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Volume 555: debated on Monday 17 December 2012

The latest statistics show that homelessness is just half what it was in 2003 at its peak. However, despite the tough financial climate, we are investing £470 million to ensure that England continues to provide vulnerable people and vulnerable families with a strong safety net protected in law.

I really wonder whether the Minister has ever seen the fear in the eyes of a woman who can no longer pay her rent, does not know where the family will go, and does not know if her children can stay in the same school and if she will lose her job. Statutory homelessness has risen dramatically over the period of this Government. The Secretary of State warned the Prime Minister that it would go up by tens of thousands as a consequence of Government policies. What has the Minister got to say to that?

The right hon. Lady is right to make it a personal issue, because it is a personal issue, which is why last week I spent time with rough sleepers, who were out on the streets at night, to see for myself exactly the point she raises. I say to her that we are dealing with homelessness at its root, which means we are making sure we have a proper safety net that we have strengthened by making it easier to take people into settled and not temporary accommodation. It is why we are making sure that more people are going into work, so that they do not find themselves in difficulty, and we are making sure that we expand the private rental sector and build more homes. Sadly, I have to say that we saw the number of social homes in this country fall by nearly half a million under the last Labour Government.

As a member of Kettering borough council, may I share with the Minister the good news that in 2011 in the borough of Kettering, in a population of 90,000, there were only 76 valid homelessness applications? That is half the number of the peak in 2007 and is largely due to the very good efforts of John Conway and the housing team at Kettering borough council in providing support to tenants to prevent homelessness in the first place.

I strongly endorse Mr Conway’s work. The key word is prevention: that is the challenge and it is why, working with the charities, we are acting to prevent homelessness by dealing with its root causes and some of the issues behind it.

I draw attention to my interest as declared in the register.

In essence, the Minister’s reply repeated the response given by the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the right hon. Member for Bath (Mr Foster) to an earlier question about bed and breakfast by quoting a figure from the period of the last Labour Government and comparing it with a lower figure from the present. Frankly, that is statistically unworthy of a Minister. Will the Minister and his colleagues now recognise that there was a dramatic reduction in homelessness and in the placing of families in bed and breakfast under the Labour Government and that, in both cases, that trend is now reversing? Will he accept responsibility for the problem?

I have some respect for the right hon. Gentleman, but the reality is that we saw half a million social homes lost under the last Labour Government and the lowest rate of house building in peacetime since the 1920s. The responsibility rests with those on the Opposition Benches.

My local authority has significant numbers of households in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, some for more than six weeks. Is not the key to solving the problem to get our mortgage market working, both so that more people can get buy-to-let mortgages to increase supply in the private sector and so that more people can buy their own home and councils do not face competition in securing private lets?

My hon. Friend makes an eloquent point; it is about both supply and demand. If we get housing supply and demand right, that will start to deal with the huge problem we inherited. My hon. Friend is absolutely right on mortgages too. I am pleased to say that the Council of Mortgage Lenders pointed out that repossessions are at their lowest for five years.

With housing starts down and private rents up to record levels, England is now gripped by the biggest housing crisis in a generation. Homelessness, which fell under Labour, is once again soaring: homeless families in bed and breakfast, homeless young people in hostels and too many homeless sleeping on our streets. Does the Minister not accept that the most potent symbol of failure is the fact that 75,000 children will wake up on Christmas morning in temporary accommodation or bed and breakfast, without a roof over their head that they can call their own?

The hon. Gentleman refers to the Shelter campaign about 75,000 people not having a roof over their head at Christmas time. He is right to do so, because the campaign also says that the answer is more affordable homes. We are committed to doing that, and we are committed to making sure that we expand the private rental sector. This is a problem that has been around for two or three Governments and we want to make sure we deal with both the surface problem and the issues behind it.