Wednesday 18 December 2013
[Mr Christopher Chope in the Chair]
Homelessness and Rough Sleeping
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Claire Perry.)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I am grateful for the opportunity to hold a debate on a matter that is a growing concern in my constituency and that now accounts for an increasing proportion of my constituency case load. As Members look ahead to the Christmas break, this debate is a stark reminder that for a growing number of people in our country Christmas and the new year will not be a time to enjoy celebrations with their family and friends in the comfort and security of their own home.
I was going to set the debate in context by looking at some figures, which are obviously worrying and stark, but behind every homeless statistic is a story, so I thought that I would instead start with the story of one of my constituents, whom I met at my advice surgery only a couple of weeks ago. She did not want me to give her name or anything that might give her away, which I will respect, but she came to my surgery with her two daughters, one of whom is 15 years old and the other is five or six years old. Some months ago, she had left an abusive relationship with a partner who was prone to fits of rage and had been occasionally violent. She eventually found enough courage to decide to leave that relationship, but her journey into homelessness then began. She and her daughters unfortunately found themselves in temporary bed-and-breakfast accommodation, which was not fit for purpose, for much longer than the six-week limit. The media often talk of councils spending money on Premier Inns and hotels, but the bed and breakfast that this woman and her two daughters were in was frankly disgusting. It was mice-infested. There was grime everywhere. I was struck by the fact that her two daughters’ only request was for somewhere clean to live.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and for securing this debate. More and more people are now using food banks and does she agree that people are being driven to use them because of the bedroom tax and the rise in the cost of living? Previously, food banks were set up essentially for asylum seekers waiting for benefits, but ordinary members of the public, particularly in Coventry, are now becoming refugees from this Government and their policies.
My hon. Friend makes an important point and I will come on to the issue that he raises later in my speech.
My constituent and her two daughters were eventually moved from the awful bed-and-breakfast accommodation temporarily into a small, one-bedroom flat, which again unfortunately happens to be in a state of disrepair. The heating is not working properly and there was an issue with the water supply in the first few days. Again, it is not a particularly clean environment, and she of course does not have the means to do it up and make it a comfortable, warm, secure place for her daughters. She is still waiting to be placed in what she hopes will be permanent accommodation and a decent home for herself and her daughters.
As she was talking to me, she expressed how utterly terrified she was when looking ahead to Christmas and how the lack of security she felt from the lack of a permanent roof over her and her daughters’ heads was a ball of tension sitting in the pit of her stomach that affected her from morning until night. Every minute of every hour of every day, that is all she could think about. She feels that she has let her daughters down and that she might have been better off had she not left her former partner, because the temporary terror of the occasional rage was better in her view than the permanent terror that she now lives in.
I was moved by her story. The last thing that she said to me was that she and her daughters were alive, but they were not really living. That was a really powerful example of how just having a roof over one’s head can be the difference between being alive and actually living. It would mean her having a decent quality of life and a decent future that she could look forward to with her daughters. Despite my best efforts to help her, the lack of housing in the city and the waiting list are real problems, meaning that there is a limit on what I can do to assist her and her daughters.
Although that case was tragic, moving and upsetting for me to hear, it is not unique. In 2012-13, nearly 6,500 households approached Birmingham city council due to homelessness, which is an increase of 30% over three years. Some 4,000 were accepted as statutorily homeless, which is an increase of 17% over three years.
Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that this is a problem not only for our big cities? In North Shields in my constituency, Nite Bite, a once-a-week food provision for homeless people, has been running for several years. That just shows the extent of the problem.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the problem is national. I am an MP for the country’s second city—despite what my Mancunian colleagues might think—which has the largest local authority in Europe, so the pressures in Birmingham are stark, but homelessness presents itself across the country in different ways.
My hon. Friend is already making a powerful case. Does she share my concern that local authorities, in particular those facing the highest levels of need—I am sure that Birmingham is similar to Nottingham in that regard—are actually facing disproportionate Government cuts? Homelessness prevention services and other discretionary services are increasingly being cut to meet those demands. Is she as worried as me that that will actually lead to an increase in those seeking help with homelessness?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I will come on to some of the issues she raises later in my speech and I will use the example of SIFA Fireside, a charity in my constituency, to illustrate the pressures that homelessness services are under. Where are people supposed to go when services are being cut? I hope that the Minister may be able to provide some guidance on what I can say to my constituents when they ask me, because I simply do not have any answers for them.
In 2012-13, 922 households in Birmingham were in temporary accommodation, which is up 32% on the previous year, and 115 of them were in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. Just like my constituent, households have often found themselves in bed-and-breakfast accommodation that is not fit for purpose. When I was first elected in 2010, the majority of homelessness-related cases that came to me involved people who could be described as vulnerable, such as women escaping domestic violence, people with mental health problems and people with drug or drink issues. I had several cases of people who had left the care system without adequate support and had found themselves homeless. There were also people who had come out of prison and who may have been in and out of prison over many years. A chunk of my casework involved people with unregularised status in this country, such as the people living in a twilight world while waiting for a decision on their asylum case from the UK Border Agency, as was, or the Home Office. Such people had no recourse to public funds and were homeless as a result.
Now, however, although those groups remain well represented in my homelessness case load, I am seeing an increase in the number of people—families, in particular—who have been made homeless as a result of their private sector tenancy coming to an end and their being unable to find or afford anywhere else to live. Some months ago, for example, I met a couple who had a business a few years ago, but it had run into trouble as a result of the recession. They had lost it and could not keep up the payments on their home, so they lost their home as well. They managed to get other jobs, earning much less than before, but a job is a job. They are working hard and were renting in the private rented sector, but the rent went up and they could not afford the increase, so they found themselves homeless. They were struggling to find anywhere else to live that they could afford on their budget.
I am seeing many more cases of that nature. The end of a private sector tenancy now accounts for 22% of all homelessness acceptances nationally, a rate that I fear is likely to increase further and, in my constituency, the biggest rate of increase that I am seeing in my own case load. The two main, connected reasons are that the cost of renting is going up—since 2010, it has increased by more than twice as much as wages—and house building is at its lowest peacetime level since the 1920s. The failure to deal with housing supply is not only causing a huge strain now, but storing deep problems for us as a society for the future.
To go back to the case of my constituent, let us think about the effect on her two daughters. Even when I met them in my surgery, they were quite down and displaying a nervous disposition; their mum told me how their performance at school had dipped; and they were upset. As I mentioned earlier, I was struck by how their only ask was somewhere clean to live. The pressure on families and young people, children in particular, from always being desperate to move and never being able to put down roots causes those young people lasting harm, which will present itself in different ways in the future, whether in educational outcomes or in their level of confidence. Those are deep problems.
Homelessness is an isolating and deskilling experience for the people affected. It affects their health and well-being in a significant and often lasting and damaging way. It affects the educational outcomes of the children who find themselves homeless alongside their families. In addition, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) said, the organisations that are there to help when people find themselves homeless are also under acute pressure.
If we look at Birmingham city council first and foremost, it is facing some of the largest cuts in local government history. Over the next few months, the council will have to make difficult choices that will permanently change the social fabric of the wonderful city of Birmingham. There are a number of pressures, but housing supply is key, and the waiting list for people who want to transfer to other council housing is large.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the problems is that sufficient social housing is not being built, which puts pressure on private landlords to put up rents, because of the laws of supply and demand? Is it not time that the Government got some sort of social housing programme under way?
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point, and I absolutely agree. The lack of housing supply is the key problem, including in Birmingham. We are simply not building enough homes of all descriptions, and social and affordable housing has certainly not kept pace with demand.
That major issue has been compounded by the introduction and imposition of the bedroom tax. In Birmingham, a little more than 5,000 city council tenants are affected. As of yesterday, a little more than 2,000 or so of them were in arrears as a result of the bedroom tax, while the city had only five bedsits and 54 one-bedroom flats available for some of them to move into—that is not only from the city register, but includes the properties available from the registered providers as well.
Those numbers speak for themselves. The question that I have, which I cannot answer—perhaps the Minister can—is about where those people affected are supposed to downsize to once the five bedsits, the 54 one-bed flats and the tiny number of other suitable properties have gone. How will Birmingham as a city cope if the 2,000 or so in rent arrears as a result of the bedroom tax find themselves homeless? The city simply does not have the resources to meet that level of need or the surge in demand that will come as a result of those people being homeless.
I want to make one point—one genuinely non-partisan point. Given the problem that the hon. Lady is talking about—the lack of housing in her constituency—is it not the case that there is some logic to the end of the spare room subsidy, so as to enable families that are homeless or in hopelessly overcrowded conditions to be able to move into accommodation that meets their needs? Obviously, it is an issue for those who have spare bedrooms—whether one, two, three or in some cases four—but can she see that there is logic in enabling those people who are homeless, with many children and nowhere to go, to move into those flats, or does she not accept that at all?
The hon. Lady’s starting point would be logical were there somewhere for those people to move into. The reason why I cited the Birmingham figures of five bedsits and 54 one-bed flats is that, as of yesterday, that is what is available in my city—the second largest city in this country and the largest local authority in Europe—for waiting lists that number in the many tens of thousands. The problem is stark. Were there many hundreds or thousands of properties for people to downsize into, allowing homeless larger families to move into the larger properties, her position would be logical. I am afraid, however, that that is simply not the case in the area that I represent or in many instances up and down the country.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way again. When she says that 54 one-bed flats are available, does she meant that 54 are empty? With how many is a home swap possible, so that those who are homeless with multiple children could swap into homes with the space that they need? People in homes that are too big for them could swap with people who are hopelessly overcrowded. If people buy or sell in the private sector, they do not only move into empty homes, but buy from others who want to downsize or upsize.
The ability of people to swap depends on appropriate accommodation for the people who want to downsize or upsize to go into, and my point is that housing supply throughout my city is simply not enough for all kinds of homes. I spoke about the lack of affordable and social housing, but there is also a lack of housing for people to buy privately—not enough is being built anywhere in the city. The numbers simply have not kept up with demand. Swapping and other such solutions therefore will not deal with the large numbers presenting themselves in Birmingham. I am afraid that unless we could build thousands of homes overnight, my city will not be able to cope with the issues that it is facing, some but not all of which result in homelessness.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Does she agree that the Government’s own impact assessment assumes that 90% of the people hit by the bedroom tax will simply not move? As to the cost projections, the fact is that people will not have the smaller homes to move into, as she is suggesting.
My hon. Friend the shadow Minister is absolutely right to cite the Government’s own impact assessment. If people who are moving are forced into the private rented sector and their rents go up, that puts extra pressure on the housing benefit budget as well. I have not focused on welfare and benefits in my speech, but that is an additional pressure and an additional cost for the state, as it meets the increased demand and as rent in the private rented sector goes up.
Organisations under pressure include not only Birmingham city council, but many that provide support to the homeless. I have mentioned SIFA Fireside, a charity based in my constituency that works with the homeless. Its representatives visited me and my hon. Friend the shadow Minister in Parliament a couple of weeks ago. They brought a group of homeless people from across Birmingham and the west Midlands, so that they could speak to parliamentarians about the problems they face. It provides practical support to homeless people, including daily drop-in sessions, a resettlement service, a specialist alcohol support service and an employment and training programme.
In 2012-13, SIFA Fireside provided just over 35,000 meals, 500 food parcels and 3,700 showers. We are talking about real basics: food, somewhere to have a wash and somebody to help people make some phone calls to try to get their lives back on track—the charity made just over 4,000 phone calls on behalf of people who are homeless to help them sort out somewhere else to move on to and ultimately, they hope, somewhere permanent to live. But rising prices are causing a cost of living crisis for families up and down the country, and neither businesses nor charities are exempt from that problem. Rising costs have forced SIFA Fireside to cut by half the number of meals it will provide in the coming year, because it can now afford to put on only one meal a day for homeless people.
SIFA Fireside provides a vital lifeline for Birmingham’s homeless people, especially over the winter months, but is facing real challenges just to stay open. Although I am sure that all Members are grateful for the safety net that charities such as SIFA Fireside are providing in constituencies across the country, we cannot take that for granted: charities are under significant pressure and the availability of their services will be significantly curtailed—certainly, that is what I am seeing in my constituency.
Several systemic problems cause homelessness. The primary one is the issue we face with house building, and the fact that housing supply has simply not kept up with demand. Also, the private rented sector is not fit for families, as it does not give people the security they need or predictable rent rises that would allow people to plan their household budgets. Finally, the bedroom tax is causing acute concern. We need to look at those issues in order to deal with the problem of homelessness. Doing so will not fix the problem entirely, as people find themselves homeless for many reasons, but I believe that for the 80,000 or so children whom we expect to be homeless—that is according to the official figures, and I think the real figure is probably higher—dealing with the problems with both house building and the private rented sector and scrapping the bedroom tax would be pretty good places to start.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) on securing this important debate.
As the nights draw in and the winter chill becomes more apparent, the thoughts of many Londoners—I am sure the hon. Lady will agree that this is the first city of the United Kingdom—turn to the homeless people who, each night, lay down their blankets and boxes in dark corners of this great city of ours. Their presence makes all of us ask questions about where we as a society are falling short. I am afraid that to many of us who live in and represent central London, it seems that the number of homeless people and rough sleepers is increasing very quickly.
I live, with my wife and two children, a stone’s throw from Westminster cathedral, and from The Passage, a charity sponsored predominantly by the Roman Catholic Church that has provided succour for the less fortunate for a century and a half. One need only look around the streets literally a few hundred yards from this Chamber and witness the many people, young men in particular, sleeping rough in Westminster station to understand that the situation has become markedly worse in recent months. Constituents from all over my constituency worry about the people they find each morning in their doorways.
All of us know that local authorities have a statutory obligation to undertake regular counts of people sleeping on their streets. Figures from Westminster city council indicate that the number of rough sleepers has increased sharply: a total of some 2,440 people were recorded bedding down as rough sleepers in 2012-13. Although that was a slight reduction on the figure for the previous year, the number in 2009-10 was only 1,693, so there has been an increase of over 40% in the past three years. Meanwhile, in the other part of my constituency, the City of London, the most recent figures available, for the period from 1 September to 31 October, indicate a marked increase of 39% in the number of rough sleepers when compared with the same period last year.
To understand how to respond, we must first grasp why people sleep rough. To be honest, for as long as big cities—particularly ones such as London—have existed, people have slept on the streets. There are myriad reasons why, but over the past few years, and certainly in the time that I have represented my central London seat, we have tended to see two quite distinct categories of rough sleepers, with very different stories to tell.
The number of so-called traditional rough sleepers in Westminster has remained relatively static. They tend to be people with an addiction problem—some 52% of the homeless take drugs, and 20% drink alcohol at harmful levels—people who have been affected by family breakdown, or, of course, people with mental health difficulties: nearly half of the people on our streets have long-term mental health needs. Colleagues will recall the “Street Stories” exhibition that I sponsored in this House only a few years ago, for the homeless charity St Mungo’s, which aimed to educate parliamentarians about why that very diverse group turned to the streets.
That group of rough sleepers is well known to outreach groups. Local authorities and established charities patiently conduct long-term and meaningful work to rehabilitate such people into mainstream society. Homelessness services provide support to over 40,000 homeless people a year, delivering cost savings to public service budgets, and better outcomes for the most vulnerable. It has been estimated that a single rough sleeper on the streets of London costs some £35,000 a year in crime, emergency health and social services alone.
Obviously, the Churches and charities that the hon. Gentleman referred to are major contributors to helping homeless people, but the Salvation Army and the Simon Community also do tremendous work with homeless people. I want to underline the importance of that work.
A huge amount of charitable work is done by voluntary groups, many of which have grown out of nothing in recent years. We should welcome that.
As the Minister knows, the Mayor of London has a programme that aims to ensure that no person spends more than one night sleeping rough on the streets of London. That is now the case for eight out of 10 rough sleepers, but of course, logically, that means that for one in five rough sleepers, the promise of only one night on the streets is not being kept. I support the broad thrust of the changes that have been made to housing benefit entitlement, and have done so repeatedly, both in TV studios and in this House, but both the Mayor and I continue to make the case to the Government that those changes will continue to have a disproportionate impact on central London, where rents, to which the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood, has referred, are at their highest. I have expressed those concerns to the ministerial team in Parliament. It is also deeply concerning that although rough sleeping continues to rise, there is a reduction in the amount of available support. Hostel bed spaces are being reduced at a concerning rate, and are at their lowest number since 2008.
There is a second group of homeless people, namely foreign nationals, many of whom have no recourse to public funds and therefore require an alternative policy response. In the midst of the changes that will go through Parliament over the next 24 hours and that will impact on Romanians and Bulgarians—all of us agree with those changes—we should remember that those who do come here could be an even bigger strain on public services in the first few months of 2014.
People from central European countries now make up 32% of all rough sleepers in Westminster. That is no surprise: following the enlargements of the European Union in 2004 and 2008, Westminster experienced a sudden influx of new arrivals from eastern Europe, often via Victoria coach station. In advance of the enlargements, both Westminster city council and I warned repeatedly of the increased dangers of jobless and unqualified nationals from the new EU accession countries ending up sleeping rough, but the previous Government failed to put into place proper plans to deal with the sudden influx. I am afraid that the situation has not improved in the three and a half years since the coalition came into office.
Those nationals were particularly at risk of homelessness, as the law prevented them from accessing benefits provided by local authorities to residents, as well as state benefits such as income support, shelter and drug treatment services. Many new arrivals had a firm idea of where they would live and work, and I emphasise that many are making a fantastic contribution to our economy, but for others, the likelihood of them descending rapidly into street life was exacerbated because they had no other means of support. Westminster city council has done a lot of work to help those individuals, sometimes by trying to reconnect them with their families back home, assisting with repatriation, providing language services, and so on.
The issue of rough sleepers from central and eastern Europe has taken on a new dimension in recent months. I have repeatedly warned that my constituency may prove to be the canary in the mine on many of these issues. Many of us have seen at first hand the Roma Gypsy encampments that sprung up around Marble Arch during last year’s Olympics. Some of the people living in those encampments were part of an organised begging operation deliberately targeting the lucrative west end tourist market.
I receive weekly reports from exasperated constituents who find spontaneous bedrooms in their doorways and litter and excrement in garden squares, and who are harassed daily by aggressive beggars. One St James’s resident reports rubbish bags being ripped open almost nightly, covering the pavement with litter. The problem is real and must be dealt with. It must be put into the public domain as thoughtfully as possible, not least at this time of year, and it must be recognised that the significant number of people who come to this country make a positive contribution, but the minority is getting ever bigger and may end up causing major social issues.
I have so much more to say, but I respect the fact that other hon. Members want to contribute to the debate. I would like to make one more point before finishing. I appreciate that the Government are doing a lot of work behind the scenes. They have launched a £1.7 million gold standard support and training scheme to help local authorities to tackle homelessness. The concern of all of us is not that the will is lacking, but the lack of resources. We have no idea of the numbers, and the extent to which the problem is likely to be exacerbated in the months ahead. I am interested to hear what the Minister says today, but more importantly, he should keep a watching brief on the issue in the early weeks and months of 2014, because urgent remedial action may be required, not just here in central London, but in many parts of the country.
It is a pleasure, Mr Chope, to serve under your chairmanship. For clarity, I will refer to homelessness, but I mean homelessness and rough sleeping.
Since my election, I have had the privilege of shadowing one of St Mungo’s homelessness teams in Westminster, and have spent time with some Rotherham charities and social enterprises that support rough sleepers. I would like to discuss the link between homelessness and health care, because I have seen that it is at the root of many people’s homelessness. Poor health is not only a consequence of homelessness; it is often its cause.
