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Rough Sleepers

Volume 474: debated on Tuesday 1 April 2008

An estimate of the number of rough sleepers in England is published every September. It is based on the results of local authority street counts in areas with a known or suspected rough sleeping problem. The 2007 estimate indicated there were 498 people sleeping rough on any one night, which is a 73 per cent. reduction on the 1998 baseline.

I am grateful for that response. The success of the rough sleepers programme means that there are only eight rough sleepers in Northamptonshire. However, will the Minister explain why we are spending a total of £5 million of public money emptying a 66-unit three-storey block of flats to provide a centre for those eight rough sleepers in a part of my constituency that has a pressing need for accommodation for homeless families? Does he not think that there should be a better balance between the needs of homeless families with children and the needs of rough sleepers?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s hard work on housing and homelessness in Northampton. I greatly enjoyed my visit to her constituency a couple of weeks ago.

On the specific point that my hon. Friend raised, I understand that the proposed Robinson house, as part of the £160 million Places of Change funding, will help homeless people in her constituency to seek access to education and training. I hope I can reassure my hon. Friend by saying that the grant, which totals £1.4 million for Northampton borough council, will not be drawn down until my Department is satisfied with the integrity of the scheme. I will keep a close eye on it, and I encourage my hon. Friend to do so as well.

We are all very concerned about rough sleepers. However, should the Government not also be tackling the long-term problems of family breakdown and drug and alcohol dependence? Should they not be doing more about those issues?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. However, we spent yesterday in the House discussing the Housing and Regeneration Bill, including the creation of the Homes and Communities Agency and the need for 3 million new homes by 2020 as a result of family breakdown. That is exactly what this country needs, yet the hon. Gentleman’s party is opposing the Bill. I would have thought that he would support the housing Bill that this country needs and deserves.

Will my hon. Friend look into how councils are not counting rough sleepers? In fact, all the evidence goes to show that they work around the town and away from where rough sleepers actually sleep. What will he do to ensure that we get the true number of rough sleepers in each local authority area? After that, what can we do to ensure that local people in desperate need on the streets get into accommodation with heating?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend. I have received parliamentary questions from him on this very important point. His hard work on this issue is probably at odds with his local authority’s.

My hon. Friend mentioned methodology, which is an important point. I will ensure that we continue to have robust data on the number of people sleeping rough. However, I should point out that before 1998 there was no measurement of rough sleeping levels and the Conservative party attached no importance to the issue. The current methodology has been applied consistently for a decade and shows a sharp reduction in the number of people sleeping rough. Furthermore, the methodology is backed up by the independent National Audit Office.