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Rough Sleeping

Volume 616: debated on Monday 24 October 2016

One person sleeping on the streets is one too many. All too often, support and intervention are only provided at crisis point, which is why we have launched our £40 million homelessness prevention programme—an end-to-end approach to tackling homelessness and rough sleeping to get people back on their feet.

St Mungo’s reported last week that four in 10 people sleeping rough in England have mental health conditions, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Poor mental health makes it harder for rough sleepers to get off the streets and almost impossible to gain access to mainstream NHS services. St Mungo’s reports that

“the small number of specialist…mental health services are facing cuts or disappearing altogether.”

How exactly is the Secretary of State addressing the growing mental health crisis among people sleeping on the streets?

The hon. Lady raises an important issue. As she rightly points out, homelessness is not just an issue of providing enough homes but of dealing with other causes. There is a cross-party working group on homelessness, and the Government are working across all Departments to deal with these complex issues. I am sure that we will make further progress.

It is often alleged—I am not sure how much statistical evidence there is—that a disproportionate number of rough sleepers in Britain come from the armed services. Will the Secretary of State tell us, first, whether or not that is true and whether there is any statistical evidence; and secondly, what more can be done to ensure that when people leaved the armed services they are given proper accommodation and kept off the streets?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue. It is a disproportionate number, which is unacceptable. Almost all local authorities have signed up to the armed forces covenant, which will help, but we have to do more. The fact that the Government have committed £500 million to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping over the next four years will certainly help.

Two weeks ago, I joined the excellent Wintercomfort organisation in Cambridge, which provides services for rough sleepers in the city. It was in no doubt that the numbers are rising inexorably. How can reducing the support for supported housing in any way help to deal with this issue?

The hon. Gentleman should know that we are not reducing support for supported housing. This is an issue that we continue to take seriously and that we will continue tackling.

Clearly, having any single individual sleeping rough in this country is a disgrace. Will my right hon. Friend take urgent action to identify the people who are sleeping rough and to ensure that they get the help and support that they need, so that they have a home of their own and they can get back to a normal way of life?

Of course the Government can help with that. My hon. Friend will know that last December the Government committed to looking at options, including legislation, to deal with homelessness and to help rough sleepers. I am pleased to announce to the House today that the Government will be supporting his Bill, the Homelessness Reduction Bill, which is also supported by Crisis and Shelter. I thank him for all his hard work on the Bill and also thank the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), who is responsible for local government.

It is good to see the Secretary of State and his new team in place, and it is even better to see our new strong Labour team in place. We will hold the Secretary of State and his team hard to account for the public for their failings.

With Labour in government, the number of homeless people sleeping rough on our streets fell by three quarters. Since 2010, the number has doubled. Why does the Secretary of State think that that has happened?

The right hon. Gentleman has raised the issue of Labour in government. Let me remind him what happened—he was a Housing Minister for some of that time. Labour cut the number of houses available for social rent by 421,000. Since we have been in office, more council housing has been built, helping people to find homes, than in the entire 13 years of the Labour Government. If Labour had spent as much effort on building homes as it does on building its Front-Bench team, we would have had better results.

You can’t help the homeless if you won’t build the homes. Over the past six years, the Secretary of State’s Government have cut all funding for building new, genuinely affordable social housing. He asks about my record. In 2009, when I stood where he is standing, Labour in government started 40,000 new social rented homes. Last year, it was 1,000. From Labour’s Front Bench, I welcome the Secretary of State’s backing for the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), but will the right hon. Gentleman take the opportunity on Friday also to deal with the causes of rising homelessness? Build more affordable housing. Act on private renting and reverse the crude cuts to housing benefit for the most vulnerable people.

Again, the right hon. Gentleman raises his record in office. The House needs to be reminded that, under Labour, house building fell to its lowest level since the 1920s. That is Labour’s record, and Labour will never get away from it. Soon we will introduce a White Paper on housing. Let us see if he is able to support it.