A report by the Department of Health suggests that as many as two thirds of homeless people have a serious chronic health problem before they become homeless. Many of the people St Mungo’s works with have complex physical and mental health needs. Their latest client need survey showed that 64% have physical health conditions, 70% have mental health conditions and 64% have issues with drugs and alcohol.
I completely agree with the points that the hon. Lady raises, and will speak about them, a little, later.
We know that homeless people use four times as many acute health services and eight times as many in-patient health services as the general population, at a cost of around £85.6 million a year. However, despite that, homeless people often find it difficult to access health services that can provide suitable treatment, because their complex needs may make them ineligible for traditional health and social care support. Some report facing discrimination when they do seek support.
Common health conditions for homeless people include mental health issues, foot conditions, dental problems, infections, sexual health issues and tuberculosis. One in 10 people diagnosed with TB has a history of homelessness. Lack of suitable washing facilities can aggravate those problems and increase the spread of infection. Not surprisingly, people sleeping rough often find that the cold and damp exacerbate their health problems and cause the onset of respiratory illness. Some rough sleepers even wake up covered in frost.
The links between homelessness and health are cyclical. Although many homeless people are struggling to access health care, more must be done at an early stage to encourage people at risk of homelessness to access public services. Mental health issues particularly are one of the key triggers that lead to homelessness. Up to 70% of homeless people suffer mental health issues and 14% suffer a personality disorder. In London, almost one fifth of rough sleepers have mental health needs combined with substance abuse. Perhaps the most depressing news of all is that rough sleepers are 35 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population.
I am extremely fearful that in Rotherham, the problem will be dramatically compounded, because our excellent NHS mental health foundation trust—Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust, or RDaSH—is facing a £7 million budget cut next year. Unfortunately, I believe it is inevitable that this funding crisis will lead to people not receiving the support they need, and consequently to increasing rough sleeping on our streets. Is it not time for the Government to tackle these problems head on? Is it not time to acknowledge that we must make it easier for homeless people to access health care, not harder?
Under this Government, the sad fact is that in London alone, almost 6,500 people were seen sleeping rough between 2012 and 2013, and the number is increasing, year on year. Under this Government’s watch, rough sleeping has increased nationally by 31% in the last two years. Shockingly, the average age at which a homeless person dies is now 47.
Money directed at homelessness prevention is sent to local authorities, but is not always ring-fenced. Often, it is not used effectively to stop people becoming homeless, or to encourage preventive health interventions. Homeless people experience significant regional health inequalities, which should be recognised, measured and addressed in local needs assessments. If health and wellbeing boards are to meet their duty to reduce health inequalities effectively, they must recognise, measure and address the health needs of vulnerable and excluded members of society, and that must include homeless people.
Some local authorities are including homeless people in joint strategic needs assessments and joint health and well-being strategies, but this group of vulnerable people is often not accounted for. The needs of the local homeless population should be reflected in joint health and well-being strategies, and in the commissioning of appropriate services. The emphasis on setting a small number of priorities across the wider community may mean that the specific needs of small, marginalised groups are overlooked.
The mobility of homeless people, who may move from borough to borough, should also be considered, and a pan-borough approach should be taken to commissioning specialist services when appropriate. Local strategies should reflect the needs of the most excluded, as well as setting goals for wider public health improvement.
Commissioners and providers should be monitored to ensure that they are reducing health inequalities, including between the homeless and the general populations. When it comes to signing up with a GP, homeless people are turned away because they do not have an address. There is a shortage of specialist drug and alcohol services, particularly dual diagnosis services for people with substance addiction and mental health problems. Many homeless people with learning disabilities find it hard to live in the community and to access specialist support.
People in Rotherham tell me about the problems that homeless people have in finding accommodation when discharged from hospital. That is not just a problem in Rotherham; it is a national problem. Too many people are discharged from hospital with nowhere to go. We need integrated health and social care provision that includes homeless people. That approach could help to address health inequalities and ensure that some of the most excluded members of society have a better experience of the health and social care system. They deserve that.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) on securing this timely debate. We have heard about the growing extent of homelessness and the staggering number of people it affects. The problem reflects some serious structural problems in the housing sector and welfare system. We have also heard about the long-term problems that homelessness can cause. Many are profound, but are not easily quantifiable. However, they are cumulative because homelessness prevents people from finding or staying in work and has a cumulative impact on their health, sometimes provoking them to engage in criminal activity and so on.
Homelessness is part of a wider problem of social exclusion and it is obvious that the solution, especially for harder-to-reach cases, must be comprehensive. It is not just about finding a new home for someone to stay in and leaving them to get on with it. It takes an average of seven years for someone to get to the point of sleeping rough on the streets and it is unrealistic to expect that they can be turned round and brought back to independent life within a matter of months. Helping people in that situation is a long-term commitment.
A huge range of hostels and temporary accommodation schemes have been the bulwark of the response to homelessness, quite often for those who do not fit the priority needs assessments of local authorities, as well as those who do. Many are run by local charities and although they often have generous benefactors, they are reliant on public funding to stay solvent. The Government’s strategy from 2012 was accompanied by promises that funding for such organisations would be protected as much as possible, with more than £400 million being devolved to local authorities and voluntary groups. Unfortunately, that does not lead to steady investment on the ground. More than half of all homelessness services are seeing cuts in their funding, and that will become far worse when local authorities start to make cuts for 2014 onwards.
In my constituency, for example, the elected mayor is consulting on cutting £150,000 from the Leonard Stocks centre. If that goes through, it would make the whole project financially unviable and leave many dozens of vulnerable people every year with nowhere else to go. We urgently need a solution to stop local authorities cutting these services indefinitely. If the Government were to look at a ring fence or upgrading the statutory protections for homeless people, we could see a great improvement and not the impending social disaster that might occur in my constituency and in other places.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is also a problem with the SWEP—the severe weather emergency protocol? At a minimum, it only requires local authorities to provide shelter when the temperature reaches zero for three nights in a row. There is a great temptation for local authorities to go to the minimum, which can of course be fatal for many rough sleepers, rather than raising the temperature requirement to a more humane level.
That is a very good point. I represent the English riviera, where the temperature does not always drop that far, and there are still problems, even at 3° C.
The history of Torbay’s provision for the roofless is somewhat unique. During Christmas in 1990, representatives of local churches came together to open south Devon’s first direct access hostel for homeless people, in an old warehouse in a backstreet in the centre of Torquay. With the support of Torbay council, which owned the property, it was converted to create a single male dormitory with 12 beds. Initially, there were just two paid members of staff.
The story of the project goes back to 1989 when three local church leaders—Reverend Peter Larkin of St Matthias church, Captain Jim McKnight, the Torquay Salvation Army commander, and the Reverend Mike Blunsum, chaplain at Brunel Manor—began praying about how the local Christian community could respond to a growing number of people sleeping on the streets. In the autumn of 1990, the Reverend Mike Blunsum persuaded the Woodlands House of Prayer Trust to back a homeless project in Torquay with money and resources. Separately, Leonard Stocks, a member of St John’s church in Torquay, was deeply moved one day when he saw a woman begging and holding a sign that read:
“I am homeless please help me.”
He raised the issue at the next meeting of the deanery synod. Leonard was put in contact with the Reverend Blunsum and his committee, which led to a meeting in October 1990 attended by representatives of 40 south Devon churches, together with 20 local agencies, looking for a community response to the homelessness crisis. Those agencies included the citizens advice bureau, Youth With A Mission, social services, the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service, Shelter and officers from Torbay council, notable among them the then head of estates, Peter Lucas, himself a committed Christian.
Funding from the Woodlands House of Prayer Trust and a considerable personal contribution from Leonard Stocks saw the hostel open—appropriately—on Christmas eve 1990. The original lease was for just three months, but such was the need that it has never been able to close. The Torbay Churches Homeless Trust decided to merge with the Langley House Trust in 2003 when it became clear that the project could benefit from the robust management systems and training provision that Langley provided. The bedrock of its support, however, remains the Christian community across south Devon.
It may be a long way from the inner cities, but Torbay’s social problems are as acute as anywhere. The Leonard Stocks centre does brilliant work. The hostel was rebuilt only three years ago at a cost of £2.5 million, and staff and volunteers work wonderfully together to get people back into stable accommodation and on the road back to independence. The story is unique, but the facility will be recognised by all hon. Members here, because it is typical of centres around the country. I hope that the Minister will address the suggestions I have made to ring-fence funding or strengthen statutory protections for the homeless, or is there some other remedy to ensure that adequate provision exists for those who find themselves roofless, not only at this time of the year, but at all times of the year?
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) on securing the debate and on making a very powerful case. As she and others have said, in recent years, we have seen homelessness up overall. We have seen rough sleeping up by 60% in London in just two years alone, and we have seen homelessness in London rise by more than a third in just three years. All that was entirely predictable and it was predicted, because it has arisen not entirely by accident, but by a foreseeable combination of circumstances. There is the continuing squeeze on house building and particularly affordable house building—last year we saw the lowest level of housing completions since the 1920s—and the failure, which many of us have been flagging up for several years, of the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Work and Pensions to have even the most basic conversation about how their policies interact.
What is most striking in London and the south-east is the extent to which the Government’s policies on social security, especially the housing support safety net cuts, have led directly to the rise in homelessness, particularly in London. A staggering figure was flagged up by the estimable Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in their 2013 homelessness report: there has been a 316% rise in homelessness due to the end of assured shorthold tenancies in London—that is private sector tenancies. Overwhelmingly, the end of those assured shorthold tenancies is either because the tenant can no longer afford the rent—they were relying on the assistance of housing benefit—or because landlords, in an increasingly competitive market, are withdrawing those properties from the sector, which is a point that I will briefly return to in a minute.
London is not the only area affected, although with that 316% rise it is at the sharp end. We saw a 128% increase in homelessness due to the end of assured shorthold tenancies in the south, and even in the north of England, which does not have the same housing pressures, there was a 73% rise. The Government’s welfare policy is without doubt driving homelessness, especially for families.
The problem is by no means over. The Money Advice Service told us just this week that rent arrears are the fastest growing debt problem. We have seen an average of 60%—nearly two thirds—of household income in the private rented sector being taken up by rent. That is clearly unsustainable. People are struggling to keep the roof over their heads. They are relying on a safety net that is increasingly being stripped away from them, and it is driving homelessness.
My hon. Friend is making a very powerful speech. Does she share my concern that things are only going to get worse, with council tax support being further withdrawn, and particularly with the loss of transitional relief, which provided a little bit of leeway this year? Next year, it will be far more difficult for low-income families to get by.
Of course. That is absolutely true. As my hon. Friend says, many families are facing a multiple attack on their living standards. The same families who are affected by cuts in housing support are also being affected by cuts in council tax support, and it is adding to their crisis.
At first, homelessness led to a surge in the use of bed-and-breakfast accommodation, as hon. Members have said, which is ridiculously expensive and wholly unsuitable. The Labour Government were absolutely right, more than a decade ago, to make it illegal for local authorities to keep families with children in bed-and-breakfast accommodation for more than six weeks. The growing pressure of homelessness meant that local authorities, including Westminster, were breaching that six-week standard, which cost an absolute fortune—millions and millions of pounds. Local authorities had to place people in the Premier Inn hotel and the Jurys Inn hotel in Chelsea, because they could not find accommodation. Of course, they were breaking the law and were roundly told off by Ministers for doing so.
I am delighted that Westminster, in particular, is no longer using bed-and-breakfast accommodation for more than six weeks. That has been a significant change in the past few months. But what has happened? It is like squeezing a balloon: unless the circumstances change, the pressure simply builds somewhere else. What has happened is that local authorities are beginning to use something called annexe accommodation which, in some cases, is merely bed-and-breakfast accommodation with a gas ring. It is not always; sometimes it is different kinds of accommodation. It is basically self-contained, but it is booked nightly and has no time limit on its use. Local authorities—in particular, inner London authorities under pressure—are now using that nightly booked accommodation, which means that families, including many of those I am dealing with, literally do not know from one day to the next where they will be going for their accommodation. Many of the annexes are out of borough, so families have to commute their children in from the outskirts of London to maintain their school places. They cannot move their child’s school to the local authority area in which they are now placed—it may be Hounslow; it may be Enfield; it is many miles away—because they do not know whether they will still be in the same local authority area tomorrow.
Families tell me that they are getting up at half-past five in the morning to get their children, who are sometimes five or six years old, ready for school, because it takes them two hours to get there. They have to go by bus because they cannot afford the train. Those families are commuting their children two hours to school and two hours home at night. Understandably, the schools then come to me and say that children are falling asleep at their desks because they are being put under that pressure. Even children with special needs were being placed in this accommodation, despite the local authority telling me that that was not the case. We hope that is now being addressed, but unfortunately we are now seeing more and more such loopholes being used.
We were told by Ministers that other than in very exceptional circumstances local authorities should not place homeless families from their areas well away from their communities, in out-of-borough placements. In fact, out-of-borough placements have risen in every quarter bar one since 2011 to more than 4,000. Out-of-borough bookings rose to 14,535. This is according to London Councils’ monitoring of the issue last year. Local authorities made 11,262 out-of-borough nightly bookings, which is a total scandal. I do not believe, and I hope that the Minister will tell us that he does not believe, that people should be treated in that way. These are families and children. They are often very vulnerable families. They are often families facing multiple pressures and difficulties.
The Minister’s predecessor, the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk), told us that local authorities had been using “unacceptable and avoidable” measures and that they should offer accommodation locally as far as possible. Indeed, speaking in response to a press story in December 2012, a Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said:
“Councils can meet housing need through social housing or high-quality private rented housing in their area. Unless there are exceptional circumstances, there is no excuse for moving homeless families to other areas, and they must absolutely not apply a blanket policy of relocating families out of the capital.”
What we are seeing in London and in the south-east more generally is a surge in placements out of borough, completely in breach of that assurance that we were given. We are seeing more and more pressure building up; it is a pressure-cooker situation. Many local authorities are competing for increasingly scarce accommodation for these placements and the situation is unsustainable.
I hope that the Minister will today tell us that he will ensure that local authorities do not place families well away from their children’s schools, their communities, their support networks and the elderly relatives for whom they provide care; ensure that local authorities can access temporary and emergency accommodation for families; deal with the scandal of long-term nightly booked accommodation; and provide the framework for a sustainable policy to help those vulnerable families who are facing this terrible crisis of homelessness.
It is a thorough and utter disgrace that anyone should be homeless in the 21st century in our country. It makes me wonder whether the welfare state safety net has any meaning whatever when people are out there, dying on our streets—and I do mean dying on our streets, because on Christmas day in 2006, Josie Razzell died in the stairwell of Easton Street car park in High Wycombe. She died of exposure. As a result, the churches in High Wycombe came together in a story similar to that told by my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr Sanders). They were determined to ensure that never again would anyone die of exposure on our streets.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) mentioned the severe weather emergency protocol. The fact is that that protocol is a last resort and it simply is not good enough. Were it not for Wycombe Homeless Connection, my goodness—the number of people who would suffer in Wycombe. Were it not for the YMCA, what a state we would be in.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood), who opened the debate, mentioned one particular cause and one particular story and made the case very movingly, but if only that man had not treated his partner violently, that problem perhaps would not have arisen. I think that every hon. Member present knows that the causes of homelessness are complex and wide ranging. They include addictions, debt, worklessness and educational failure and, of course, are compounded in a dreadful cycle of health problems, both physical and mental. Those of us who have worked in night shelters for a number of years will have seen, I suspect, altogether too much suffering in that regard.
It is not enough to talk only about the suffering that has happened recently. It is the case that the numbers have increased, but we heard earlier that some of the efforts at non-state provision go back as far as 1989—I think that that is what my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay said—and of course the problem extends far before that. Opposition Members talked about the housing market and the shortage of supply. The housing market is characterised by state land-use planning and state intervention in the credit markets. If there is too little housing, it can only be the case that the state has made a mess of it.
When I look at all these stories, I see a number of things: the failure of individuals to live in the right relationship with one another, the failure of a man to look after his partner and the failures of people to get a good education, get a job and build up their lives. What I want to see is the shortest possible route to minimising this human suffering, but what I see at the moment is a constant recourse to state action at a time when the quality and quantity of welfare, health and education produced by the state simply is not good enough and we also, very clearly, cannot afford it, because we have resorted to quantitative easing to suppress interest rates just to keep up the borrowing necessary to sustain this level of failure.
Therefore, what I have to say to my hon. Friend the Minister is twofold. First, what is he doing to end the complex cycles of state failure that are ruining people’s lives? Secondly, will he please take every possible—every conceivable—step that he can to remove the obstacles that the state places in people’s way, preventing them from just getting out there and helping people across the wide range of complex causes of chronic and abject poverty.
My hon. Friend will realise that I very much agree with what he has to say on the macro-economic side about the very insidious—dangerous—long-term effects on the British economy of quantitative easing. Will he accept that part of the difficulty with housing law, which goes back almost 100 years—the first rent Acts came in at the end of the first world war—is that, every time, we try to add another elastoplast to the system when there needs to be a much more imaginative approach by politicians, academics and the like to looking at the way in which our housing market operates? All too often, we have seen short-term problems, which we have tried to solve with new legislation, rather than recognising, as my hon. Friend rightly said, that it has been state action and legislation in the past that has helped to produce all the absurdities and anomalies currently seen in our private rented sector.
I agree, but it is not enough for us just to look at increasing supply. We should be looking at those factors that increase demand, such as the tragedy of family breakdown, which perhaps I will go into in more detail in the debate in the main Chamber later on hunger.
I want to finish with this thought. We are coming up to Christmas—the anniversary of the death of Josie Razzell in High Wycombe. But Christmas is a time of celebration, because it is a time when we realise that the process of God offering to mankind salvation from all these difficulties began with an event that we celebrate at Christmas. We are not here to preach the gospel, but I have to say that these problems and cycles will continue for ever unless people start to learn that they must love their neighbour and, first and foremost, love their God.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak in the debate. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) for introducing this timely debate. It is timely because we always, rightly, think more about homelessness and homeless people as we approach Christmas. I should point out that before I entered Parliament, I worked as a social researcher and spent some 10 years researching homelessness issues. I interviewed hundreds of homeless people during that time to learn what circumstances led to them getting into that situation and what the solutions were.
I am in absolutely no doubt that homelessness is getting worse. When I have been around Rochdale, and when I went into Manchester the other day, it has been clear that more people are living out on our streets and sleeping rough. It is as though we are returning to the 1980s and early 1990s. We do not need anecdotal evidence to see that homelessness is getting worse. The Government are keen to devise policies on the back of anecdotal evidence, but there are statistics to prove that homelessness is getting worse. The figures that I have been given show that in England, there has been an 11% increase over the past two years in people approaching local authorities saying that they are homeless. The number of people housed in temporary accommodation during 2012 rose by 10% and the number of people in bed and breakfast accommodation rose even faster, by 14%. In 2012, there were an estimated 2,309 people sleeping rough on any one night across England, which is a rise of 31% over two years.
The Minister will be aware, because he was present at the hearing, that the Minister for Housing, the hon. Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), gave evidence to the Communities and Local Government Committee on 9 December. When I questioned him about rough sleeping at the Committee, the Housing Minister said that it had reduced by 8%. I now understand that there is no truth in that whatsoever, and there is no evidence to suggest that rough sleeping has fallen. I hope that the Minister takes the opportunity to correct the record today. The latest figures show that last year in Rochdale, 717 households approached the council as homeless, which was an increase of 180% over two years, and 280 households were accepted as being statutorily homeless. That is an increase of 324% over the past two years.
