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Volume 175: debated on Monday 2 July 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what further measures his Department is planning to take to reduce the problems of the homeless.

My hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning announced a substantial package of measures on Friday 22 June to deal with this problem. We believe that this is the best way to tackle the issue, rather than through benefit changes.

Is the Minister prepared to concede that the Government's legislation, especially in relation to the withdrawal or reduction of social security benefits for young people and the imposition of the poll tax, compounded by their refusal to allow local authorities to build houses for rent, have created the appalling homelessness which exists in Great Britain today? Does she agree that renting a few church halls will not solve the problem?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the problem of homelessness spans a number of Government Departments and a number of countries throughout the world. He referred specifically to young people, however, and I remind him that there is no need for any 16 or 17-year-olds to be without an income. They can have a job, remain in education or take a YTS place. We have made a number of administrative changes and we raised the benefit level last July to help that particular group. I fully accept that there were some problems with the interaction between the Department of Social Security and the operation of youth training schemes, but we have done everything possible to put that right. It is surely better for young people to start their adult lives in school, in a job or in training rather than trying to live on benefit.

Has my hon. Friend noticed that young people who sleep rough almost always seem to come from the indigenous population and rarely from the immigrant population, who always seem to find somewhere to live? How can that be so? Would not it be unreasonable to provide expensive council house accommodation and flats for young people who merely leave home when others have to save, often for years, to find the accommodation that suits them?

I have already stated in reply to an earlier question that the Government believe that the best possible start for young people is to take training places, of which there are plenty—even a surplus—available and if possible to live at home. There are special benefit arrangements for those who have to live away from home.

Does the Minister not understand the difference between the roofless and the homeless? While the announcement of a recent package of measures involving opening up a few chuch halls put a roof over some young people's heads, those measures do nothing to solve the underlying problem that thousands of teenagers are being driven out of their homes by the conditions created by the Government, not least through the stealing of YTS allowances and the general cut in benefits?

I totally rebut the hon. Member's accusations. If larger numbers of young people are leaving home than in previous years, that is also a matter of concern for their parents.