We have introduced a number of measures that will make it easier for our service personnel to access social housing, become home owners and occupy void MOD properties as an interim measure before leaving service. Following the successful launch of Mike Jackson house, a 25-bed unit in Aldershot, we aim to gift land in Catterick for a similar project. It will offer more veterans short-term housing while they plan their return to independent living.
In thanking my hon. Friend for that response, I ask him to reassure the House that the statistics held on the number of veterans who are seeking good housing are accurate. We are aware that London’s figures have improved enormously, but what about the rest of the country and, in particular, the north-east? It is time that the MOD spoke to every local authority and housing association to ensure that men and women who have served their country are treated with dignity when it is their turn to be housed or rehoused.
I thank my hon. Friend for her interest in this subject, which I know goes back many years. I also thank her for her work in County Durham in promoting the cadets force. This is a real issue. The MOD, along with the Department for Communities and Local Government, commissioned York university to carry out a study into London veterans, which showed that 6 per cent. of the London homeless population are veterans, down from 22 per cent. in 1997. I will be placing a copy of that report in the Library of the House. My hon. Friend also raises an important point about the extension of the problem in the rest of the country. I, along with the Department—I also had a meeting with service charities a couple of weeks ago—will try to commission similar research to ensure that we know not only what the state of the problem is but what can be done about it.
A significant proportion of rough sleepers in my constituency appear to have a services background. Will the Minister give his support to a new project run by my local Salvation Army to set up a hostel for rough sleepers, and will he look into whether some MOD funding might be made available to help the project get off the ground?
I commend that initiative. On 2 December, I chaired a meeting of the Veterans Forum, which brings together service charities and others interested in the subject, to discuss homelessness. Later this week I will meet my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright), the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my counterpart in that Department, to talk about how local authorities and other charities can draw upon the existing expertise, as well as the money available for rough sleepers not only in London but across the country, so I would be interested in having details of the project to which the hon. Gentleman referred to see what assistance I can give.
I welcome what my hon. Friend said about help for homeless ex-servicemen and women, but many who leave the armed forces have problems moving from service to civilian life. What is being done to promote the Veterans Agency as the first point of contact for servicemen and women who need help?
I pay tribute to the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency for its work in helping servicemen and veterans. My right hon. Friend highlights the transition stage. Clearly, one answer lies in projects such as Mike Jackson house and I want to explore with service charities and the Department for Communities and Local Government how we can expand the network of support throughout the country. Later this year, I intend to conduct a number of regional meetings with the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency to promote its work in the regions, and ensure that veterans, local authorities and other stakeholders know about the agency’s excellent work.
The Minister will be aware that in my constituency the Army is paying in excess of £700,000 a year for more than 200 Army family houses to stand empty. On homeless ex-soldiers, may I draw his attention to the excellent charity Veterans Aid? Can further support be given to the charity in assisting former members of Her Majesty’s armed forces who have fallen on hard times and giving them somewhere decent to live?
I certainly commend the work of Veterans Aid. I visited the hon. Gentleman’s constituency before Christmas, and one problem with some of the accommodation there is that it is waiting for refurbishment. There are other problems arising from the Addington Homes contract, on which I know that the hon. Gentleman is an expert. When MOD property becomes surplus the Department is conscious of and keen to look at opportunities for providing it on a short-term basis, or even longer term, to servicemen and women when they leave the armed forces. We shall certainly do what we can to help.