The Government are cooking up a homelessness crisis, and I do not say that lightly. All the ingredients are being added to create such a crisis: in go economic and social instability problems, dramatic benefit changes, major cuts to support services and a lack of suitable accommodation for people who find themselves in difficulty. Whether they accept it or not, the Government are steadily mixing the dish to create a severe homelessness problem similar to that of the 1980s. The irony is that we have learned how to deal with homelessness. Levels of homelessness and rough sleeping and the numbers of people going into bed and breakfast accommodation were dramatically reduced in the mid to late 1990s and into the 2000s, but we are having to re-learn the solutions, which is exceptionally unfortunate.
As the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr Sanders) has pointed out, more than half of all homelessness services have seen their funding cut. The Petrus homelessness project in Rochdale has achieved an incredible amount on an exceptionally tight budget, even though it has faced severe budget cuts. If it were not for Petrus, dozens of people in Rochdale would have died prematurely as a result of homelessness. If politicians are serious about addressing homelessness, they should watch a video called “RoofLess” that Petrus produced with Community Arts North West which shows homeless people telling everyone about their fragile, damaged lives and how they ended up becoming homeless. I went to the launch of that video a week ago, and it is well worth watching.
I conclude with a final thought. In October I celebrated my 47th birthday. If I had been homeless, I would probably be dead by Christmas this year, because 47 is the average age of death for a homeless person.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Chope. I refer to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) on securing this important debate, and on the passion with which she spoke.
As we approach Christmas, I am conscious that too many families are without a permanent home or are worried about what the new year will bring, when many of us are looking forward to spending time with our families. At this time of year, I am reminded of the incredible generosity of local people, particularly on Wearside. It is lonely and isolating to be facing Christmas in temporary accommodation, or to be worried about whether your children will be able to receive any Christmas presents. That is why it was always so comforting for the women and families that I used to support in a women’s refuge to know that others were thinking of them at Christmas and that the local community were always willing to help and support them in their time of need.
The rise of homelessness is deeply troubling. Across England, as we have heard, the number of people found to be statutorily homeless has risen. Regional figures may vary, but that is also the case in my local authority. Since 2007, Sunderland city council has focused on preventing homelessness, on the understanding that it is always best to work with people to try to find alternatives and manage their difficulties, and to support landlords to try to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place. However, Sunderland city council reports that the number of people that it has been able to prevent from becoming homeless has fallen, which is of great concern. In the 12 months up to September 2013, there were 577 preventions, which fell from more than 700 during the previous year. The disproportionate cuts that councils such as Sunderland face are having a serious impact on their ability to prioritise work to prevent homelessness. Over the same period to 2013, the number of people found to be homeless increased by 54%. Councils tell me that they fear that 2014 will be worse still, once the impact of welfare changes such as the bedroom tax starts to be reflected in the figures.
I turn to the problem of women who find themselves homeless as a result of domestic violence. As my hon. Friend indicated earlier when she spoke of the difficulties faced by her constituent, that is a problem across the country and no doubt we all see it in our constituency surgeries. Figures vary, but we know that domestic violence accounts for a significant proportion of homelessness acceptances. Many women who are forced out of their homes by domestic violence do not approach councils and are not counted in those figures, so the real numbers will be higher still.
There is some way to go in shifting perceptions about what women’s refuges are like and the services that they offer to women and children. Understandably, many families this Christmas would rather be settled in a permanent place that they can call home, rather than in a women’s refuge. Equally, in my contact with women’s refuges, what I saw at Christmas was women and children who were able for the very first time to enjoy a peaceful Christmas without fear. Children did not have to worry about whether their mother would be beaten before their eyes. They did not have to worry about whether their father would shout at them or smash their presents, or whether they, as young children, would be subject to abuse. I saw the incredible generosity of local people who provided presents, enabled children to have Christmas parties and supported them so that they could try to enjoy a normal, peaceful Christmas after the difficult and traumatic ordeal that they had been through.
For those reasons, I am concerned about reports that the number of spaces available in women’s refuges is contracting. Providers across the country report that they are having to turn more and more women away. As part of an inquiry into access for justice for women, the all-party parliamentary group on domestic and sexual violence recently took evidence from providers, which explained the real pressures on their services. Providers told us that they face big cuts to their budgets, which are affecting their ability to offer families a safe place to turn. So much progress was made in that area under the previous Labour Government, and it would be tragic to see that progress undone.
The Government must act to stem the rising tide of homelessness. Ministers must accept that disproportionate cuts to local councils are not without consequence. I fear that the situation will not improve in 2014; indeed, my growing concern is that things will simply get worse.
It is a pleasure, as ever, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) on securing such an important and, unfortunately, timely debate. Christmas is coming and we are looking forward to spending time with our families, but we know, as she said, that many families across the country will not be celebrating this Christmas; they will be in temporary accommodation, and many people will be sleeping on the streets.
I pay tribute to the work of the charities hon. Members have mentioned, and the volunteers who work all year to provide invaluable support to those who are homeless and those sleeping on the streets. The UK is the seventh richest country in the world, yet homelessness and rough sleeping are increasing year on year. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) explained, the figures are getting worse; since the Government came to power, rough sleeping and homelessness are up by one third. It is heartbreaking that 80,000 children will be without a permanent home this Christmas. The number of families with children living in bed and breakfasts is at a 10-year high. My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) spoke movingly about that issue in her constituency.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood, set out, the reality of living in a bed and breakfast is absolutely shocking. She spoke movingly about the case of her constituent and her daughters. In more than half the cases investigated by Shelter this year, children in such accommodation were sharing beds with their parents or siblings, and two thirds of families said that their children had no table to eat meals on, and often had to eat on the floor or bed. As my hon. Friend points out, homeless children living in temporary accommodation are more likely to fall behind at school, and lose vital opportunities at that formative age to develop and grow in a healthy living environment.
Rough sleeping is increasing, and has gone up by a third. Hon. Members referred to the wide-ranging and complex reasons why people end up living on the streets. I pay tribute to the work my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson) did, even before she became an MP, in providing support for victims of domestic abuse. Many women and men end up living on the streets as a result of such abuse. Some have come out of institutions, such as care settings or prison. The effects of sleeping rough are enormously damaging to people’s physical and mental health, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) set out in her excellent speech. As the hon. Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) movingly described, many people who live on the streets are at risk of dying prematurely. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale pointed out that the average age of death for rough sleepers is 47, which is a tragic statistic.
The previous Labour Government were determined to tackle the problem, which is why we introduced the Supporting People programme, bringing together seven income streams from across Government to give the necessary support to those at risk of homelessness, or those who were already homeless. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale mentioned, we had great determination to bear down on and tackle homelessness. As a result, it decreased by 70% during our period in government. Although it is clear that the reasons for homelessness are complex and wide-ranging, under the current Government, figures show that homelessness and rough sleeping have grown significantly worse.
The Government have failed to tackle the chronic housing shortage so central to the cost of living crisis. The cruel and iniquitous bedroom tax is putting many social tenants at risk of eviction, because they are falling into arrears for the first time. The 60% cut to the affordable homes budget when the Government came to power has had an impact on the number and affordability of homes available. The Government have also cut away support at a time when there are more and more homeless people, who are in need of help. As my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Sunderland South pointed out, cuts to local government budgets are hitting homelessness services disproportionately. We have seen a fall in the number of beds that homeless shelters can offer.
I pay tribute to the work of my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey). Last year, he brought together a group of 100 people in the first ever young homeless people’s parliament. The Minister met that group in December last year. Although it is good that the Government have continued the initiative, I am sad to report that they did not do so on a cross-party basis, and we were not invited to the meeting earlier this week with young homeless people who came to Parliament to discuss their concerns. I hope that the Minister will implore his colleagues to organise the next meeting on a cross-party basis.
As the young people who came to Parliament last year demonstrated, vital services need to be brought together to help those at risk of homelessness, but other factors also contribute to homelessness. Hon. Members talked about the lack of homes in our country. The sad truth is that the Government are presiding over the lowest peacetime level of house building since the 1920s. We are not building even half the number of homes needed to keep up with demand. While home ownership is falling for the first time in more then a century, private rents are soaring, particularly in our big cities. In London, 59% of an average income is consumed by rent; outside London, the figure is 41%.
As many hon. Friends have pointed out, the loss of an assured shorthold tenancy is now one of the key drivers of homelessness; more than one in four households are accepted as homeless for that reason, and that number has tripled in the past three years. The Government said that they would introduce a tenants’ charter, but I worry that it will be a meaningless and toothless initiative if it does not deliver what we desperately need: longer-term, more stable tenancies, with predictable rents. The truth is that the 9 million people who live in the private rented sector are being let down by poor standards in the sector. It is the worst type of housing to be in, because, according to the English housing survey, one third of homes in the private rented sector do not meet even basic standards. Tenants will seldom complain to their landlord because it puts them at risk of eviction. We must redress the balance of power between the landlord, letting agents, and tenants. Tenants simply do not have the protections in law that they need; those protections that they do have are seldom enforced. The Government need to look at those issues seriously.
A Labour Government would tackle the cost of living crisis and the chronic shortage of housing. We have pledged to build 200,000 homes a year by 2020. We would scrap the cruel and unfair bedroom tax. We would freeze energy bills for millions of hard-pressed families. Crucially, we aim to reform and regulate the private rented sector to bring about more secure, longer-term tenancies, especially for families with children. We will introduce a national register of landlords; in fact, we had the measures in place to introduce such a register at the end of our time in office, but the current Government got rid of the plans within weeks of coming to power. We will empower local authorities to bring in licensing schemes across the private rented sector. At the moment, they have to jump through a lot of hoops to prove that a licensing scheme is needed and can introduce one only in a particular geographical area, or for a particular type of accommodation.
It is regrettable that the number of families in temporary bed-and-breakfast accommodation is rising. As the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) pointed out, the number of people sleeping on our streets is also on the increase. We know that the Minister is one of those Ministers who are willing to speak truth to power—there are not many. We heard him do so in recent weeks in a dramatic fashion, so I implore him to make demands of his Government to get a grip on the issue sooner rather than later. It is a tragedy that so many families with children are living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation over Christmas, and that so many people find themselves with no option other than to sleep on our streets.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. I hope you will forgive me if I am a little croaky in my speech; I am grateful for the amplification. I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) on securing this extremely important and sobering debate. We heard some truly harrowing stories from her most of all, but also from my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker).
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood, for taking a bit of time to talk about her constituent and her two daughters. I can only hope that Birmingham city council and the other organisations that she talked about will find a way to enable her constituent to find a secure home, so that her constituent does not have to think that she made a mistake in leaving a man who was violent towards her.
We also heard from a number of hon. Members about the vital role of charities, Churches and other voluntary groups. I might get some of the names wrong, because I was interpreting them at some speed, but we heard about SIFA Fireside in Birmingham, the Leonard Stocks centre in Torbay, the Wycombe Homeless Connection and Petrus in Rochdale. It is clear that all those organisations do vital work, which would be necessary however much money Government had to spend on programmes. Those organisations bring a personal touch, a commitment, whether from faith or general good will, and an innovative approach to helping often some of the most troubled people in our society.
In the relatively short time I have, I could run through the myriad initiatives and schemes that the Government have created to try to help sort out the problem of homelessness. I could talk about the gold standard scheme, the rough sleeping social impact bond, Homeless Link, the Homelessness Transition Fund, the Crisis private rented sector access development programme, the homelessness prevention grant, discretionary housing payments, the sanctuary scheme, the “Places of Change” programme, the “No Second Night Out” scheme and StreetLink. We all know that those schemes—all of which are valuable, important and well intentioned—are not the fundamental solution to the problem.
One of the most startling facts about homelessness over the past 10 or 20 years is that it was at its height when the economy was booming, and when Government spending was growing as fast as it has ever grown. Homelessness peaked in 2003-04; sadly, it only reached the level it is at now in 2008, just when the financial crash hit. Throughout a period when the economy was booming and public expenditure was growing, homelessness did not fall. It was only brought down to its current level in 2008. The devastating financial crash in 2008 has had economic and social ripples that will continue for years and decades to come, and one of those ripples has affected some people’s ability to afford to maintain their tenancies. We heard a lot about the rising importance of the ending of private sector tenancies in explaining the rise in homelessness.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and anticipates a point I want to make. We all accept that the fundamental solution to the underlying problem that produces homelessness and rough sleeping is simple to explain and very difficult to achieve. The solution is, as the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) mentioned, the consistent delivery of more housing of all kinds, all tenures, all numbers of bedrooms and in all parts of the country; the consistent delivery of more jobs that pay more than the minimum wage and are stable and secure; and a consistent need to do a better job than we have been doing in controlling immigration, particularly by those who do not have the means to support themselves in this country.
In winding up the debate—I am happy to take any particular questions that Members raised to my colleagues in the Department, if there is an answer or a meeting that they would like to have to follow up—I want to reflect on those fundamental solutions and why I believe, for all the difficult decisions that we are making on welfare reform and benefits, that the Government’s strategy is the only strategy that can successfully produce an economy that supports a society that does not allow homelessness to continue at its current rate.
Members have mentioned not only homeless hostels under threat, but women’s refuges. I often wonder why there is not a refuge or a hostel in every local authority area. Often, those refuges or hostels serve people from other local authority areas. Is there some mechanism that Government could use to ensure that the appropriate funding goes to refuges and hostels that serve wider areas, so that the burden does not fall just on that local authority?
If my hon. Friend will allow me, I will come back to him in writing on that question, which is important. He also made the important point on the possibility of ring-fencing the homelessness prevention grant. I will allow the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), to respond to that in an intelligent way, rather than make it up on the hoof.
Will the Minister take this opportunity to confirm what his predecessors said, which is that local authorities should, other than in exceptional circumstances, care for their own homeless locally in recognised local connections? Alternatively, does he think that local authorities should give their homeless to other councils to have to worry about?
It is clearly right that local authorities should do everything in their power to house people within their own boundaries, whether temporarily, if that is unfortunately the only possibility, or ultimately permanently. It is deeply regrettable that some authorities have found that they are not able to do that. We are constantly writing to them, speaking to them and putting pressure on them to ensure that they fulfil that duty, because it is clear and important.
Briefly, on the bigger argument, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East pointed out that we have been building far too few homes, not just recently, but over the past 20 years. We can all make political points about whether house building rate are lower than they were five years ago, but the fact is that we have had the most devastating financial crash and the deepest recession in 100 years. It is not surprising, at a time when several of our major banks had to be nationalised and others bailed out by the taxpayer, that the possibility of lending money to builders to build and to people to buy houses has become severely constrained, and that has led to a dramatic fall in house building.
The Government are utterly determined—I am utterly determined—to do everything we can to reform the planning system, the funding streams for mortgages and the lending for builders, to enable the rate of house building to increase. It is also clear that we need more housing of a tenure type and cost that makes it available to many of the people likely to be affected by homelessness. I simply point out that nobody’s record is perfect on this matter. The previous Government presided over a dramatic fall in the number of affordable houses available to people, and under this Government, the number has gone up. We have managed to build just less than 100,000 affordable houses in the three years that we have been in office, but that is not enough and we accept that. We hope that we will build 170,000 over the life of this Parliament. Are 170,000 houses enough to deal with the problems that we have, and the 20-year backlog in house building? No, they are not.
At the same time, however, we have created 1.5 million jobs, and I am sure that all hon. Members will accept that the long-term solution, to prevent more people falling into homelessness, and to help the people whom Members have all admirably mentioned, is to enable those people to get stable jobs that pay them more than the minimum wage, and ideally more than the living wage. That will enable them to hold down a tenancy, whether in social housing or private rented housing. That is the solution to the homelessness problem of our country.
Crowdfunding and the FCA
It came as a slightly early Christmas present to learn that I had managed to secure a debate on crowdfunding and crowdsourcing, and the implications for the Financial Conduct Authority’s current inquiry into the regulation, or the possible need for regulation, of crowdfunding.
I came to crowdfunding in a rather peculiar way. I kept hearing people talking about it, and I am a serial and committed social entrepreneur. In fact, the other day a journalist said that I must be one of the few MPs who own a church, a poet’s house and a pub, all through trusts, foundations or charities that I chair.
As I say, I am a social entrepreneur and social entrepreneurs always want money. I do not mind asking rich people, big corporations, trusts and foundations for money, but sometimes—especially since 2008—it has been harder raising money from those sources than it was before.
Increasingly, I heard about social impact investment and crowdfunding, so I decided that I needed some more information. I got in touch with the House of Commons Library, but the staff there said they had never heard of crowdfunding; it was the first time that the staff of the Library of this great House has ever said that it could not help me. I then tweeted about crowdfunding, and all sorts of interesting people pitched up in the House of Commons and started to educate me about it. We formed the Westminster crowdfunding forum, we have an all-party group on crowdfunding and non-banking finance, and suddenly we have what I think is the first debate on crowdfunding in Parliament; I am grateful that we have it.
What is so exciting about crowdfunding is that it gives power to the crowd—to ordinary people—to say that there is a problem in their community and that they can form a small group to head something up. They can form a community enterprise and they can fund it through the crowd on the internet, on a platform; there are now many platforms out there that enable crowdfunding. Some of them specialise in education, others in financing films and theatre, and others in community enterprises. However, that is only one side of crowdfunding.
For me, crowdfunding is one of the most vibrant, exciting and important industries to appear in the past decade. The possibilities of crowdfunding are endless, first because all of us know that most people who are entering employment in this country today will work for small and medium-sized enterprises. If we can have more and more SME start-ups and they can grow successfully, the country will be so much wealthier and so much more successful.
The fact is that start-ups have the most difficulty in getting money from the conventional banks. Very often, the banks have failed them, because start-ups have no track record and no history; consequently, banks are very cautious about lending money to them.
Crowdfunding enables and empowers people who want to start a business to do it in their own way, and to raise the money to do so. It often starts with friends and family, and then a wider range of people become excited about the enterprise and put a little bit of money in to help it start. The history of the last few years has been that many more businesses have started up successfully using crowdfunding and the new social media to reach out to a broader audience and involve them in a very interesting way.
Crowdfunding is the practice of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically via the internet. However, people become confused about what is crowdfunding and what is not. I will talk briefly about four kinds of crowdfunding.
First, there is equity crowdfunding. It is very simple indeed. Someone wants to start a business and they give a share in their business to someone else. It may be worth a fiver, or fifty quid, but it is usually only a small amount—an amount that I am sure you, Mr Chope, and I could afford to put into an enterprise that we believed in and that might make us money in the longer term. It is also possible for someone to invest in the little corner shop that they do not have in their village or community, or in a failing pub that the community wants to take over. There are lots of enterprises that crowdfunding can help.
However, there is the very interesting issue of starting businesses—private sector businesses. There is nothing wrong with starting businesses. As chairman of both the all-party group on manufacturing and the all-party group on management, I am a passionate supporter of well-managed enterprises and start-ups.
Equity is one way that crowdfunding works; someone can invest money in that way. However, it is also possible to borrow and lend money through the internet and crowdfunding; that is the second form of crowdfunding I want to discuss. Some people in the peer-to-peer lending area are a little cautious about being called part of the crowdfunding empire, but—in broader terms—they certainly pitch up to the Westminster crowdfunding forum. Such lending allows people to borrow money at very low rates of interest, and it also allows people to lend money at quite high rates of interest. People might think that is impossible, but the fact is that we have a system that gets rid of the intermediary. It is peer to peer—very direct. There is no big bank, with glass panels and marble halls, to go into, or a network of branches of banks, with all the people that have to be employed in them. There is a very simple relationship, and it means that the facility to lend and borrow money is made quite radically different.
