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Homelessness

Volume 619: debated on Monday 16 January 2017

The Government are committed to tackling homelessness. We have launched a £50 million homelessness prevention package and are backing the most ambitious legislative reforms in decades through the Homelessness Reduction Bill. I am delighted that Chelmsford will be one of the country’s first homelessness prevention trailblazer areas announced by the Prime Minister last month.

I am very grateful to the Minister for his reply. Does he agree that in the 21st century rough sleeping is totally unacceptable? Will he tell me more about what is being done not only in England as a whole but in Chelmsford to end this stain on our society?

The whole House will agree that rough sleeping is totally unacceptable and that we should do all we can to end it. Our £20 million rough sleeping grant will fund 54 projects working to provide rapid response support for rough sleepers across England. It will help to prevent people from spending a night on the streets in the first place. I am delighted to tell my right hon. Friend that Chelmsford will receive almost £900,000 funding for preventing homelessness in partnership with neighbouring local authorities.

17. The inspirational ladies football player, Fara Williams, was homeless at 17, but went on to play 157 times for England, including as captain, and is now at Arsenal. Fara supports Centrepoint’s appeal for funds to set up the first national freephone helpline for 16 to 25-year-olds who are homeless and at risk of living a life on the streets, as she was. Does the Minister agree that that is a tremendous, long overdue initiative and that it should be funded by the Government? (908159)

The hon. Lady is right to bring that prime example to our attention. The fact that somebody is rough sleeping does not mean that they do not have the ability to reach their full potential, but we need to encourage them to do that. The Government currently pay for a service called StreetLink, which people can ring, or use an app, to report those who are sleeping rough. The details are then brought to the attention of the local housing department.

I declare my interest as a member of Kettering Borough Council.

Will the Minister congratulate Kettering Borough Council and its inspirational housing director, John Conway, on the measures they have taken during the recent cold weather to get all rough sleepers off the streets in Kettering and give them the appropriate housing advice they need?

I thank my hon. Friend for giving that very important and heartening example. Some local authorities across the country are doing excellent work to prevent homelessness and rough sleeping, and the type of initiative he mentions should be followed by other local authorities.

On Wednesday, Glasgow City Council will consider a report that shows the devastating impact the universal credit roll-out is having on homelessness services in the city. So far, it has resulted in 73 homeless individuals racking up debts to the council of £144,000, an average of £1,971 per person. That is completely unsustainable both for the individuals and the council. What impact is the UC roll-out having on local authorities across the UK?

The Government have increased discretionary housing payments to £870 million across this Parliament to mitigate some of the short-term challenges people face from the welfare changes. As for the local housing allowance rate, 30% of the savings from that policy will be repurposed to help people in the highest value areas with the challenges in affordability.

I am afraid that is completely inadequate. Since 2011-12, welfare reform has meant that homelessness services in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, have seen cuts of more than £6 million to their temporary accommodation budgets. Does the Minister not accept that really to help rough sleepers and people who are homeless there must be co-ordinated work across all Government Departments? We cannot have one Department undermining the services of another.

The hon. Lady makes a good point and I assure her that we are working extremely hard across Government through a cross-governmental working group, which I chair. She mentions the fact that temporary accommodation and the temporary accommodation management fee, which originates from Department for Work and Pensions policy, is being devolved to local authorities and to the Scottish Government.

Rather than patting themselves on the back, should not the Government be apologising for allowing rough sleeping to double since 2010? This is not an insoluble problem; it merely requires action such as that taken by the previous Labour Government, which cut street homelessness by three quarters. Will the Minister adopt the initiative announced last month by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) and commit to an extra 4,000 homes to end rough sleeping altogether?

It will not be lost on the hon. Gentleman that under the Labour Government, in 2003, homelessness was at its peak. This Government are absolutely committed to making sure that we eradicate rough sleeping and we are working extremely hard, with a £20 million fund for local authorities, as I mentioned earlier, and £10 million for social impact bonds to get our most entrenched rough sleepers off the street.