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Rough Sleeping

Volume 624: debated on Monday 24 April 2017

One person sleeping on the streets is one too many, which is why we committed ourselves to spending more than £550 million to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping in England. That includes supporting 84 projects through our £50 million homelessness prevention programme, an end-to-end approach to tackling homelessness and rough sleeping.

Since joining the House in 2010, I have seen with my own eyes the incredible increase in the number of people sleeping rough on our streets. I have seen it in my constituency and in places that I have visited around the country, and, indeed, I see it on the doorsteps of Westminster itself when we arrive and leave for votes. Can the Secretary of State tell me what changed in 2010?

The hon. Gentleman may know that the number of statutory homelessness acceptances is below its peak—less than half its peak in 2003—but of course there is much more to be done, especially, as he pointed out, when it comes to rough sleeping. I have seen it as well: I have seen it throughout the country, and I have seen it here at Westminster. As he may also know, I said a great deal about this issue at the Crisis 50th anniversary conference. I said, for instance:

“Ending rough sleeping is within our gift. It is something we can do. It is something we must do. And, working together, it is something we are going to do.”

Many people fear that the general election may result in a delay in the implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Bill. Will the Secretary of State tell us what progress has been made so far? Given that the Bill has cross- party support, can the work not continue during the election period?

Let me take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) on all the work that he did to present that Bill and to get it through Parliament. It has still to complete one final parliamentary stage—about which we are very confident—but we have already started work with local authorities to ensure that it comes into force straight away.

In my home borough of Westminster—which includes Westminster station, where, as has been mentioned, we see rough sleepers—the level of rough sleeping has soared. The Westminster council area alone contains a third of all the rough sleepers in London. The council has just cut—indeed slashed—its rough sleeping budget. Does the Secretary of State believe that that will help or hinder efforts to reduce rough sleeping?

We are providing more funds for councils throughout the country, including Westminster council, to combat rough sleeping. For example, we have provided £100 million to deliver 2,000 independent living units, as well as a £20 million rough sleeping grant. However, as I said earlier, I want to do more, and the Government are determined to do more. A few weeks ago, I went to Finland to see what it has done for itself with the Housing First project. I think that we can learn lessons from others, and make sure that we do more at home.

Since 2015 I have led a range of homelessness roundtables in Bath, bringing together charities such as the Genesis Trust, Developing Health & Independence and Julian House, all of which have received Government funding. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the integration of services is critical to solving this problem, and that residents of Bath should back my plan in order to help to solve it?

I very much agree with my hon. Friend, and I commend the work that he has done locally, which is very well known, in trying to bring those services together. I am pleased to be able to tell him that Swindon, Wiltshire, Bath and North Somerset councils will benefit from some £259,000 in rough sleeping grant to help promote integration.

The scale of rough sleeping and homelessness in Britain today shames us all. In a country as decent and well off as ours, it is not inevitable. However, the level has more than doubled since 2010 as a direct result of decisions made by Conservative Ministers.

There are very few simple rules in politics, but this is one: with a Labour Government homelessness falls, and under the Tories it goes up. On 8 June, people will ask themselves, “Do we really want more of the same?” Let me say to the Secretary of State that, with a new national mission, he need not go to Finland. Will he, before the election, commit his party to matching our Labour commitment and backing our Labour plans to end rough sleeping by the end of the next Parliament?

I know the right hon. Gentleman, and I know that he cares deeply about this issue, as do Conservative Members. He should not play party politics with it, because it is a very serious issue that unites everyone in the House. We all want to see an end to rough sleeping, but he knows as well as I do that its causes are complex. They are not just economic; there are mental health problems, and addiction problems. We do have lessons to learn from abroad, but I am sure that if the right hon. Gentleman works with us—if we work together—we can all unite in ending rough sleeping for good.

This is precisely about politics: it is precisely about the political decisions made over the last seven years that have made the causes of homelessness so much worse. Rapidly rising homelessness is just the tip of the iceberg on seven years of failure on housing: rough sleeping doubled, home ownership down, house building falling, private renters ignored, housing benefits bills ballooning, and now the lowest level of new affordable homes to rent and buy for 24 years. No wonder Labour is ahead in the polls on housing. After seven years of failure, the Tories have no plan to fix the housing crisis. Is that not why people now desperately need a new deal on housing led by a new Labour Government?

I thought that if anyone was going to raise the opinion polls today, it would be a Conservative Member, but the right hon. Gentleman continues to surprise us all. I say to him again: let us work together on rough sleeping. It is very easy for Labour to make a commitment to end rough sleeping without having any plans, any initiative, or anything in hand to show what they would actually do about it. We have got the ideas, and we have new ideas, for example the Housing First concept which we are trialling already—right now—in Liverpool. The right hon. Gentleman has the opportunity to work with us if he really means it.