Thirdly, there is rewards crowdfunding. That is the kind of crowdfunding that you, Mr Chope, and I might be most interested in; I realise that I am interpreting your wishes in saying so. Rewards crowdfunding means that someone asks someone else to help them with an enterprise, such as the John Clare Cottage Trust, which I am involved with and which is a national centre for learning outside the classroom. We run a campaign called every child’s right to the countryside. What we do to raise money is to ask people, “Will you adopt a school in less affluent area of the country, whose pupils would benefit from coming to the countryside and learning in the countryside for a day?” We look to crowdfund up to £500 to bring a whole school class to the countryside for a day. We can do that by offering rewards, because we not only give the reward of a day in the country to the pupil but—as we will do in the new year—we will give a limited edition of John Clare’s love poetry to those giving money. It is a collection of poems that were never published in his lifetime, because they were a little steamy for Victorians. We can give the reward of a limited edition, or free entry to the lovely John Clare poet’s house in Helpston, which is right next to Burghley house. So, with rewards crowdfunding, people do not get their money back, but they get the engagement, and the reward might be, at the bottom end, with a small amount of money, a mug or a tea-towel. Further up the scale, there are more substantial crowdfunding rewards.
Fourthly, there are donations. Mr Chope, you will know about the success of justgiving.com, which is estimated to have raised £3 billion for good causes, in direct donations. As I say, there are various types of crowdfunding, and I hope that I have educated those attending this Westminster Hall debate about them.
Crowdfunding gives all of us access to the money to make things happen. According to a recent report—published only this week—by the charity Nesta, Cambridge university and the university of California, Berkeley, the alternative finance sector raised £939 million in the UK in 2013. That is a hell of a lot of money, and it was up by 91% from the £492 million raised in 2012. The UK alternative finance market provided £332 million-worth of early stage growth and working capital to more than 3,700 start-ups and SMEs in the UK in 2013 alone. So this sector is not small beer; it is big and it is going to grow.
If we play it right, the UK is likely to become the centre of crowdfunding in the world, partly because the United States, in its haste to regulate crowdfunding, has, many argue, strangled the baby at birth. That is the truth; the US has overregulated and made it almost impossible, certainly for equity crowdfunding, to carry on.
Those of us who are passionate about crowdfunding want to make this appeal: whatever the Financial Conduct Authority does in regulation—it is currently consulting—it must get it right. We are not against all regulation, but it must be appropriate, and it must be quite soft regulation. It can be effective, but if we go down the US route, we will lose the opportunity to have one of the biggest growth sectors and most interesting phenomena of the modern economy.
The FCA should not present an obstacle to the growth of the sector. The criticism that I am getting is that if the FCA is not careful, it will take the “crowd” out of crowdfunding. I am not against the FCA. I was quoted in The Independent earlier this week or late last week as asking for a halt to the consultation process. I did not say that; I never spoke to the journalist in question, and I do not believe that. The consultation process is good, and we have certainly had a good face-to-face relationship with the FCA over many months; we just want to ensure that we get it right, and that is what this debate is partly about. We want to ensure that we do not make a mistake.
Certain language used by the FCA and people around it would I think horrify your constituents, Mr Chope, as it would mine. The FCA suggests that only “sophisticated” investors should have access to crowdfunding; in other words, those who have a relatively high net worth. The FCA’s consultation paper makes a distinction between retail and sophisticated investors. That kind of language makes me nervous, because it is insulting to ordinary people, suggesting that they do not know how best to invest a little bit of money.
My constituents can go down to a bookie’s, play fixed-odds betting, and lose thousands in a day. Those machines are dreadful things, and I have campaigned against them. My constituents can also go next door and borrow money at ruinous rates of interest from payday lenders. They can go online to gamble and, especially at Christmas, spend a lot of money that they do not really have. Why should ordinary people not be able to put a fiver, £10 or even £50—small amounts—in something that they think will grow?
I will give an example that might interest you, Mr Chope. A plethora of universities are now getting into crowdfunding. If your university is like mine, Mr Chope, the only time you hear from them is when they want some money. That angers a lot of people, because that is the only communication that they have with their alma mater; I am looking at the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) on that.
Crowdfunding allows universities such as the university of Huddersfield—university of the year last year and entrepreneurial university of the year the year before—to be able to have a crowdfunding relationship, so that when graduates and postgraduates come through, they can say, “Not only can we help you find the money for your start-up business, our first port of call is our alumni, who might want to invest back in a new generation of entrepreneurs coming out of their university.” There is so much excitement here.
There is a common-sensical way of having regulation that does not cause damage. I want to make it clear today that there has been a good dialogue with the FCA. I hope that it is listening to what we are saying. I also hope that the Treasury, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and all the other people in government who know about the issue will learn about it and realise the enormous potential for growth in the British economy.
Crowdfunding can bring communities back to life. Political parties have hardly any membership. There are low levels of voting in general and local elections. Here is something through the social media—look at 38 Degrees and its achievements—that will reinvigorate our communities, grow them and make them wealthier, and will be a new way of funding social and economic activity in our country.
Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr Chope. I will try to be brief. I congratulate the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) on securing this important debate. I also pay tribute to my noble Friend Baroness Susan Kramer, who did a lot of work in this area before her elevation to a ministerial role, which has somewhat curtailed it.
The sector is huge; we can read about just how big it is in the excellent “The Rise of Future Finance: The UK Alternative Finance Benchmarking Report”. I am delighted that Cambridge was able to play a part in that; £939 million is a large sum of money. The sector is also incredibly varied. In my constituency, for example, SyndicateRoom is doing equity crowdfunding, and the Future Business Centre is using social impact bonds to build an entire building for social enterprises. RealVNC, a software company, was set up though merchandising; it sold products with its logo on to get the money to build a better product. There is also Frontier Developments and its game, “Elite: Dangerous”. Those are all crowdfunded. The area is so varied that there is a huge challenge for regulation.
The sector must be regulated to avoid problems—none of us wants to hear the story of the granny who loses all her savings on something like that—but we must ensure that the regulation is not disproportionate. We must ensure that we have principles regulation, not firm tracks that lock everyone down and kill off the excitement, as the hon. Member for Huddersfield said. That is my aim.
The Government are supportive; I will finish with a quote from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills in response to the excellent benchmarking report, “The Rise of Future Finance”:
“Alternative finance is playing an increasingly important role in helping businesses access the finance they need to grow and contribute to the economy.”
Let us ensure that that can continue.
Welcome to the Chair, Mr Chope. I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) on securing this debate, and on the important work that he does as chair of the Westminster crowdfunding forum. I share his enthusiasm for crowdfunding and the peer-to-peer alternative funding platforms that he mentioned. I cannot think of a single thing he said that I disagree with; it is quite rare for me to say that to him. I say that not in a spirit of good will because it is close to Christmas, but because I thought he talked a lot of common sense. Clearly, he knows a lot about the issue, and I hope that he stays involved in it for a long time to come—it sounds like he will—because I think he can add great value to this area.
Small and medium-sized enterprises are a vital part of the UK economy and contribute significantly to economic growth, as we have just heard. In particular, access to finance is important to ensure that businesses reach their full potential. At times when there are greater constraints on credit, alternative finance markets, including crowdfunding, become even more crucial. That is why crowdfunding, though it may be a relatively new industry, is growing quickly.
May I draw the Minister’s attention to a donation-based crowdfunded organisation called Turning Earth in my constituency? It raised more than £13,000 through Crowdfunder and sells work spaces and classes in pottery. It says that, critically, the money levers in other money, because there is confidence in the community that the organisation will work. Does that not do something to tackle the asymmetry of banks, which are frankly letting down small businesses, and the challenge of funding small businesses?
The hon. Lady is right. There are examples of banks letting down small businesses. That shows the power of crowdfunding. I had not heard of Turning Earth before, but I am glad that she has brought it to my attention. I will take more interest in it now. If I heard her correctly, she mentioned that it has already raised £13 million—[Interruption.] Oh, £13,000. Well, that is an excellent start. There is great growth potential in that number.
Over the past two years, in total, more than £700 million has been lent through peer-to-peer platforms. There has been a 600% increase in equity platforms between 2012 and 2013, raising approximately £28 million this year. There has been significant growth in debt-based security platforms of more than 370% in a year, raising almost £26 million over the past three years.
The crowdfunding market has huge potential to expand much further, and the UK has a strong global position in crowdfunding investment. Like the hon. Member for Huddersfield, I am keen to ensure that we maintain and grow that position. As such, the Government have taken a number of steps to support this burgeoning industry. We have invested £30 million in peer-to-peer platforms through the business finance partnership: £20 million has been provided to Funding Circle, which facilitates loans to small businesses, and £10 million has been provided to Zopa, which has facilitated £432 million of lending since its launch in 2005.
Our generous tax reliefs, granted through the seed enterprise investment scheme, are widely used by equity platforms. Some platforms have reported that 80% of investors are using that scheme, which provides an important incentive for investors to invest in smaller, perhaps riskier businesses, allowing them to grow.
One of the FCA’s considerations is separating the sector into debt crowdfunding and equity crowdfunding. I represent Seedrs, which is based in Shoreditch and does a great deal of good work in this area. The sector is very diverse, so will the Minister comment on whether the Government desire to keep that diversity while ensuring that there is regulation, without making false divides and pigeonholing the diverse crowdfunding industry into the categories of debt, equity or, indeed, donations? Donations are not within the FCA’s remit at the moment.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I am just about to address regulation; that might help to answer her question. This is also a good opportunity to pay credit to Shoreditch as an area that is heavily involved in crowdfunding. It is a growing space, and I would like to see it continue to grow.
We listened to the peer-to-peer side of the industry when it asked about regulation. We are working with the FCA to regulate that side of the industry and develop a proportionate framework. The framework has been well received by the peer-to-peer industry. Although the equity and debt security side of the crowdfunding market is already captured by some regulation, it is keen for a more tailored framework. The platforms’ view is that regulation provides them with credibility and helps to attract investors. They actively lobbied the FCA for inclusion in the consultation, and we supported them to achieve that goal.
Although we recognise the importance of regulation for the industry at the request of the platforms, it is essential that regulation be proportionate, as all hon. Members have said, if we are to ensure that it does not stifle the market’s growth. The Government therefore continue to work with the platforms and the FCA to ensure that the optimum framework is implemented—a framework that satisfies the industry, provides increased certainty to investors, and enables the crowdfunding industry to continue on its upward trajectory.
Before I close, I would like to say that having proportionate regulation is also key to ensuring that there are no unnecessary barriers to entering the industry. One of the industry’s successes over the past few years has been the very light barriers to entry. The Government and the regulator are keen to ensure that we have regulation that is proportionate enough to achieve the objective of protecting consumers, both borrowers and lenders, without creating barriers to entry that make the industry grow at a slower pace or stifle growth.
I welcome the Minister’s comments, because some years ago I called for regulation, but not to such an extent that it might put people off. Perhaps he can write to us if he does not have this information. NANA in my constituency is a café run by older women that was funded through donations on Kickstarter. Nana is located in former toilets on Chatsworth road in Homerton, and people fund it by buying a tea towel or donating a cheque. At the moment, the FCA is not considering the regulation of that sector. Does the Minister have any information on whether regulation of the donation sector will at any point be considered by the FCA or the Government?
Will the Minister do some missionary work with his colleagues? This is a cross-departmental issue, and one does worry. The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills is well apprised of the issue, and we have met him. We want a better relationship with the Treasury team, because people are having to think about this business of investing only 10% of their portfolio. Most people who invest, or who will potentially invest, in crowdfunding would have no idea what a portfolio was if it jumped up and bit them. Every time I complain about “sophisticated” investors, the FCA and other people say, “Well, it’s part of the literature.” It is demeaning to say that people can do something only if they have a certain net worth and if they are a “sophisticated” investor. I do not mind “experienced” or another term, but “sophisticated” upsets many people in crowdfunding.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, and if there are too many barriers to investment, it could stifle growth. I have relayed my concerns to the FCA. As we have heard, one of the consultations has just closed, and the other is about to close. I believe that we will get a report from the FCA by February. He makes an important point.
Last week, here in Parliament, we hosted the founder of Indiegogo, which is a pioneer. Is it not interesting that bright, talented women are coming into crowdfunding because there are fewer barriers? Many sites are run by people such as Karen Darby. The sites are successfully changing the world, but they are also giving women an opportunity to use their talent, when, in some areas, they do not yet have that opportunity.
The hon. Gentleman again points out one of the successes of this growing industry. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) that more young people are involved in the industry and, in some cases, are perhaps finding it an easier platform than banks for raising money.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Huddersfield again on securing this debate. I reassure him and all other hon. Members that we would like to encourage the growth of this industry.
Hospices (Children and Young People)
[Sandra Osborne in the Chair]
It is nice to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Osborne. I am pleased to have secured the debate on an issue that is important for me personally.
I have mentioned on a number of occasions that it was my privilege to work in the hospice movement for some 16 years, mostly in the children’s hospice movement. Although being elected to this place was one of the proudest days of my life, it was tinged with a little sadness, because it meant that I had to leave Martin House children’s hospice. Through my time there and at Hope House children’s hospice, I got to see and hear at first hand the incredible stories of so many children, young people and their families. I got to witness people offering care and support not only because it was their job, but because they cared passionately about the families they were caring for. I got to see some remarkable courage and resilience on the part of children and of families living with the constant prospect that their child would not live into adulthood.
Many of my friends often said that they could not understand how I could work in such a place. Their perception was that a children’s hospice was a depressing place, filled with sadness and despair. For someone who walks into any children’s hospice in this country, however, that preconceived idea simply disappears. Of course there are sad days, when a child has deteriorated or come to the end of their life, and there are moments of pain, but for the most part it is rare to visit a children’s hospice and not to hear the sound of music in the background and children laughing, and an atmosphere of warmth and support, not to mention the wonderful smell of cooking and baking by the volunteers.
Martin House hospice is not only the hospice that I worked at, but it serves the children in my constituency. When it opened its doors for the first time some 25 years ago, it was only the second children’s hospice in the UK and it served most of the country. As time moved on and more hospices were built, so its catchment area changed. Today, Martin House offers practical help and support through a range of services to some 400 children and their families. That is the critical bit: it is not only about caring for the child.
When I spoke to many of the families, they would try to describe their feelings on learning that their child was going to have a short life. The most memorable reply that I ever heard was from someone who described it as the loss of hopes and dreams. At the birth of their child, they had dreamt about the child’s first steps, first words and first day at school, about the child going to university, getting married and eventually having children of their own. The family said that they had to make new dreams when they realised that their child would not be able to do those things. Martin House was there to do just that: to help them to build a life for their child.
The hospice offers a host of services that have developed over 25 years through knowledge, experience and listening. The impact on a family in which there is a child or young person with a life-limiting illness is difficult to imagine, but Martin House—like all hospices around the country—is committed to being alongside the children and their families. Such close work has helped Martin House to develop and fine tune what it has to offer, providing truly family-led care and support. The ongoing day-to-day care of a child with a life-limiting illness, which may go on for a number of years, can be a physical and emotional strain on the whole family. Martin House shares that care with them, and it can take various different forms from symptom control, through emergency and respite care to terminal care.
Respite care offers the opportunity for a short stay to give the family a break. I spoke to one father who said that if he got up eight times in the night he would consider it a good night’s sleep. His daughter was eight years old at the time. Imagine doing that for more than eight years—it is no wonder that they need respite and support. Sometimes they may all stay together as a family, or sometimes they leave the child at the hospice, but it is an opportunity for them to recharge their batteries. Many a time I saw them looking exhausted when they arrived on a Friday, but was pleased to see them looking much more relaxed on Monday morning after a weekend of not having to think about feeding the child, doing the ironing, washing or cooking—all of that was taken care of by the wonderful staff.
Emergency support is there for when the families hit those everyday problems that we all experience. If a relative falls sick or there is a problem at home, it is difficult enough for us to deal with, but for someone with a child with a life-limiting illness such things are much harder. Knowing that there is someone at the end of a line, in a hospice, who is able to help is a great relief.
We must also think about the terminal care. No one really wants to think about a child or young person dying, but to be able to think about or, where possible, plan for that time is something that those care teams do with great skill and compassion.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Does he share my admiration for the way in which staff deal with parents, such as at my own local children’s hospice, Haven House, which serves the young people of my constituency in that terrible situation. The care, the passion and the compassion that they show to the parents enables them to deal with something that, in honesty, no parent would want or should ever have to deal with.
I certainly agree. I got to know Haven House through my time working in various hospices. It and the other hospices do tremendous care—even at the most difficult and challenging times, they manage to do it with a great sense of dignity, which we should all be proud of.
Ensuring that the families are supported through the most difficult period is paramount, but also beyond that, through bereavement support. What is good about many of the hospices, Martin House included, is that the services are offered not only at the hospice, but in the family home, to ensure that as much as can be done is being done. The first head of care at Martin House was an inspirational lady called Lenore Hill. I remember that her phrase to the families was: “The answer is yes; now, what is question?” Such a philosophy is what makes the hospices so wonderful.
Time has gone on and medical advances have been achieved, so many of the children are now living longer. For example, when I joined Hope House children’s hospice in Oswestry, boys suffering from Duchenne muscular dystrophy would invariably live to about 18. By the time I left Martin House, however, some 14 years later, some sufferers were living into their mid- and late 20s. Naturally, that is good and wonderful news, but it presents new problems.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s dedication and loyalty to the hospice movement over 16 years and for representing the movement today in Parliament. He mentioned Hope House. Will he join me in paying tribute to all the volunteers and staff at Hope House in Shropshire and at the Severn hospice, which my hon. Friend also knows? They do such a great job week in, week out.
I will give way in a moment, but I must deal with the previous intervention first. Hope House deals with the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard), as well as with the Welsh area through Ty Gobaith, so I will also take an intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies).
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene. I, too, want to laud the services from Hope House, which serves most of my constituency. Will he also accept how important it is to have a good relationship across the border between England and Wales? So many services simply fall apart because of the border, but at least it does not for this particular service, because of the activities of Hope House.
That is absolutely right. A lot of lessons can be learned from the hospice movement on providing care, because what matters at the end of the day is the children and the families—they should be able to access services as easily as possible.
I was talking about the youngsters living longer, but the hospice environment was generally geared towards young children. It started to become less appropriate or even desirable for young adults to go into the same building. The trustees at Martin House took the brave decision to build a new, separate teenage unit in the grounds. Through generous public donations, Whitby Lodge opened its doors in 2002, the first hospice of its kind in the United Kingdom. It has been a huge success, and is being replicated around the country, because young adults get to behave just like that: as young adults. The conversation is more appropriate to their age, and they can share and talk openly about their own needs, fears and hopes. As a result, the care team can learn more about the young people and help them where they can with their particular ambitions. While I was based at Martin House, a number of young people went to university, encouraged by the care team. The team also tried to help those young people when they were going through the transition from child care to adult social care.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the important and passionate case that he is making for children’s hospices. As he has pointed out, people are now living much longer with complex conditions, so transition is a key area. Does he welcome the work that Acorns children’s hospice is doing with the Help the Hospices movement to design better pathways for transition?
