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Homelessness

Volume 451: debated on Wednesday 1 November 2006

The House will recall our inheritance in 1997, against which we should measure our improvements. Under the Conservative Government, homelessness doubled, housing finance halved, 500,000 homes were repossessed, there were record levels of rough sleeping and 1.2 million homes were in negative equity. Our improvements must be measured against that. The Government’s record, which was implemented by the homelessness directorate that was set up in 1999, is: reducing rough sleeping by 73 per cent.; bringing to an end the long-term use of bed and breakfast accommodation for families with children; reducing new homeless cases to the lowest number for more than 20 years, and doubling housing investment. In March 2005, I set out our strategy for building on those achievements in “Sustainable Communities: Settled Homes; Changing Lives”.

Does the Deputy Prime know that Salvation Army research shows that there will be 100,000 rough sleepers on the streets of Britain tonight, too many of whom formerly served in Her Majesty’s armed forces and too many spent time in care? Will he consider spending more time on the streets of rural England and this country generally rather than touring the streets of far east Asia? Perhaps there would then be fewer homeless people on the streets of this country.

That is the sort of silly question I expect from the hon. Gentleman. The House can make its judgment but let me pray in aid our record, including the fact that

“the homelessness directorate’s target setting, supported by financial support and advice to local authorities, has helped to bring about significant alleviation of the worst consequences of homelessness”—

not my views, but those of the Tory Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, who is hardly a friend of the Government’s.

Does not my right hon. Friend accept that we should build council houses for homeless people who cannot afford even affordable housing?

We are doubling the amount of investment in social housing.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister accept that this morning’s statistics on mortgage lending show that the affordability of housing for ordinary families is at its all-time most difficult?

I do not accept that. I acknowledge that there are difficulties, and that is one of the reasons I provided that the building industry could establish the £60,000 house, giving people a chance to get a foot on the buying ladder. The previous Administration halved the amount of housing investment, and record numbers of people were homeless and sleeping on the streets during their time in office. We have changed that in a remarkable way and we shall continue to build on that.

The most important part of the homelessness strategy is an increase in the supply of affordable rented accommodation. What reassurance can my right hon. Friend give the House today that the welcome increases of recent years will be sustained in future?

As we spelled out in the papers that we produced for the House, we intend to continue with those programmes. When my hon. Friend examines the expenditure in the comprehensive spending review and public expenditure statements, he will realise that we intend to provide the resources to achieve those objectives.

The Government’s policy on finding homes for key workers is clearly failing, and 90,000 public sector homes are still lying empty. What are the Government going to do to help these vital workers to find somewhere to live? Given that we have this huge problem, why is Lord Falconer—who has a mere five homes already—receiving a grace and favour flat? Is it not time for the Government to help the key workers to find homes, rather than helping themselves to homes?

More homes are being provided for key workers than under the previous Conservative Administration. I have already read out the record of that Administration—for which the hon. Gentleman has a responsibility—under whom the amount of housing investment was halved, more people were living in houses with negative equity, and many people were made homeless. We are quite proud of our record on housing, and we are improving on it.