British Queen celebrates

Nearly 600 homeless people in England and Wales died the last year -- a 24 percent rise over the past five years, according to official estimates released Thursday.

Described as a "national tragedy" by one activist, the numbers were released by the Office for National Statistics just days after a homeless man died outside the Houses of Parliament -- the second within a year.

The ONS said the estimated 597 homeless deaths was up from 482 in 2013. Their statistics threw up patterns were strikingly different from the general population.

"More than half were related to drug poisoning, suicide, or alcohol -- causes that made up only three percent of overall deaths last year," said Ben Humberstone, the ONS head of health and life events.

The average age of death was 44 for men and 42 for women -- and 84 percent of those who died were men.

But the spike in winter deaths was not reflected among the homeless -- possibly due to greater provision of shelters and services during the coldest months, said the ONS.

"This is nothing short of a national tragedy -- especially when we know that homelessness is not inevitable," said Jon Sparkes, the chief executive of Crisis, Britain's national charity for single homeless people.

"In one of the world's wealthiest countries, no one should be dying because of homelessness."

The statistics were released a day after MPs were told about a homeless man, a 43-year-old known as Gyula Remes, who was found dead outside the parliament in London.

Housing Secretary James Brokenshire said the figures were "stark".

"It is simply unacceptable to see lives cut short this way," he told lawmakers.

"I believe we have a moral duty to act."

He said the government was committed to halving rough sleeping by 2022 and ending it by 2027.

But opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party blamed the Conservative government.

"Every year since the Tories entered government in 2010 rough sleeping has got worse," he tweeted.

"There is absolutely no excuse for this." AFP