Absolutely. I will talk in a little more detail about transition later. The Care Bill had its Second Reading on Monday, and I raised specific points about transition during that debate, because it is a big issue for many of those young people.
The conversations those young people had were very moving. I will never forget one particular young man. We were recording a promotional video to show to health professionals and as a fundraising tool, and we asked the young people at the hospice to say what it meant to them. The head of care was interviewing them, so that they were with somebody they knew and felt as comfortable as possible; she asked that young man, “What is the most difficult thing about your condition?” He considered the question for a moment, and what he said had a profound effect on me. He said: “Falling in love.” At that moment, it hit me that despite their physical limitations or their conditions these are still young people, with all the same feelings and hopes that we all experience. He wondered if anybody would ever love somebody who was, as he put it, “Like him.”
That local experience at Martin House is but one piece in a huge jigsaw. Support and palliative care do not come only through hospices such as Martin House, Hope House or the others that have been mentioned. I want to cover three areas: NHS funding for children’s palliative care; short breaks; and support with mobility for children under three.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. Two organisations that help hospices and the hospice movement throughout the country are the National Council for Palliative Care and the Help the Hospices movement, which has already been mentioned. Both ensure that the high standards that all hospices aspire to and achieve are maintained through mutual good practice and the sharing of experience. Does he agree that those organisations give superb support not just to Martin House, which he has mentioned, but to St Gemma’s in my constituency and all the other hospices that hon. Members have mentioned?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Those umbrella organisations help to share best practice, and it is through them that the hospice movement has grown so significantly. The movement is something that we can be proud of worldwide: we now have visitors from all over the world coming to our hospices to see how it is done—and, frankly, it is done brilliantly.
As I was saying, the national picture is much bigger. There are some 49,000 children and young people in the UK living with a life-limiting or life-threatening illness that means that they need palliative care. There are some wonderful and committed professionals providing that care in some inspirational places—not just in hospices, but in the family home, in hospitals and in community settings. Families with children with life-limiting illnesses are some of the people most in need in the UK, but many are still not getting the help and support that they require. Although services offer a day-to-day lifeline to families, many of the challenges that they face can be addressed only by changes to policy, both nationally and locally.
In November, I was proud to co-host a reception in Parliament for Together for Short Lives, the UK charity that supports all children with life-limiting illnesses. At that event, the charity launched its policy priorities for the next Parliament. During the reception, the audience heard from Lucy Watts, who is 20 years old. Lucy described the impact that her condition has on her life, the care that she receives and the needs of young people like her. She became ill at 14, and was diagnosed just after her 15th birthday. Lucy is fed straight into her bloodstream, via a central line, and can sit up only for up to five hours a day. She is wheelchair-bound, but has to spend the majority of her time in bed. Speaking about the gap in services for young people with palliative care needs, she said that
“what has been forgotten is that in between children’s and adults, there are the young adults. We deserve the same recognition and distinction as children’s and adult services, but it’s barely recognised. There is the transition period, but young adult care goes beyond transitioning from children’s services to adult services. As a result, the transition can be a huge leap, too many changes too soon without factoring in the needs of people who are not children, but not mature adults yet either.”
That is a powerful quote from that young lady.
Making sure that the right children’s palliative care services are available, in the right place, at the right time, is crucial. Those services should cover the whole spectrum of care, including short breaks for children and families. Commissioned and delivered effectively, children’s palliative care can play a cost-effective role in supporting early discharge for children from acute care settings through step-down care. It can also help to reduce unplanned admissions among children to acute care settings. A Government-commissioned funding review has highlighted that hospital admissions in the last year of life for children who need palliative care can cost an estimated £18.2 million. That far outweighs the cost of providing palliative care to children outside the hospital setting.
Research has also shown that short breaks provided by children’s hospices, which often include health care interventions, help to reduce stress on families and demand on public services. Children’s palliative care services, including children’s hospices, must be funded fairly and sustainably. Families need to know that their local services will continue to be able to provide the care that they need—an issue that was reflected in the 2010 coalition agreement.
I pay tribute to my field within the hospice movement: the wonderful fundraisers, who raise millions and millions of pounds for hospices. My job as head of fundraising was made much easier by the dedication of many volunteers and supporters. We had to raise over £4 million a year to run the hospice, and somehow—I do not know how—those volunteers managed to do that year in, year out.
I am grateful to be able to contribute to this debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) mentioned Acorns, the hospice that serves our community. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) agree that volunteers do an amazing job, and that the NHS could learn a great deal from how we run our hospices?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. He is making an incredibly powerful speech. We know how important fundraising is to the hospice movement. In my constituency, I have been working on and fundraising for Martin House’s “good night’s sleep” appeal, which is sponsored by BBC Radio York. It aims to provide the respite care that parents need—an issue that my hon. Friend touched on at the beginning of his speech. Will he join me in expressing his support for that appeal?
Absolutely. I gave an interview to BBC Radio York this morning, and assured the people involved that we would get a mention of their fundraising efforts into this debate. My hon. Friend has managed to do that, and I am extremely grateful to him for ticking that box for me.
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. He is making a powerful point about funding. Demand for beds at Little Harbour, run by the Children’s Hospice South West in my constituency, has doubled recently. Since 2006, we have seen a 30% increase in NHS funding, but only a 10% increase in hospice funding. Does he agree that the balance needs to be redressed, and that we need to do our bit to make sure that hospices have the funds that they need?
Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes a valid point, and brings me on to the issue of funding from NHS England. Children’s palliative care is commissioned by the NHS using two separate methods. The first is through NHS England specialised commissioning. The care is commissioned directly by NHS England, and covers functions such as prescribing unlicensed medicines and managing complex symptoms. NHS England has published a specification for specialised children’s palliative care services, which came into force in October.
The second means of commissioning is through clinical commissioning groups, which should commission the more general aspects of children’s palliative care. There is confusion among some CCGs about which elements they should commission. I hope that the Minister will provide the answers, today or later, to ensure that the CCGs know that they are responsible for commissioning children’s general palliative care and know what that should be.
Overall, statutory funding for children’s palliative care in England is patchy and inconsistent. For example, local NHS commissioners contribute an average of only 13% to the care costs of children’s hospices. However, that masks significant variation. Three hospices in England receive no local funding from their NHS commissioners, and three organisations account for one third of their total income. The Government currently provide a central grant of more than £10 million through NHS England to address the shortfall, and they have committed to introducing a new per-patient funding system for children’s hospices as part of the coalition agreement.
The umbrella organisation, Together for Short Lives, shares the aspiration and vision for a transparent funding system that is fair to all sectors, and it is supporting NHS England to develop it. However, there is growing concern in the children’s palliative care sector about whether an NHS tariff will deliver a more sustainable future, and how practical it will be to implement. I have a couple of questions for the Minister. Will she set out an implementation and commissioning plan for the tariff, including a commitment to consult on the detail and fully test the tariff? Will she commit to a simple tariff that includes the central elements of children’s palliative care, including short breaks when there is an assessed need?
Many families rely on short breaks to recharge their batteries and spend time together. However, not all of them can access such breaks, because commissioners do not always commission them appropriately. Children’s hospices receive less than 2% of their care costs from local authorities, despite £800 million being available to fund short breaks. Half of children’s hospices receive no funding from their local authority. Will the Minister ensure that local authorities ring-fence money allocated to them for short breaks, and audit local authority spending on them, to ensure that as many families as possible are able to have them?
I am conscious that time is passing, and I am sure that other hon. Members want to make a contribution, so I will write to the Minister about the final point I wanted to talk about—mobility. Children’s hospices in the UK are a beacon of a decent and civil society. People in other countries look to them with awe and admiration. They do truly amazing and innovative work, and always strive to make the best of short and difficult times. There is a wonderful saying in the hospice movement: “While we cannot add days to their lives, we can add life to their days.” It is no exaggeration to say that my outlook on life changed significantly through working in the hospice movement. My opponents in my constituency referred to me in their leaflets a couple of times as “our ever-smiling MP”. After what I have witnessed and been inspired by, I am pleased by that remark. All the families have been determined to enjoy life, and I think how lucky I am.
I would like to finish with the words of Lucy Watts, the young lady I mentioned earlier, who movingly said:
“Quality of life is of the utmost importance when you have a life-limiting illness, as you want to be able to enjoy the time you have left. Although our bodies might be dying, our minds and spirits are fighting to live. I'm still a young person with wants, needs, hopes and dreams. I want to have fun and enjoy myself, do things people my age normally do, and I have plans and goals for the future.”
I hope that we as a country and as a Parliament can help her to fulfil those dreams.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) on securing this debate. I will try to keep my contribution as short as possible as other hon. Members want to speak. First, I think it right and proper to say a few words about Bluebell Wood children’s hospice in North Anston in my constituency. It is in 6.5 acres of land that was regenerated after closure of the local coal mine, and has its own exclusive access road. Its highly specialised care team look after children with a vast range of complex medical needs and support the whole family on their life journey, offering short respite breaks, day care provision, community support, crisis intervention and end-of-life treatment and care.
Families often come to Bluebell Wood hospice exhausted after caring for a child with a life-limiting condition requiring 24-hour, seven days a week care. It is there to help, and offers respite care to the whole family and gives them the opportunity to spend quality time together knowing their child is in safe hands. It gives families the chance to recharge their batteries and to come and go as they wish. It is a relaxed, fun and happy place to be, where brothers, sisters, mums and dads can enjoy the fun and games. Its motto is “living with love and laughter”.
The hospice provides eight beautifully appointed bedrooms for children and young people as well as accommodation for families. It also has two end-of-life suites, “Primrose” and “Forget-Me-Not”, which are self-contained accommodation suites where parents can stay after their child has passed away. The deceased child can stay in a special adjoining room to be close to them. They can stay until the funeral, giving family and friends the opportunity to visit at any time. The staff are also on hand to help the family with any funeral arrangements if necessary.
The hospice boasts a music room, messy play room, sensory room, cinema room, soft play area, teenage room and Jacuzzi. It is surrounded by beautiful and tranquil gardens, including a dragonfly remembrance garden, which was built by Alan Titchmarsh and was featured on his ITV programme, “Love Your Garden”. It offers care and support for children and young people with a shortened life expectancy, both in their own homes and at the hospice. There are only 43 children’s hospices in the country and Bluebell Wood cares for more than 170 children from south Yorkshire, north Derbyshire, north Nottinghamshire and parts of north Lincolnshire.
Fundraising for the hospice started in 1998 after the death of an 11-year old boy, Richard Cooper, who had a rare degenerative disease and longed for care and support outside a hospital environment. The charity was established, and community support to build a children’s hospice in south Yorkshire was quickly forthcoming. After a lot of fundraising and working with families in the community for two years, Bluebell Wood children’s hospice proudly opened its doors to children with life-limiting conditions on 19 September 2008.
I would like to pay my own tribute to Bluebell Wood, as well as Martin House, both of which I know. Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways in which all hon. Members here can help to support the hospice movement—as he and the hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) have done—is to come and support the all-party group on hospice and palliative care, which meets regularly in this place, at least every three months, and brings together professionals from hospices all over the country? Will he please endorse the request to attend those meetings and support the all-party group?
I am a member of the all-party group—indeed, I am an advocate of all-party groups—and I believe that bringing together professional people from the hospice movement leads to advancement and educates us about what is happening out there in the real world.
Bluebell Wood has 90 employees, including the care team and administrative staff, and currently more than 350 active volunteers. The hospice and I are extremely proud of them. It would not be the place it is today without them. They work on reception and in the kitchen, they help with the housekeeping and administration, they dig the gardens, paint rooms and help in the shops, to name but a few tasks they carry out. The hospice has eight shops in the surrounding region which raise funds. They are based throughout south Yorkshire, and there is also one over in Derbyshire, in Bakewell. I want to point out to the Minister that it costs more than £3 million for Bluebell Wood.
I join in congratulating the hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) on securing this important debate. Would the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron) allow me to offer my thanks and support, on behalf of my constituents, to the Northern Ireland children’s hospice, which looks after 600 life-limited children and young people, and to the volunteers and staff there? The recent announcement by the Minister of Health in Northern Ireland to allocate £2.3 million towards the hospice movement, including the adult hospice in my constituency, has proved an enormous boost to all those involved in looking after the terminally ill in Northern Ireland.
The right hon. Gentleman makes his case very well. As I was saying, Bluebell Wood costs £3 million a year. I notice that my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) is in the Chamber today; she was the chief executive at Bluebell Wood hospice until what I think I could call her “elevation” to become the hon. Member for Rotherham just over 12 months ago—I see that she is not too sure about that phrase. Bluebell Wood costs £3 million a year and as we know, adult hospices in England receive an average of about 34% of their funding from Government. Children’s hospices typically receive much less Government funding—somewhere in the region of 15% of their running costs—although some get next to nothing, and I have to say that Bluebell Wood falls into that category. It receives 5% of its funding from Government and, were it not for the volunteers, the rest of it would not be there at all. It certainly would not be in the shape that it is now, providing that vital service, not only in the hospice itself, but at home.
In the summer of 2010, the Government set up a review of palliative care funding and in July 2011, they published a report, which I recognise stated that there is
“a stunning lack of good data…for palliative care in England.”
I know that finding a tariff, finding out the right costs and what should be paid is very difficult, but the national health service is, far too often, taking decisions without evidence. I see a need for that evidence to be collected.
Pilot sites were offered in November 2011, and I do not know how many sites were set up in March 2012. Can the Minister say when those pilots are likely to have enough good data that we are able to take real decisions about how the NHS, although it should not take over hospices such as Bluebell Wood, should perhaps contribute a bit more to the vital care that those children, young adults and families receive in hospices?
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) on securing the debate. He has covered much of what many Members would say. There are 49 hospices in the United Kingdom, so there will be probably be 49 interventions and press releases.
I need to declare an interest, as I shall focus on Shooting Star CHASE, which is a fantastic organisation that serves south-west London, west London, Surrey and West Sussex. My interest in it is that I have a family member deeply involved in it. I am stunned—merely going on to the website is such an education. It looks after 600 families in the area, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. The basic cost is £23,000 a day, because it is not just about what is done at its hospices. They are out helping the families and so on. They are working outside, right across the board in the area—in the homes and in the various organisations outside that support them. I shall focus, because everybody is hankering to get in, only on some of its costs.
At the moment, Shooting Star CHASE does not appear, from my research, to receive any money apart from charitable funding and from the Government. As has been mentioned, NHS England provides £10.7 million, which is shared among 49 organisations, but that money has remained the same since 2007. Shooting Star CHASE receives £630,000 a year for its programme. A quick back-of-the-envelope or iPhone calculation will indicate that huge amounts of money have to be found over and above that. It is vital not only that that money is there, but that it gets charitable backing.
As has been mentioned, it is not unreasonable that the coalition Government have decided that they want to review how all hospices—by that, I mean adult and children’s hospices—are funded by the state. As has been mentioned, the review was launched in 2010. The aim was to produce a new per-patient funding system. NHS England, as I understand it, has set up a series of pilots across children’s and adult’s hospices to collect the data so that the tariff can be developed. I get the impression that the children’s hospice movement agrees that a consistent and rational method is needed. We are still waiting for that—it has been three and a half years to date.
Staying with that development, it is perhaps worth emphasising how I see it, as someone who has worked in the national health service in dentistry. I have watched review after review, and I have seen how they have become more complicated and more difficult for organisations, such as those hospices, to understand. It is absolutely vital that the resulting method of funding is not complex, nor should it be—as is classic with the national health service—over-bureaucratic. An adequate process for transitional funding is also necessary, because the new funding method will undoubtedly bring in changes and shifts, with dips and rises in funding.
I am sure that the Minister in her heart of hearts will agree, even if she cannot say so, that funding has not been increased since 2007, and that we need to recognise inflation and the changes in service that many such organisations have made. A tapering increase in funding could perhaps reflect inflation and even the increase in service delivery.
In terms of the new scheme, it is vital that there is no sharp change—I mean positively rather than negatively; I hope that there will not be any negative changes. With any changes, we need a commitment to transitional funding, so that there are no sharp bumps in the funding. It is progressive—these organisations are looking after children over a long period and any sharp bump would mean a dramatic change.
Let me go to my back-of-the-envelope calculation. This one small, two-unit facility, plus all the group’s work outside, gets £630,000 from NHS England. That is vital. Three hundred and sixty-five days at £23,000 a day comes to about £8.4 million. This Government, the previous Government and future Governments must be thankful that they are not being landed with the full bill. It is vital that we recognise that we should move with the times, that we should give people results, and bring in the transitional funding to buffer them, as well as having a system of funding that is sensible, non-bureaucratic and easily understood—soon.
It is a pleasure to say a few words in relation to this topic. I thank the hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew)—his constituency is wonderfully named—for his contribution. It summed up and set the scene for how we all feel about the matter. We thank him for his compassion and knowledge on the issue; it was a real pleasure.
Whenever I think of this issue, I think of Northern Ireland Hospice and its good work, and of all the other hospices throughout the United Kingdom, which other Members have spoken about, and of the scourge of cancer and specifically how it affects young people. Yesterday we had a debate on rare diseases. Perhaps the two debates could have been merged together—one on rare diseases and palliative care—because they very much go hand in hand.
As well as praising the hospices, I would also like to mention the Macmillan nurses, who, in many cases, make life just that wee bit easier for the families and those concerned. I pay special credit and thanks to those caring men and women who manage to make life that little bit less stressful for those suffering from cancer and for their families.
I, too, thank the hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) for securing the debate, and there is also a hospice—the Donna Louise children’s hospice—in my constituency, which does marvellous work. Will the hon. Gentleman join me in commending the caring professionals, whether volunteers or paid staff, who will be working in hospices over Christmas and new year, caring for people in often difficult, if not tragic, circumstances?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I do join him in commending them, as does everyone inside and outside the House. We recognise the tremendous work they do—they are on call at all times. I sometimes wonder how they handle the sadness and emotion they have to confront each and every day as part of their vocation.
Northern Ireland Hospice is committed to fostering, encouraging and supporting a quality research culture internally, regionally, nationally and internationally, and it is known for the high level and quality of care it gives. My right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds), who has just left, referred to the Northern Ireland Assembly Health Minister’s commitment to contribute £2.3 million to hospices, and that commitment by elected representatives shows the appreciation of what hospices do.
It is essential that those receiving end-of-life care have the best care available and are made as comfortable as they can be in their last days. It is also essential, as the hon. Member for Pudsey said, that the family have all the information they need, whether that is in a hospice setting, the patient’s home or through a palliative care package—those are the three areas that have to be looked at.
Some 49,000 young children in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland live with a life-limiting or life-threatening condition and need palliative care. There are inspirational professionals working alongside them in their family homes, hospitals, community settings and hospices across the United Kingdom.
It is horrifying to think that if we had more children’s hospices, they would be filled, because the need continues to grow. Every time we find a drug that works against a strain of cancer, for example, a resistant strain appears. For that reason, it is essential we put money into not simply hospices and nurses, but research, and I am convinced the Minister will take the issue of research on board in her response.
I recently read a report stating there is a real danger that palliative care and palliative medicine will be the least evidence-based subjects in medicine in a few years’ time unless vastly more research is done. While palliative care is vital, research is equally important, so perhaps the Minister can give us some thoughts on that.
I hope we are all blessed with young children and grandchildren who are bubbly and full of life, but some families are not. Those families have to live with a child who is ill, and it is tremendously heartbreaking to acknowledge that. Before yesterday’s debate on rare diseases, the Teenage Cancer Trust sent us some information saying that 30% of children with life-threatening diseases will die before they reach the age of five. Again, that puts things in perspective.
