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Volume 115: debated on Wednesday 6 May 1987

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what was the rate of homelessness (a) in 1978 and (b) at the latest available date for which figures are available.

English local authorities accepted responsibility for finding accommodation for 53,100 households in 1978 and for 103,000 in 1986. Over the same period the total housing stock has grown by 1·4 million while the number of households is estimated to have grown by only 1·25 million. Therefore, the overall supply of housing has improved.

In the last few weeks the Government have discovered that public money thrown around reaches those parts of the electorate that monetarism cannot reach. Why do they not tell the local authorities to use the £7·5 billion from the receipts of council house sales to build some homes and provide some shelters for the homeless? The Government do not do that because they have a cynical disregard for the homeless, some of whom are not on the register and therefore, the Government do not have to worry about their votes.

If the hon. Gentleman had due regard for the needs of the homeless he would go to a local authority close to Bolsover, such as Manchester, and ask it why it is keeping 5,000 of its houses empty and why it has failed to collect £6 million in rents to help fill those homes.

Is the Minister aware that in London several hundred people are forced to sleep on the streets because they have nowhere to live? Is he aware that people placed in bed-and-breakfast accommodation by local authorities are being evicted to make way for the tourist trade? Is he further aware that Tower Hamlets council is trying to evict 140 Bangladeshi families from bed-and-breakfast accommodation? Does he not think that the level of homelessness in the major cities is an absolute scandal and warrants immediate and urgent action by the Government to ensure that everyone in the country gets a roof over his head that he can afford?

I am not responsible for the activities of loony Liberal Tower Hamlets council. However, I am responsible for drawing to the attention of the hon. Gentleman the fact that there are about 30,000 empty council houses in London that could and should be used by Labour-controlled local authorities to house the homeless.