleepers in Shetland and that while deaths may have happened among people who had applied for homeless registration, they were not related to issues of homelessness.

“Everyone has a roof over their head [in Shetland],” said Cooper.

The housing department currently has 110 “active homelessness applicants”.

Scotland’s record of homeless deaths is double that of England, which registered 16.8 per million, and Wales, on 14.5 per million.

The 195 deaths of people experiencing homelessness in Scotland was a 19 per cent rise on the 164 estimated for 2017.

No homeless deaths were identified in Angus, East Renfrewshire, Moray and the Scottish Borders.

The national statistics include people who were in temporary accommodation at the time of their death as well as those who were sleeping rough.

More than half of homeless deaths in 2018 (104, or 53 per cent) were drug-related, while over three-quarters were males (79 per cent).

Of the total 195 estimated deaths in 2018, 152 were identified from death registration records. The additional 43 deaths were estimated using a statistical model.

Chief executive of National Records of Scotland and registrar general for Scotland Paul Lowe said: “NRS has developed a method of estimating the incidence of homeless deaths in response to user demand. It is important to stress that these are experimental statistics and we will continue to work with users and stakeholders to assess their suitability and quality, as we continue to develop our methodology in future years.”

Information about the methodology for estimating homeless deaths can be found in the full report on the NRS website.