Macmillan nurses told me that the sufferer’s mood is affected by their family. If the parents are content and relaxed, the child is likely to reflect that. This is about the family and everyone involved. It is also about the day trips and the residentials, which the hon. Member for Pudsey referred to.
We have fantastic charities, such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, that help children with terminal illnesses live a dream. However, that in no way absolves us, as MPs, from our responsibilities to the families, and nor does it absolve the Government or the regional Assemblies from theirs.
Together for Short Lives has also highlighted an issue to me. Will short breaks for children who need palliative care be fairly and sustainably funded from ring-fenced funding allocated to local authorities for short breaks? We look forward to the Minister’s answer, and I trust it will be yes.
Another issue highlighted to me was benefits for families. As soon as the child is taken to the next scene of life—as soon as they leave this life—the parents are left to deal with their grief and their debt. Sometimes, handling the first overrides handling the second. There must be some leeway over cutting off benefits, so that the family has time to realise their financial situation and handle it accordingly. The Minister does not have direct responsibility for the benefits system, but will she say how we can help families get through the switchover at a time when grief is the ultimate driver of where they are? What can we do to ensure that they are entitled to time off and that their benefits are reduced gradually?
On the point about families, no parents separated as a result of the death of their child in the four years I was at Bluebell Wood, whereas the average in the country is 50%. Hospices are also very good at helping families to secure benefits and housing and to deal with their grief. The hospices therefore give holistic care.
I thank the hon. Lady for contributing her personal knowledge on that matter. I ask the Minister to tell us how the Government will improve support for the families of children with life-threatening or life-limiting diseases who die, to ensure that family members are entitled to time off and to have their benefits reduced gradually.
To conclude, a child’s illness is the most stressful thing a parent can face. We are failing the family and, by extension, the child if there is a lack of support. That can and, indeed, must change. I ask the Minister to outline what will be done to bring about the changes the hon. Member for Pudsey and others have outlined. We cannot heal these children—I wish we had that talent, but we do not, as much as we might want it—but we can make the journey easier. When will we start to deliver the extra, full care that is so needed?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Osborne. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) on securing the debate. I certainly like the description of him as the smiling MP. He has much experience to bring to this whole debate.
I should declare that I am a long-standing supporter and patron of Julia’s House, a children’s hospice in my constituency. I am pleased we have this opportunity to recognise the plight of families with a seriously ill child, as well as the role of children’s hospices and other palliative care providers in supporting them. I endorse many of the comments that have been made.
I would like to use this opportunity to highlight a vital type of support that is lacking in many parts of the country for these children and their families, but which Julia’s House has helped to pioneer. Most children’s palliative care focuses on end-of-life care, emergency care and some respite, but Julia’s House, in response to parental demand, mainly provides all-year-round, frequent respite care at homes throughout Dorset and south Wiltshire, as well as in the hospice in Poole, in Dorset.
For families with a child with a life-limiting or life-threatening illness, sleep deprivation, exhaustion and anxiety about the child’s health can take a heavy toll on family relationships. Parental break-up rates in families with a long-term seriously ill child vary, but they are known to be higher than the national average. People commonly report isolation, lack of time as a couple or as a family, and physical and mental exhaustion among their worries. Knowing that a specialist service will take the pressure off them for a few hours at a time of their choosing each week can be the difference between coping and not coping. It is even better if the service comes to their own home, as many families cannot easily transport their fragile child.
In the more than 10 years since Julia’s House began to provide this care, evidence has emerged that many parents see frequent respite as a factor in helping them to stay together as they try to cope with their child’s complex round-the-clock care needs. The impact of the frequent respite service and the flexibility afforded by offering much of it in families’ own homes earned Julia’s House the accolade of health care charity of the year at the 2012 national charity awards.
Julia’s House and Bournemouth university are now researching the extent to which frequent respite care helps couples with a seriously ill child to stay together. Their three-year study will conclude in autumn 2015, with interim results available in autumn 2014. Reliable data from the research could point the way towards a change in policy. It is in nobody’s interests, including the welfare state’s, for the parents of seriously ill children to separate. If frequent respite can play a preventive role, and if successful models of support are emerging, health and wellbeing boards should be asked to make frequent respite for families a strategic priority. As well as involving Julia’s House the research project will widen early next year to include client families from a selection of children’s palliative respite providers in England.
When the research started, the Julia’s House chief executive Martin Edwards met officials at the Department for Work and Pensions and the family policy unit to explain the research aims. The officials were naturally interested in tracking the results. I hope that the Department of Health and the Department for Communities and Local Government will take a similarly close interest, along with policy makers in all the main political parties. We all like to talk about reducing family break-up, but we struggle to find levers for that, and the project could provide one. Julia’s House will share the research results with the children’s palliative care sector and representatives of the three main political parties.
Emergency and end-of-life care, whether provided by the state or the voluntary sector, is very important, but it may come after a process of several years. Many children diagnosed with a life-limiting or life-threatening condition will live into their teenage years or beyond, and it is important to make that time as happy as possible. The cumulative effect on parents of sleep deprivation, exhaustion, isolation and anxiety is enormous. Which of us can say that we could survive such pressure?
I want to praise my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) for initiating this emotional and important debate. I hope that he will keep smiling; I know that his constituents smile a lot because of the hard work he does in his constituency.
The hon. Lady makes a great point about respite care. The Forget Me Not children’s hospice in Huddersfield opened its doors formally this year, but for a couple of years its nursing teams have been going into the community, helping 50 families. I volunteered with them last summer and remember vividly a single mum with a very ill child, whom they would help two mornings a week. She has not had more than two hours of unbroken sleep in the past six years, and those two mornings a week are the only times when she gets a little time to herself, whether to have her hair done or meet a friend. The contribution of those teams to her life make her a better mum, and help her to care for her child better. It is an excellent point.
That was an excellent intervention. How could any of us maintain a good family life under such unrelenting stress? What a difference that respite makes.
A family in my constituency likened the pressure to slowly drowning, in exhaustion. In their words, “The only name on the life raft reads ‘Julia’s House’.” For families elsewhere in the country, in the numerous places where there is no genuinely year-round respite, there is no life raft. I commend the initiative to the Minister and look forward to her response. The research is likely to show the great benefits to commissioners of spending more money on respite care.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) on securing this important debate. It was refreshing to listen to such a fluent and interesting speech by someone who has done so much work in the hospice movement before entering this House three and a half years ago.
As many hon. Members have said, and others will know from constituency experience, the hospice movement is fantastic. The dedication of those who work in it, whether providing the care or, equally importantly, raising the finances in their community, is vital. We cannot thank them enough for their dedication and hard work.
We have concentrated in the debate, as people often do when talking about the hospice movement, on children’s and adult hospices, which are vital. However, there is an area in between that is all too often overlooked: the need for more palliative care, and hospice care and treatment, for young people aged between 18 and 40. The needs of someone in their late teens or 20s are completely different from the needs of children, or of aged adults, who make up a large proportion of the people cared for in adult hospices. Things have been improving in recent years, with greater recognition of the situation, but I do not think enough account was taken in the past of the age group in question.
I will be honest: 10 years ago it would never have occurred to me that there was a problem. I assumed that someone who was not a child would go to an adult hospice, where the care would be wonderful—as it is—and that would meet the needs of even a young adult. However, when I met my constituent Denise Whiffin, and the friends around her, it was brought home to me how much extra attention and concentration is needed to meet the special requirements of that age group. Denise Whiffin’s son Jonathan was diagnosed, aged three, with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Of course he was cared for through the children’s hospice movement. However, when he was in his late teens that was of course no longer the most appropriate form of care. He moved to an adult hospice, with people who were much older, and whose needs, outlook, attitudes and requirements were totally different.
Denise Whiffin and others in my constituency looked around and came across a role model. I believe that it was the first hospice to be created in this country—in Oxfordshire—specifically for those aged 18 to 40. The group was inspired to try to replicate that in Chelmsford, to provide the same sort of help for mid-Essex. Those involved have done sterling work in the past decade, raising money from scratch. For some years they have been able to provide a wide range of badly needed services for young adults, in the patient’s home setting. Those things include specialist advice and support; unique care packages for each patient, drawn up by the clinical nurse specialist; expert advice on transition from children’s to adult services; practical nursing care; respite care in the home; counselling—which is vital for many families and young people; and a chaplaincy service and music therapy. They have expanded because of demand for specialist care for the age group, and their hope and ambition now is that in due time they will acquire premises in which to provide health care and palliative care.
My colleague has hit the nail on the head, and his example of a hospice is exemplary. However, aside from the social aspect, one of the most shocking things for a child is that on their 18th birthday the support of the paediatric consultant who has been with them all the way through is taken away. They are given an adult consultant who might not be able to see them for three or four months.
The hon. Lady makes a valid and important point, which comes as no surprise, given her distinguished professional work before coming to this House after the Rotherham by-election. It is about continuity of care. Just because someone reaches a cut-off point in their age and lifespan, they should not necessarily—automatically—have to change from those who have been providing their health care up until that point. The individual’s needs and requirements might progress or change so that their consultant or other health care practitioner needs to change because of the skills that they have, but that is a totally different argument. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister and the Department of Health as a whole will look at the matter to see how we can provide greater continuity of care from health care professionals where that is appropriate, so that there is not an arbitrary cut-off point.
I do not want to detain hon. Members much longer, because I know that others want to contribute, but I do think that we must bear this in mind. Fantastic work is going on, as has been shown by a number of interventions and speeches during the debate, in children’s hospices and, equally, in adult hospice care, but let us concentrate more on developing for the young people in the 18-to-40 age group provision that meets their specialist requirements, so that they, too, can have provision and quality of care that is tailored to their requirements and demands.
On the point about supporting people in the age group to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, does he agree that it is important for Government at all levels to encourage not just the hospice movement, but housing associations and good providers of sheltered housing models and supported housing models to think about how they might style particular developments and units precisely to accommodate people in that age group, so that they can live in a supported context but have premises that guarantee them more independent living, which is more appropriate to that age group?
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman, too, for that constructive intervention. I know that, particularly in health debates, the term “holistic approach” is for ever used and can become rather hackneyed, but I do think that such an approach is crucial both in general health care in the NHS and in specialist areas such as palliative care, hospice care and end-of-life care. There really must be an holistic approach, and this is not simply about different sections of the health care community. As the hon. Gentleman says, it also involves housing and, as the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) said, the benefits system, where that is appropriate, for a number of people, because it is at this time in someone’s life and the life of their family and friends that they want the minimum amount of hassle, as they are going through some of the most difficult parts of their lives or their loved ones are. We want to minimise the extra pressures, concerns and worries, and that can be done through a more joined-up, holistic approach to the whole provision of care.
I know that the Minister will be listening very carefully to the comments made in the debate. I know that the Department of Health is extremely committed to the whole area of palliative care, end-of-life care and the hospice movement. I know that my hon. Friend will go away from the debate, reflect on a number of the points that have been made and do her best to help to address a number of the issues that I and other hon. Members around the Chamber have raised in the course of the debate.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mrs Osborne. I join other hon. Members in applauding my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) for securing the debate.
I would like to make some observations and reflect on the journey that I have been on this past year in engaging with this subject, starting with a question to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 5 December last year. In that question, I raised the issue of Naomi House hospice, which serves Wiltshire, Hampshire and Berkshire and does amazing work, along with all the other hospices mentioned this afternoon. Naomi House hospice also has a facility, opened in recent years, for young people in the 18-to-25 age group, reflecting the fact that, previously, young people with some of these conditions did not survive for very long, but now they have a greater life expectancy. The facility is adjacent to the Naomi House site, and they work together.
Professor Khalid Aziz, who was the chairman of Naomi House hospice for well over 20 years, observed that he received funding from three different primary care trusts, as they then were—they are now clinical commissioning groups. Wiltshire, which is my local authority area—it was the PCT at the time—had agreed a very simple tariff arrangement whereby it gave £308 per night for any child who was staying at the hospice. Naomi House had not managed to secure a similar agreement with Hampshire or Berkshire. It therefore relied on a share of the grant from the Department of Health and some other statutory local authority funding, but, as with all hospices, it fundamentally relied on raising money through fundraising activities. I think that the figure was about £4 million a year.
A little time passed and then, on 13 February, I, along with Professor Aziz, had a meeting with the Prime Minister. He understood the issue very well. He was aware of the review that is being undertaken of palliative care funding across all age groups, and we went away greatly encouraged. A few more weeks passed, and I was a little concerned that progress was not being made. I sensed that there was some reticence to separate the issues about children’s palliative care and the palliative care review that is under way. In the end, we had a meeting on 19 June with the Minister of State, Department of Health, and we set out our concern that the very simple arrangement that works so well for Wiltshire, securing a guaranteed amount of funding, should be rolled out across the children’s hospice movement as the way forward. There was general agreement, I think, among the officials at the meeting that that amount of money was the appropriate amount.
I came up and had another meeting on 29 July. That time, I met Professor Alan Craft, who is the head of children’s health, and Dr Bee Wee, the national clinical director of palliative care, and they took me through all the work that is being done to understand the profile of need, how we calibrate what the tariff would look like and what conditions would go into it. I recognise that that is a very difficult piece of work and we definitely need it to be data led, as I think the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron) mentioned, but we were told that this work was going to progress and basically it would happen in 2015.
I was somewhat disturbed because the system that works so well for Naomi House could easily be rolled out. It is a very straightforward arrangement whereby a CCG is engaged with a local hospice and has said, “This is a contribution to the costs.” We know that there is a significant differential between the 38% funding that adult hospices receive—38% of their costs—and the 10% to 15% that children’s hospices receive, so this was a very simple measure.
I had a meeting on 15 October with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Government Policy. Then, on 25 November, I received a letter that said that the Government would include the local commissioning example in their national tariff document. Basically, the process that the Government are going through to review the whole arrangement for palliative care funding would continue and we would wait for the outcome. In the meantime, although Wiltshire and Naomi House would be put on the table as an example, it would not be presented in a compelling way so that it could be taken up as, I think, a very reasonable interim measure.
I am somewhat disappointed by that final response after all those meetings and all that dialogue, because what is needed sometimes is yes, rigorous analysis of the facts and the issues, but also promotion of quick solutions that would work in a very helpful way—that would ease the enormous burden on fundraisers in making up the gap in funding. There is great support in our communities for children’s palliative care. I sometimes feel that because of the very emotive nature of the work done by children’s palliative care providers and the fact that it pulls at the heart strings, there is always a sense that money will be found for it. I plead with the Minister to accelerate that process if she can, because we need to address the funding gap and ease some of the considerable pressure on providers.
I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) on securing this debate on a topic about which he is clearly passionate. I pay tribute to him and to all the members of the all-party parliamentary group on hospice and palliative care for the work that they have done to bring this important issue to the fore.
As we have heard, there are 49 children’s hospices across the UK, which all do fantastic work for young people and their loved ones. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron) said, much of the hospice movement is supported by volunteers and millions of pounds of charitable donations. Many hon. Members from both sides of the House made passionate representations on behalf of their local hospices and the holistic care that they provide. Hon. Members have raised many powerful points, and I hope to touch on several of them. I want to focus on three points covered in the debate. First, I will set out the full scale of the care crisis facing young people with complex health and care needs; secondly, I will explain why that is an issue not simply for individual families but for society at large; and thirdly, I will touch on some of the areas that need attention to make life better for those young people, particularly those receiving palliative care.
As we have heard, more than 40,000 children and young people in England have palliative care needs. That includes children suffering from curable and chronic conditions, children with severe disabilities, and children and young people nearing the end of their life. That represents a 30% jump over the past 10 years. There has been a particularly marked increase in the number of 16 to 19-year-olds requiring palliative care, as we have heard from several hon. Members, to around 4,000 young people, which accounts for roughly 10% of young people under the age of 19 with complex care needs. That is in many ways a positive sign, because it demonstrates the great advances made in science and medical technology, and the fact that they have resulted in people living longer.
Cancer accounts for around 14% of young people diagnosed. Cancer Research UK figures show that five-year survival rates for teenagers and young adults have risen significantly across all cancers across the past 25 years. In the late 1980s, less than three quarters of young men lived longer than five years after having cancer, but the rate is now better than eight in 10. For girls and young women, the five-year survival rate now stands at 84%. There has been a particular improvement in leukaemia; the survival rate has jumped from less than 50% to more than 60%.
We are moving in the right direction, but as we have heard from hon. Members today, that presents a particular challenge, because more young people live beyond the reach of children’s care and transition into social care. Too many young people who receive care from children’s services turn 16, 17 or 18 and then fall off a cliff during the transition to adult social and health care. The right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns) and the hon. Member for Pudsey highlighted the specific challenges facing young adults, and we heard an emotive quote from Lucy Watts, who summed up the situation well. Much more needs to be done to make the transition work better. Some of my constituents who have accessed wonderful services at the Alder Hey children’s hospital struggle when the health professionals and familiar surroundings that they have been accustomed to for so long change—a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) articulated. Many families are shocked by the reduced support that they receive in many aspects of adult social care after they have made that switch.
Transition is a hugely stressful process, and in most cases families are moving from dealing with a single, comprehensive agency to managing several different agencies with up to four points of contact. It is easy for gaps to emerge in that fragmented process. Many conditions reach crisis point in late adolescence, so it is all the more important that young people and their families receive responses from care and health agencies in an appropriate, sensitive and timely fashion. There are too many instances of people having to endure the agony of being put on hold, or waiting for a reply to an e-mail, when their loved one has an urgent care need.
That is all in the context of a crisis in adult social care. Since 2010, £1.8 billion has been cut from council budgets for adult social care, and we await the impact of the local authority settlements which have been released today. That means that fewer people receive help with paying for their care and more people face increased charges for vital services that help them to get up and get washed, dressed, fed and helped to bed at the end of the day.
Let me make a brief comment on the wider costs to society. Demand for care is growing at a time when resources are being reduced. The costs to society of a bad care transition—whether those costs take the form of greater illness, negative social and educational outcomes, or possible early death—are far greater than the cost of putting in place adequate resources to ensure a good transition. I welcome some of the modest measures that the Government—[Interruption.]
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Before the Division, I was sharing with the House my welcome for some of the modest measures the Government put forward in the Care Bill, which the House debated on Monday. It represents a small step towards a better social care system, and builds on the Labour Government’s work to provide stronger rights for carers and improved access to information and advice.
Let me conclude by looking at some areas that still require attention, and with a few questions for the Minister. I praise the many charities working in the sector, particularly Marie Curie Cancer Care, which has a hospice not too far from my constituency, and Together for Short Lives, the leading UK charity for children with life-threatening and life-limiting conditions. Their joint “Don’t let me down” report, published last year, set out sensible and important proposals, a number of which the Government adopted, but four areas of concern remain.
First, we need a much more joined-up approach to commissioning health and social care services for children with palliative care needs. Currently, we have a split: NHS England commissions specialist care, and local authorities manage social care. That fragmentation means that the very high variation in access to and quality of services, depending on where people live, will continue. I would be grateful if the Minister told us the Government’s assessment of that postcode lottery, and what they are doing to address the disparity.
Secondly, children and young people need to be consulted, so that their care caters for them and their needs. There is a particular role for health and wellbeing boards in that. More than half the health and wellbeing boards have explicitly examined care for terminally ill adults, according to the National Council for Palliative Care. The likelihood, however, is that far fewer will have engaged with children and young people on the same scale. I would welcome a response from the Minister on that specific point. Thirdly, the different agencies that provide hospice and palliative care to children and young people need to talk to one another much more. Local authorities are unable to share data. What solutions are Government considering to address that problem? Fourthly, a solution needs to be found to enable all the information and records about a young person’s needs to travel with them. Too many young people have to tell their story all over again when they need to access a new service, or when they are transitioning.
The debate this afternoon has been positive and constructive. On this side of the House, we are ready to work with the Government to improve outcomes for young people and children who need hospice and palliative care. We hope to deliver an integrated, whole-person approach to health and social care. Whole-person care is about meeting the needs, whether physical, mental or social, of people of all ages, so that they are able to live an independent and dignified life. That is ultimately what the future of health and social care needs to look like, with world-class hospice and palliative care front and centre. That is what we are committed to delivering, so that we can help those who need it most.
I congratulate hon. Members on an excellent debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) on securing it, and on speaking, not for the first time, with great passion and knowledge on this subject. The debate rather gives the lie to the lazy cliché that MPs bring no real-life experience to the House. It has been enormously informed by the life experience of a number of Members, and I congratulate everyone who has taken part. I will do my best to respond to the various questions put to me, but if by chance time defeats me, I undertake to write to colleagues. The Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), is sorry that he cannot respond to this debate. As Members will have observed a few minutes ago on the Annunciator, he is otherwise engaged in the main Chamber.
Hospice care and palliative care for children and young people is an important and sensitive subject. From what the shadow Minister said, I can see that there is a good degree of cross-party consensus on the need to take the subject seriously and to sustain the way we serve the sector. The coalition placed great emphasis on palliative care in the coalition agreement, which included several specific commitments, such as a commitment to placing hospice funding on a more transparent and sustainable footing—that has been the subject of many comments today—and to introducing a new per-patient funding system for all hospices and providers of palliative care, so that the most gravely ill children and adults can receive care in the setting of their choice.
We have committed £10 million a year to support children’s hospices, as well as an additional £7 million in this financial year to support capital projects. In 2012, that allocation increased by over £700,000 to support new providers entering the sector, and we are keen to continue that substantial level of support now that responsibility has transferred to NHS England. We recognise the need for change in how children’s hospices are commissioned and funded. While a new funding system will be introduced in 2015, and while we have provided money to support hospices until then, we know that more needs to be done to support effective local commissioning. That, rightly, has been the focus of many of the speeches today.
Many hospices do not have as effective a relationship with their local commissioners as they might like, and funding from health commissioners is a relatively low proportion of the incomes of most children’s hospices and hospice-at-home providers. That is not universal, however. There are examples of local good practice where primary care trusts, formerly, and clinical commissioning groups, currently, have entered into funding arrangements with their local children’s hospice. My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen) has not returned from the main Chamber, but he spoke about the arrangements in his area for Naomi House, which has a per patient, per night tariff that has been arranged with the local CCG in Wiltshire.
We want the principle of CCGs supporting children’s hospices to be embraced widely across England. Monitor and NHS England are looking to include the arrangement between Wiltshire CCG and Naomi House in the national tariff document as a case study of good commissioning arrangements. Obviously, it is important that any nationally mandated or recommended tariff is based on a robust body of national evidence and provides clarity for commissioners on the services provided. I know that the working group has discussed the Naomi House example.
The charitable sector and the excellent fundraising work it does will always have a role. It has made an absolutely magnificent achievement over many years in all parts of the country; we have heard about that today. We are keen to see more effective and sustainable commissioning for hospices. We want commissioners to assume a more active role with their local providers, and we are keen to engage with the sector to see how we can support that. A lot of work is going on to develop that new model.
As has been referred to, the independent palliative care funding review, which reported in 2011, found that the absence of a clear funding model, or even a proper understanding of the costs of palliative care, was a major impediment to developing that care. The right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron) mentioned the “stunning” absence of good data on the costs of palliative care, and the first step in developing a new funding system had to be improving the evidence base. We established eight pilots to collect a range of data and to test the review’s recommendations. The pilots—seven for adult palliative care, and one for children’s palliative care—are running for two years, and will provide the evidence to underpin decisions on how best to transfer to a fair and transparent funding system, which we intend to introduce in the 2015-16 financial year.
Hon. Members challenged us on the implementation plan and its timings. As part of the development of the tariff, there will be a plan for testing and implementation. Once we have clarity on the funding model, we will continue to ensure that the stakeholders are involved. Many of the hospices and their umbrella groups are closely involved in that work, and they will continue to engage in it.
I have heard the mood of the House on consultation. Although this is an NHS England lead, and I cannot commit it to carrying out a consultation, I can strongly encourage it and relay the mood of the House. The details of the tariff are still being worked on, but given that the new system will come into effect in 2015-16 and the sector needs to be able to plan ahead, we hope that that will happen in autumn 2014. That should be feasible, but I cannot commit to it. The sector is closely involved in that work and will be closely involved in the timing arrangements as well. It is key to say that we will not let this issue drift. The hospices are involved in the data collection and the discussion, and are key to the NHS England working group. The Government have made a commitment on that; we are conscious of that, and Members are right to push us on it.
NHS England is leading the work, and more than 80 organisations are involved. Barbara Gelb, the chief executive of Together for Short Lives, is a member of the Secretary of State’s children and young people’s health outcomes forum, so there is good read-across there. I emphasise how closely the sector is involved in the work, and how important it is to ensure that it supports the new funding model, which will be simple and non-bureaucratic—all the things that Members have alluded to today.
Having that clear, quality-assured information on the real costs of providing complex, costly care to a relatively small number of children will make a significant difference to commissioners. That has been emphasised by a number of Members. Concerns have been focused on that transitional period and the commissioning guidelines. The Department will consider in the coming months how we might further support that local understanding and preparedness among not only CCGs, but local authorities, as commissioners of social care.
I will struggle to respond to the points made in the debate if I give way. I hope my hon. Friend will forgive me, but I am happy to pick up points after the debate.
We realise that health and wellbeing boards need to be involved, and that sits firmly in my area of public health. I will think about how we can take that forward and publicise that more.
The transitional period and the challenge for older children and young adults was referred to a great many times, and has given much food for thought. The Department of Health has given section 64 funding to Together for Short Lives to support development and research around appropriate pathways and the transition to adulthood. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has been commissioned by the Department to develop guidelines around that transition. A number of areas of Government policy come back to that same challenge of how we deal with transition, and stop there being a cliff edge when a child becomes an adult. We all recognise that in real life that is not a cliff edge. In other policy areas, in other Departments, people are looking closely to see where we can get that right.
The Government have made short breaks a priority, and have put money, albeit not ring-fenced, into local authorities. We have introduced the short breaks duty, which requires all local authorities to provide a range of short break services for disabled children, young people and their families. A statement has to be developed in consultation with families and published. That is one thing that local authorities can be judged against. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke)spoke about Julia’s House, which is an interesting case in that regard. We will ensure that that is brought to the attention of the national clinical director. I will bring all the points that have been made in this debate to their attention.
In the final few seconds that I have left, I wish to put on record my thanks to all the volunteers and staff who work in this sector. I know that in the coming weeks, which will be a difficult time of year for families with a loved one who is ill, they will bring both comfort and joy to the people they care for, and for that we thank them very deeply.
Electrical Safety (Private Rented Sector)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Osborne, and it is a privilege to see the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams), in his place. I congratulate him on his appointment to his relatively new position.
I am delighted to have secured this debate on electrical safety in the private rented sector. How we live is changing. According to Shelter, the proportion of homes rented privately in the United Kingdom has rocketed by nearly 70% since 2001, with the private rented sector now home to 3.8 million households in England alone. There is no doubt that the private sector is playing an increasingly important role in meeting housing needs, especially for families. However, this rapid expansion in the market has been marked by a few rogue landlords and some well-meaning but ill-informed landlords, who are failing to ensure that the homes they let comply with basic safety standards. Electrical safety in the private rented sector is an issue that needs addressing urgently.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. There are a number of Members from across the House who are concerned about issues of electrical safety. Every year, nearly 5,000 fires are caused by electrical appliances, and many of them can lead to loss of life or serious harm to the individuals caught up in those fires. Does he agree that where a landlord is letting a property with appliances in it, there should be routine and proper inspection processes in place to ensure that the tenant knows that the equipment that they will be taking on is safe?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention and I entirely agree with him. When I used to work in various offices, everything had to be subjected to portable appliance testing to safeguard me as a worker. It seems a bit unfair that people living in properties should not be protected in the same way. His point is a very good one.
I also congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. My constituency has one of the highest proportions of private rented sector accommodation and so I take a close interest in this issue. Further to the point made by the right hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow), does the hon. Gentleman agree that where houses are in multiple occupation the sort of licensing regime that there is in Oxford, which requires inspection, has a very useful role to play in promoting safety?
I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. That is one of the points that I was going to make. Houses in multiple occupation are covered, but other sorts of rented property are not. That is a very good point indeed and I thank him for making it.
When I was a student in Manchester in 1972—I know that is going back a fair way—I entered the house in Whalley Range where I had my digs and a loud hum could be heard. It was coming from the fuse-box situated near the front door. As I was curious, one day I looked inside. The reason for the noise was clear—in place of fuses, there were several three-inch nails. Until very recently, I assumed that nothing like that could happen today. As we have already heard, however, according to Government statistics the cause of more than half of all accidental fires in homes is electrical. Tragically, last year 25 people died in fires that started because of an electrical fault, and we also know that other people have been electrocuted. However, current rules mean that landlords are under no obligation to provide tenants with electrical safety certificates. They do not even have to prove when the electrics were last tested unless their properties are registered as shared houses, as the right hon. Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith) mentioned. That is despite the fact that a gas safety certificate is required.
The problem with electricity is that very often faults are not visible. Unlike a gas leak, someone cannot smell an electrical fault. This means that it is possible for properties to be rented with dangerous or faulty electrics that neither the landlord nor the tenant are aware of until it is too late, which can mean the loss of a loved one. “Too late” is just not good enough. Luckily, Mr Parker, my constituent, who raised this issue with me, was aware of problems in his rented property. He was seriously concerned about the electrics in his rented house in Eastleigh and came to me. He showed me alarming pictures of exposed wiring that quite frankly looked like a death-trap. Shockingly, there was loose wiring, some of it in close proximity to water. This was self-evidently not a new problem. If it had been and if his landlord had immediately taken action, as a responsible landlord would do, none of this would have come to my attention. But unbelievably Mr Parker’s landlord would rather run the real risk of injury or death to his tenant and damage to his property than repair the defects.
Of course, on hearing Mr Parker’s concerns one of my first reactions was to ask if he had any kind of electrical safety certificate for the property. Imagine my shock when I discovered that, under the current regulations, landlords do not have to certify the safety of the electrics in a rented property in any way. As a result, the judgment of what is classed as safe comes down to a personal opinion rather than scientific fact. Gas safety testing is mandatory on a yearly basis. Both gas and electricity are dangerous if there is a fault. So we apparently believe in protecting tenants and their neighbours from fire and injury caused by gas, but fire and injury caused by electricity is fine. Of course, if someone is renting a room in a house of multiple occupation, or in a hotel or bed and breakfast, electrical checks are required, meaning that if someone is staying in a hotel or renting a bedsit they are safer than they would be in their own home.
It is evident that current laws are just not up to scratch. The Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, and the housing health and safety rating system brought in under the Housing Act 2004, have proven to be inadequate, mainly because they neither protect the landlord nor the tenant against unknown faults. The law assumes that the tenant is aware of faults. When I moved into my house in Bishopstoke in 1994, all the electrics looked perfect. However, an electrical safety check showed up several worrying faults that could have had tragic consequences. Needless to say, they were repaired. A simple five-yearly check, similar to the gas safety check that landlords must carry out on a yearly basis, would ensure that tenants and landlords are protected against such risks.
As hon. Members are surely aware, the Communities and Local Government Committee agrees that a change in the law is needed. In its latest report on the private rented sector, which was published in July, the Committee recommended that the Government develop an electrical safety certificate and legislate to ensure that landlords carry out full wiring checks every five years. This recommendation is backed by the Electrical Safety Council, the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, the National Private Tenants Organisation, the Residential Landlords Association and the National Association of Professional Inspectors and Testers, an electrical certification body. However, the Government have rejected this proposal, arguing that it would increase red tape. Their response reads:
“The ESC recommends that safety checks are carried out every five years and we think that strikes the right balance between having safeguards in place to protect the tenant and avoiding regulating the sector”.
There is red tape and then there are regulations that save lives; a £200 five-yearly safety check is definitely the latter.
Any administrative aspect of electrical certification could be minimised by including such documentation alongside existing gas installation work. Most qualified gas engineers are also qualified electrical engineers. It is also important to remember that the introduction of the type of measures proposed in the Select Committee’s report would protect not only tenants but landlords. Accidental landlords, such as those people who inherit a property, are very often unaware of their obligations. Indeed, a study by the ESC showed that almost half of all landlords and tenants admitted that they had no idea who was responsible for electrical safety. Therefore, landlords are exposing themselves to significant financial risks, from fines and invalidated insurance, by not meeting their electrical safety obligations. That is not to mention their conscience if a tenant is injured or killed by an electrical fault in their property, which could result in a lifetime’s burden of guilt.
One of the last points that I want to make is a wider point about tenants having the confidence to complain about such important issues as electrical safety. Both the ESC and Shelter have significant concerns about the power imbalance between tenants and landlords. I welcome the recent announcement from the Department for Communities and Local Government that it will be looking into the possibility of restricting the use of section 21 eviction orders that apply to assured shorthold tenants following the receipt of such a complaint. I have been made aware of instances where a tenant has been issued with a section 21 eviction notice simply for identifying a hazard. I am sure that the Minister will agree that that is completely unacceptable.
For the sake of the 1.3 million renters that the ESC estimates are currently waiting for electrical issues to be resolved, I ask the Government to review the current legislation before another entirely preventable tragedy wrecks another life.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mike Thornton) on securing this important debate. He is raising the issue on behalf of his constituent, Mr Parker, although he is drawing on his own life experiences, as we heard, albeit from a few decades ago while a student. Many hon. Members will have lived in private sector accommodation, whether as a student or later on, early in adult life—that experience is common in my constituency—and will have had such experiences and have views on this subject.
The private rented sector is an important part of the housing mix in England. It is growing and the Government wish to encourage that. Nine million people in England live in the sector. In my constituency, a significant proportion of people rent in the private sector; indeed, it is the second largest cohort in the country, after Kensington and Chelsea. The issues raised by my hon. Friend are of interest to me, as a constituency Member and as the Minister with responsibility for this area.
The quality of private rented housing has improved rapidly during the past decade. The English housing survey shows that 83% of tenants are happy with the service from their landlord. Obviously, that should not give rise to complacency, because it means that 17% are unhappy. Many of those experiences of unhappiness may fall within the issues that my hon. Friend is raising.
There is a general statutory duty on landlords to ensure that their property is in good repair while being let, and that is deemed to include electrical installations, to ensure that any appliances supplied with the property are safe. Where the property is licensed—the right hon. Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith) mentioned this in his intervention—for instance, in houses in multiple occupancy, the local authority can require that electrical installations in the property are periodically checked and that an electrical safety certificate is produced on demand. But it is up to each local authority to decide what that periodic interval is.
The Minister knows, from a meeting I had with his predecessor and through written parliamentary questions, that I have been trying to establish the outcome of a survey that the Department commissioned into the extent to which voluntary arrangements for licensing conditions are being taken forward. I wonder whether he has any further information about that and whether that has led him to conclude that there needs, at least, to be much clearer best practice guidance for local authorities, to ensure that the minority of landlords who let their tenants down by not adequately checking their appliances do not do so and are properly licensed in future.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. I shall mention various actions that the Department is taking in this area, which I hope will satisfy him.
Apart from circumstances in which properties are within an existing licensed scheme, landlords are not required to have electrical installations regularly checked. Although it is not a requirement, the Electrical Safety Council recommends that such installations should be checked every five years, as matter of good practice, and this recommendation is endorsed by the Department. A brochure has been produced for landlords and, as it is Christmas, I have a copy for my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh. I am sure that he will find it useful in giving advice to his constituents.
Turning to points made by my right hon. Friend—I hope that this will satisfy him—the Government are reviewing the service that tenants can expect from landlords. In October, the Department launched a consultation on a tenants’ charter that will consider various issues, including electrical safety. The first stage of this will be the publication of a discussion document on the issues early next year. I hope that it will be available by the end of January. This comprehensive review of property conditions in the sector will also include actions that we may be able to take to stop the practice of retaliatory eviction, which my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh mentioned, where a tenant has made a reasonable request of their landlord for improvements or repairs to installations in their property.
The review will also consider whether there should be any changes to existing health and safety rating systems and whether smoke and carbon monoxide alarms should be required in rented homes. At the moment, such alarms are required only in certain circumstances, where particular sources of heating, such as solid fuel, are installed, but we are reviewing whether that duty should be extended. We are looking at existing licensing and voluntary accreditation of landlords, building on the discretionary licensing scheme that exists in several urban areas at the moment. Bristol city council has just started a discretionary licensing scheme to improve the standard of private rented stock in the eastern area of my constituency.
We are also considering what redress might be available for tenants; for instance, whether landlords should be required to repay rent where a property has been found to contain serious hazards. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is shocking that retaliatory evictions might occur where a tenant has made a reasonable request of their landlord for an improvement to be made to their property. They should not face the threat of deprivation by losing their home. The Department does not, at the moment, have any comprehensive evidence that retaliatory eviction is a widespread problem. My hon. Friend mentioned evidence from Shelter. Perhaps he would be kind enough to share that with me after this debate, so that I can raise the matter with Department officials.
On the health and safety rating system, local authorities have strong powers to inspect properties and make sure they are safe, healthy and free from harm. The process involves looking at 29 possible risks to health, including electrical hazards. Powers are available to local authorities where serious hazards are found in properties, including prohibiting use of the dwelling; undertaking the works directly themselves; and prosecuting the landlords, if necessary. The system provides an important safety net, ensuring that homes are safe and decent.
I mentioned that we are looking at the related issue of whether to require the installation of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. This was the subject of an amendment and a debate in the other place, during the passage of the Energy Bill, when the Department announced that it is undertaking that review. Smoke alarm ownership is quite high, with 86% of all domestic buildings having at least one smoke alarm. Ownership of carbon monoxide alarms is much lower, estimated at about 15%. We are reviewing that.
Licensing gives local authorities some degree of control over the condition of privately rented housing in their area. Large HMOs are subject to a mandatory licensing scheme. As part of that, a smoke alarm must be installed in the building. A local authority can also require that an electrical safety certificate is produced on demand, but that is in the narrower circumstances of HMOs—narrower than those my hon. Friend is talking about—which are already subject to a local authority licensing scheme.
Local authorities can decide to license other rented housing. I mentioned the discretionary licensing scheme. At the moment, this can be applied where general antisocial behaviour is found in an area of high private sector rented accommodation or low housing demand. Our review will look at whether those conditions should be widened. Where that licensing is in place, an authority can impose conditions requiring regular checks of electrical installations of the sort that my hon. Friend requires.
In the review into property conditions, we will also consider whether a landlord could be required to pay rent if they let out a property that contains serious hazards. Landlords are already liable for fines if they are found to be breaching certain conditions, but we are considering how tenants may receive redress and compensation, and the repayment of rent seems to be a good way of doing that. That is subject to the review, and I urge all hon. Members present to contribute their views to that review.
As part of the review, we are also considering the letting agents market. As I am sure many of us know from the experiences brought to us by our constituents, and possibly from our own personal experience, many private rental properties are secured through a letting agent. The majority of agents provide a good service, but some do not and charge tenants excessive fees for a poor service, which might include not giving information about electrical installations or white goods in the property. From 2014, all letting agents will have to belong to a redress scheme, which will ensure that tenants have access to an independent adjudicator, who will be able to investigate complaints about a letting agent and order compensation to be paid, if appropriate.
Before concluding, I reiterate my thanks to my hon. Friend for securing this important debate. The Department recognises that, if we want to grow the private rental sector, as the Government certainly want to do, it is vital that we ensure that tenants have confidence that the homes they are renting are safe and decent.
Our review will conclude next summer, and I again urge all hon. Members to contribute to that review. Perhaps next year my hon. Friend will again be successful in securing a debate, and I hope that he will find that many of the issues he has raised today have been addressed by the review.
Television Services (Scotland)
I know people say this at the beginning of Westminster Hall debates, but it is a genuine pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Mrs Osborne. We are old friends and old colleagues, and it is good to see you sitting in the Chair for a vital, and hopefully positive, debate.
I hope the Minister will agree that television in Scotland is now in a good place. We had many years of differences, disputes and debates—the Minister can call them what he likes—between ITV and STV, which caused great problems for those who wished to plan the future of television in Scotland. I am glad to say that those problems have been resolved, and the relationship is positive.
I am a great supporter of television media generally, having spent a short time in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport back when I was Parliamentary Private Secretary to the then Minister with responsibility for film, my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr Clarke). We met a number of people who, through Channel 4 and other production companies, made a great contribution to the UK’s film industry.
I have a positive view of television media, and I was pleased to attend a recent meeting at which ITV said that it is debt free. It is wonderful, in a world in which the banks will rip to shreds people who owe them money, to find that a company such as ITV is debt free. I do not know the financial standing of STV, and I do not seek to discuss that today, but I know it is in a positive mood.
I see STV as the Scottish broadcaster in a devolved nation, and its unique position has now been recognised. Without seeking comment from the Minister, I would say that, as a broadcaster, STV makes a good contribution to Scottish dialogue and to the field of production, which I will not discuss today. We have to recognise STV’s impact on Scotland’s creative industry. There are very few people at the centre, in the production team. STV sucks in, develops, encourages and grows the other independent organisations that are required by television production, which is a very good thing.
The second part of moving forward into Scottish television’s future of broadcasting to a devolved nation is recognising that the various localities in Scotland have differing perspectives on the world. People often look through the prism of the cities in which they live, such as Edinburgh or Glasgow. There are many jokes about the differences, but they are real. I am a west coaster, but I now live near the east coast. My constituents often see things through an Edinburgh-centric prism, and people on the west coast often see the world through a Glasgow-centric prism. The people of Ayrshire complain that others do not recognise the importance of Ayrshire, and they may in fact have a perspective of their own. I would say the same for the local areas around Stirling, the Forth valley and Falkirk.
There is a similar debate in Wales on the role of local television in Wales. In Scotland, I believe the intention is to call for local city television. The question is how we get people who wish to use that new service to recognise and access it. That turns on the question of what will happen in the regions of England. People in England will look at their digital channel list, and their local service will be on the first page at channel 8. The local television service in Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and other cities will be at channel 8. People in Wales will use the same channel as people in Scotland, and Welsh colleagues will debate that with the Minister separately.
Scotland is a much bigger landmass with a much more diverse population, and with greater distances between populations. People in Scotland will have to find channel 26 to watch city television—it started off at channel 45—so they will have to wade through online shopping and various baking, cooking and travel programmes to find their local television service. I know that in the longer term, given the way digital is developing, people will design a menu for themselves, which will be a great incentive, but that is not the case at the moment.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate, and I echo his point. He is talking about the issue generally, but in Wales there is a specific problem with the location of the channel. I agree entirely that we need to make local television services as prominent and as near to the top of the list as possible so that people can access local TV.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention but this debate is on television services in Scotland. His point is very well made.
When city television is launched in Scotland it will at first be based in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Because city television is independent—although it is a public service broadcaster—the question will be whether it is viable. Will it have enough users in each area so that advertisers fund the channel properly and allow it to develop correctly? In the future, people might have their own digital menus and the channel will be there for them to use, but at the moment that will not be the case. Obviously we see public service broadcasters in the first 10 channels. I understand that Ofcom has a responsibility to provide “appropriate prominence” to public service broadcasters, and I would define Scottish local television as a public service broadcaster. The first 10 channels include Sky and—no offence to ITV—ITV2, but the public service broadcaster for Scotland will not be found until channel 25 or 26, which seems to me to be inappropriate. There is too much of one thing and not enough of the other. If we really are saying that we want Scottish local television to develop as a recognised public service broadcaster for a devolved nation, not a separate nation—I am totally opposed to the idea of independence—we must recognise it as a public service broadcaster. We should be supporting it, the Minister should be supporting it and Ofcom should be doing whatever it can.
The Minister and Ofcom will say that it is not really in their gift to make one broadcaster give up a channel to another and that it is Digital UK, the operator of the digital terrestrial television platform, that needs to be persuaded or perhaps instructed to do that. I am unsure of the Minister’s powers here, but he may outline their limitations later. I would be happy to hear that his focus and control could be extended, although it may require a change to Acts of Parliament. It is incumbent on the Government to recognise the position of the devolved Scottish Parliament, the aspirations of the Scottish people and the significant contribution that can be made by Scottish television.
I am not criticising BBC Scotland. We do that to its face when we have things to say about its biases, prejudices and lack of use of Members of this Parliament for good, fact-based commentary on matters of political debate in Scotland, but then again every party criticises the public sector broadcaster. The point is that STV gives a different view. We have seen that most people now tune into “Scotland Tonight” on STV and do not necessarily watch “Newsnight Scotland”—or “Newsnicht Scotland” as I pronounce it when it changes from the normal BBC programme—so STV has a particular role to play. Local people would also like to see their news interests on city television, which means that it should be in the first 10 channels.
I want to make some comments about BBC Alba, but I will not criticise it as it is a public sector broadcaster that has a particular position. Of the 90,000 or so Gaelic speakers, I would imagine that those who use BBC Alba would know where it was were it at channel 26, although I am not suggesting that it should be put there. Some of my Gael colleagues say to me that there is something odd about running rugby with Gaelic commentary, because it is not necessarily a natural selection of sport for people in the Gaeldom, who would perhaps rather watch something else. Borderers watching rugby, and even sometimes football, often have to listen to Gaelic commentary, which can be confusing. It may be of interest to the Gaeldom, but not necessarily to others. I am not suggesting that we should push BBC Alba off the first 10 channels in order to include STV city television, but we should seriously look at moving somebody off that first 10 to recognise the role of STV and what will become city television.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is making a good case, and I am supportive of his appeal to ensure that we get the matter resolved. The most sensible thing to do would be to move STV to where ITV1 sits, and ITV1 could be moved further down the electronic programme guide. That is the sensible approach. Most people who watch STV want to see it and not ITV in that slot. What is the problem with fixing it that way?
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. I understand that both ITV1 and ITV2 are in the first 10 channels, so we should certainly look at one of them. There is also a question about Sky and whether people want to see it alongside the public sector broadcasters. Should we not have the public sector broadcaster and the local city TV channel, under STV’s banner, in those first 10 channels, rather than Sky? Options are available to the Government, to Ofcom and to Digital UK.
I have said all that I need to say, and I think the Minister has acknowledged that my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Jim Sheridan), who sits on the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, wants to contribute to the debate.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate on the television situation in Scotland. We on the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport have been discussing the matter for some considerable time, and the Minister has also spoken to us. It is a big issue for viewers in Scotland.
Public service broadcasting is an important way of supporting local economies and local culture. There is clear evidence that STV is in danger of losing advertising revenue, because advertisers are concerned about it moving to channel 26, 27 or wherever. Investment in UK-originated public service content has declined by some 20% in the past five years, so we need to ensure that we are incentivising local television. As has been mentioned, the electronic programme guide could be used as a lever to encourage further investment, so public service content should be given prominence.
I am also concerned about people with visual impairments. If they have to search through channels in order to access their favourite programmes, that will cause them serious distress.
The feasibility of such services will be jeopardised and more time and resources would have to be spent on making people aware of the new location of channels. Such resources could be better used elsewhere in Scottish television, and there is a danger that money could be spent where it should not have to be. The Communications Act 2003 requires Ofcom to provide “appropriate prominence” to public service broadcasters, such as STV and local TV services. Just yesterday, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee had the opportunity to question the preferred candidate for the chair of Ofcom. While it is doing well at a challenging job, it is somewhat limited in its powers on this issue. Ofcom maintains that it does not hold the power to force a move or to transfer a channel number between broadcasters. Perhaps the Minister could look at giving Ofcom the opportunity or powers to do so.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has the matter under consideration, but there has been a delay in the legislation coming through, which has resulted in STV launching local channels in the new year. That is extremely unhelpful.
I strongly believe in public service broadcasting. STV is a credible organisation on which many people in Scotland depend for their news. To move it to channel 26 would cause great distress among many of our constituents. It beggars belief that a channel that delivers good news programmes and quality programming is being put behind something that sells products on television. I would suggest that people who want to watch teleshopping channels will search anyway, but if someone wants to watch the news or their favourite programme, be it football or even “Coronation Street”, they should be able to know exactly which channel they need to go to. I ask the Minister to clarify where we are and to keep STV either where it is or certainly within the single-digit channel numbers.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Osborne. I want to say at the outset that I regard the views of Ayrshire as very important and they should dominate the tone of this important debate, which I thank the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Michael Connarty) for calling. It was good to hear him praise ITV, and I agree that ITV is in a very good place. I do not think that that is related to the fact that its chairman is a former Conservative MP, but that it is debt-free and doing well is something to note. He also praised STV, and I want to say how much I admire its chief executive, Rob Woodward. As a Minister, dealing with such an effective chief executive is good news, because whenever he comes to lobby Ministers, he has a clear and specific aim and does not mess about. He asks for something and gets a straight answer back, so it is good to deal with him. STV is in a good place with its support of independent production.
Despite the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), this is a very Scottish debate, and so much so that the Secretary of State’s Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod)—my mother lives in her constituency—is in fact from the highlands, which may explain her Conservative perspective. I will try to focus on the Scottish issue.
We all know that the electronic programme guide is the list of TV channels that appears on the screen and is navigated via the remote control. It is important as the gateway to digital TV services. The EPG is regulated by Ofcom under the powers in the Communications Act 2003. We recognise that, with growing convergence, we need to update the approach to regulation of the EPG. That need was reflected in the tone of the speech made by the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk. We and he recognise the importance of certainty in the EPG regime for commercial broadcasters, because it is important for them to be prominent to maintain their levels of investment, and for public service broadcasting, which also needs to have appropriate prominence. Our objectives are therefore both economic and cultural. We want to ensure that viewers have easy access to valuable content and to public service broadcasting services, including local television, and to enhance the vitality and sustainability of public service broadcasting.
We are also debating the advent of local television. I pay tribute to the former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, now the Secretary of State for Health, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt). It was his vision to bring local television to the United Kingdom, and it is very much down to him that we are in the position that we are in today. He drove the policy forward and made it happen, despite considerable obstacles placed in his way.
This Christmas will see the country’s first local television channel—in Grimsby, Hull and surrounding areas—Estuary Television, which launched at the end of last month. The transmission network that will support local TV has been completed and, thanks to the efforts of Ed Hall and his team at Comux, the new control centre in Birmingham went live at the end of November. It is also important to pay tribute to the work of Ofcom and the BBC Trust in getting local TV up and running. As the hon. Gentleman said, next year is when local TV starts in earnest, with 19 stations in the first phase going on air by the end of the year, including the two new services for Glasgow and for Edinburgh, which will be run by STV, because it won the new licences. It is also important to note that Ofcom will offer new licences for Dundee and Aberdeen next year.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned that local TV has been allocated the channel 8 slot in England and Northern Ireland on Freeview, but in Wales Channel 4 has the channel 8 slot, because S4C has the channel 4 slot; BBC Alba has the channel 8 slot in Scotland. Before the local TV licences were advertised in May last year, DMOL— Digital Television Multiplex Operators Ltd, a consortium of the Freeview operators—was asked to set out the position on EPG slots to Ofcom, which it did in April 2012. At that time, the best available slot in Wales and Scotland was channel 45.
As I might mention later in my speech, the criterion for public service broadcasting is “appropriate prominence”—that is in the guidelines, but it is a relatively vague term, which is one reason why it is important that we update the regulations. I will write to the hon. Gentleman, setting out in detail the criteria for the licence slots. It is important to note at this point, however, that local television is a new service; although it is public service broadcasting and should therefore have due prominence, that must be balanced against the fact that other stations already had slots that their viewers had got used to. There would be resistance from those stations to being moved off their slot.
I need to make a number of points. First, we are talking about new channels, so we should celebrate the fact that we are getting local television in Scotland. Secondly, when bids were invited, those who bid for local television slots in Scotland knew at the time that they would get channel 45. Importantly—and in a testament to the importance of local television and to the fact that Digital UK, which has in effect now taken over DMOL, also considers it important—when new slots became available, local television was moved up the EPG. It moved initially to channel 41 and then to 34; it has now reached 26, as it moves up the virtual hit parade. That is a significant improvement.
I have also had had discussions with Digital UK about the issue, because I have a lot of sympathy with the points made by the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk. Furthermore, the policy is one that we came up with, so we want to see it successful—albeit it had welcome all-party support.
Another aspect of the mix is that, because STV has won the licences for local television, it will be able to promote them on channel 3 to help viewers to find the new service. That is an additional element of support.
I may be anticipating the Minister’s comments, but I will draw him out anyway. My point is that if money has to be spent on advertising for people to find their local channels, revenue is being taken away from use on other things—I mentioned my positive view of production by STV—and advertising time on the main channel, which could have been sold to other people, is being taken away to advertise the new channels. If we believe in local television, we need to get it in parts of the country other than England and Northern Ireland. We have to give some incentive to cut down the cost—the opportunity cost—from someone else using that time.
It is important that I do not say too much, in case I get anything wrong, but it occurs to me that STV can certainly use its continuity announcements to make regular reference to city television being on channel 26. STV need not detract from its commercial advertising time, which is incredibly important to its finances. STV will take an imaginative and innovative approach to ensure that its viewers are aware that it is running effective local television. Furthermore, it is worth making the point that STV has already pioneered the way with web television, with—off the top of my head—about eight local web TV services for viewers to access.
As I hinted earlier, I am in regular touch with Digital UK about local television. It understands the importance that I personally attach to getting the best outcome possible, in particular given the challenge of the new services and getting them established. As I said earlier, I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises that we have made considerable progress. I am due to meet Caroline Thomson, the chair of Digital UK, in the new year and will raise the issue again with her, as I recognise that stations need to have certainty before they firm up their marketing plans for launch.
The hon. Gentleman pointed out that local TV services have been designated as public service broadcasters, so they should benefit from the requirement that such services are prominent on the EPG. As I said, that does not automatically guarantee a particular slot on the Freeview EPG, given that the Freeview platform has contracts in place with existing channels. That gives me the opportunity to move on to what I hope we might do about the EPG in the future.
As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, we published our strategy paper, “Connectivity, Content and Consumers”, in July and we raised the issue of prominence and whether the right channels are being made easily discoverable, as the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Jim Sheridan) indicated in his remarks. That does not apply only to local television; I think it applies to children’s television as well, for example.
I will finish early, I am afraid, Mrs Osborne.
We will launch a consultation early next year, and seek views on the prominence regime. Indeed, I would welcome the views of the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk and all hon. Members when we launch the consultation.
The hon. Gentleman made a number of points about BBC Alba, pointing out its prominent spot on the Freeview EPG in Scotland. BBC Alba is an important service and is designated as a public service broadcast channel, as local TV is. It was launched in September 2008 and took the free channel 8 slot when it joined Freeview in 2011. That has helped it to attract viewers, which in effect makes the hon. Gentleman’s point. It now has 0.5 million viewers a week on average, with 3.4 million tuning in via the BBC iPlayer last year. In fact, there was an 86% increase in iPlayer viewings in that year compared with the previous year. The decision to allocate the channel 8 slot was made by DMOL, now taken over by Digital UK, in line with its code on EPGs. I do not want to comment on whether the new local television service should take precedence over BBC Alba, but no doubt both the BBC and Digital UK will be watching the debate and reflecting on the points the hon. Gentleman has made.
If the Minister was listening clearly to the points I made he will have heard that I was not making a plea to move BBC Alba. I was passing on comments from my friends in the Gaeldom about the inappropriate things that are shown in Gaelic on BBC Alba, rather than saying that the channel should be moved.
I stand corrected by the hon. Gentleman.
We recognise the benefits of having a single, easily accessible channel for local television: it would help with branding and advertising sales for all local TV companies and would help new viewers find the new services. It is unlikely that that we will see a change before the launch of the new STV services in Edinburgh and Glasgow, but, as I hope the hon. Gentleman recognises, we have made progress since April 2012.
I have no wish to be rude about BBC Alba, but if we took the viewing figures for football away from BBC Alba I think we would find a big difference from the figures for STV. I have two questions. First, is it the case that BBC 1 will have the channel 1 slot, BBC 2 will have the channel 2 slot and BBC Alba will have the channel 8 slot? That gives the BBC a good run in the top 10—the hit parade that the Minister mentioned. Secondly, does he see any role for Ofcom in these discussions?
As I say, the current arrangements are likely to be the case for the foreseeable future. We all welcome the arrival of local television. As I said earlier, it was very much the vision of my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey but it came about because of all-party support and has been, dare I say it, one of our more popular policies.
There is an idiosyncratic situation in Wales and Scotland because of the presence of S4C and BBC Alba and the effect of that on the channel 8 slot; that is not the case in England or Northern Ireland. Originally, local television was allocated the channel 45 slot. The Department and others engaged with Digital UK and it clearly took notice—although I would not claim that it was as a direct result—because local TV has effectively been first in the queue when channel slots have become free, and has moved up to the channel 26 slot. That is in line with the regulatory system, which requires due prominence for public service broadcasting—and local television is designated public service broadcasting—balanced against the contractual situation with existing channels, which have a right to certainty.
We recognise that in a converging world the EPG plays a crucial role in ensuring that public service broadcasting remains prominent for the viewer. That is important both economically and, more importantly, culturally. Next year, we will consult—I apologise to the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North if he thinks the process has been delayed, but we will consult as soon as we can—on how we can secure prominence for public service broadcasters within the EPG regime. That will be an open consultation and we would welcome views from hon. Members and other interested stakeholders.
I do not have a firm date for when the consultation will be launched. Normally, when asked about the launch of any consultation I always say that it will be launched in the spring, mindful of the fact that in Whitehall spring runs from February to November. So I will say that the consultation is likely to be launched in the spring. I do not know how long it will last, but I suspect it will be about three months. I hope that will be time enough. There may even be a short inquiry by the Select Committee into the role of the EPG in a converged television world. We will certainly take on board any recommendations from the Select Committee.
That is the process we have undertaken. We have made progress. Perhaps we have not made as much progress as the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk would like to see, but at least on one level we are travelling in the same direction. We both recognise the importance of local television and we also recognise that an anomaly exists in Scotland, so there is a need to consult and to make progress.
Question put and agreed to.