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Homelessness and Rough Sleeping

Volume 632: debated on Monday 4 December 2017

1. What assessment he has made of trends in the number of homeless people sleeping rough between 2010 and 2016. (902691)

2. What assessment he has made of trends in the number of homeless people sleeping rough between 2010 and 2016. (902692)

10. What assessment he has made of trends in the number of homeless people sleeping rough between 2010 and 2016. (902701)

There are too many people sleeping rough, and I am determined to do more. That is why I will be leading a ministerial taskforce that will drive forward the implementation of a cross-Government strategy to help tackle this issue.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer, even though he did not answer my question. The reality is that since 2010 rough sleeping has risen by 134%. Worse still, this Government have encouraged local authorities to use public place protection orders to criminalise and fine rough sleepers when they accept food or money from kind strangers. When on earth is he going to do to curb this?

The hon. Lady is talking about trends. Let me remind her that statutory homelessness acceptances reached their peak in 2003 under the previous Labour Government, and since then they have come down by more than a half. But of course there is much more to do, and she is right to highlight this issue. That is why I am sure that she will welcome all the work that this Government are doing in this area, including £1 billion of dedicated funding over this spending period.

According to Shelter, one in 2,122 people in Kirklees is currently homeless. My local drop-in homeless shelter has seen numbers double in the past six months alone, with the biggest cause being the termination of private rental agreements. What is the Secretary of State doing to make tenancies more secure, and what steps is he taking to tackle soaring private rents?

Again, the hon. Lady is right to emphasise this issue, which many Members on both sides of the House have worked hard on. I thought she would welcome the funding we are providing, including the announcements made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor just a couple of weeks ago on more funding to tackle homelessness, which will help in all constituencies, and the ministerial taskforce, which will make an effort across Government.

Many young homeless people fear being trapped in local authority temporary accommodation when they lose their housing benefit under universal credit. Given the revelation that roll-out has been delayed in the constituencies of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and his two predecessors, will the Secretary of State agree to pass on the concerns of Kirklees Council and suggest that the delay might be applied elsewhere?

I hope that the hon. Lady will join me in welcoming universal credit as a policy that helps to get people into work, including in her constituency. Where there have been issues, my right hon. Friend the Work and Pensions Secretary has listened carefully. He responded through the recent Budget, including with changes that will help people who were getting housing benefit, such as the new transition to universal credit housing benefit that will help some 2.3 million people.

The recent National Audit Office report on this issue showed that while councils have increased their spending on tackling homelessness, they have reduced their spending on preventing it in the first place. These priorities seem to make no sense. May I urge the Secretary of State to ensure that all councils reverse this trend so that we can properly tackle the causes, not just the symptoms?

My hon. Friend speaks with experience; as a former Housing and Planning Minister, he knows these issues well. He is right to highlight this. That is why it was important that the whole House supported the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which is coming into force in April next year. With that, there will be new burdens funding of over £70 million for local authorities.

I am sure that the Secretary of State agrees that for as long as one person remains rough sleeping in our nation, it is a national tragedy that we must do something about. At the same time, does he not accept that there is often a complex of reasons to do with mental health, being in the military—I am very concerned about that—physical health, and drink and drug abuse? Those are the complications, and making it some kind of party political issue actually diminishes the interests of these people.

My hon. Friend right. This is one of those issues that I think we can safely say that every Member of this House is concerned about. If we work together we can achieve more. I am sure that he will welcome, for example, the funding of £28 million for the Housing First pilots announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, which will help people to deal with the complex needs that he talks about.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing additional funding in the Budget to help people who are homeless. Will he elucidate what he is going to do to roll out the programme to combat rough sleeping right across the country so that we can end this national scandal once and for all?

Let me once again take the opportunity to commend my hon. Friend for all the work that he has done, in this House and beyond, to combat homelessness, including with the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which he championed. He is right to highlight the new funding that has been provided: £28 million for the three Housing First projects, and an additional £20 million to help to prevent people in the private rented sector from getting to homelessness in the first place. We will be looking carefully at, and talking widely about, how best to make use of that money.

22. One million pounds is about to be cut from Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s homelessness budget by the Conservative and Independent Alliance that runs the authority. That will push the job of supporting homeless people on to excellent organisations such as the YMCA, which is run, in my constituency, by Danny Flynn. If those organisations cannot count on support from local authorities, what help will the Minister give direct from central Government to make sure that voluntary organisations that help homeless people get the resources that they need? (902713)

The hon. Gentleman is right to ask what central Government can do to help. One of the ways we are helping is by providing the resources nationally—over £1 billion of funding to 2020, which is the highest budget that has ever been dedicated to combating homelessness.

I, too, want to mention the work of YMCA. YMCA Black Country and Rachael Taylor in my constituency run an “Open Door” programme that places young people in family homes so that they can continue to enjoy a family life. Will the Secretary of State join me in visiting this work in my constituency?

I take this opportunity to thank my hon. Friend for the work that he has done in this area since long before he came into the House; I know that he continues to champion such work. I will very happily join him in his constituency. I hear that the work the YMCA has done throughout the country, including in his constituency, has been exemplary.

23. Over 120,000 children are set to be without a home and living in temporary accommodation this Christmas—an increase of 66% since 2010. Why does the Secretary of State think that the number of homeless children fell under Labour but has risen under the Conservatives? (902714)

Every homeless person is vulnerable, but children are particularly so. That is why we must work together to do all that we can. The funding of over £400 million for the flexible grant that is provided through local authorities can help, but the new taskforce will also take on that work to see what more we can do across Government.

Homelessness is a very complex issue, and I am sure that everyone in the House agrees that it is something that we should not be facing. What discussions has my right hon. Friend had across Government Departments on, for instance, mental health, which is always identified as an issue in homelessness?

My hon. Friend is right to say that the causes of homelessness and rough sleeping are very complex, and not just economic. He is right to emphasise that mental health issues sometimes play a part. My right hon. Friends the Health and Education Secretaries have announced a Green Paper on the mental health needs of children and young people, and this is an appropriate time to make sure that we are doing everything we can as a Government.

May I begin by paying tribute to the former Labour MP Jimmy Hood, who was MP for Clydesdale and my home town when I was growing up, and who I understand has died today? My thoughts and those of the Scottish National party are very much with his family and friends.

Shelter has found that eviction from private tenancies in England accounts for 78% of the rise in homelessness, and some of the people who are made homeless will almost certainly end up sleeping rough. Will the Secretary of State look at protection measures such as the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016, which came into force last week and which includes measures such as banning no-fault eviction?

May I first associate myself with the hon. Lady’s comments about Jimmy Hood? He will be sorely missed by the House.

The hon. Lady made a point about the Scottish experience of combating homelessness. One thing we want to do is to look at best practice outside England. We want to look at whether there are some things to learn from Scotland, and some measures have been suggested by my Scottish friends. For example, we are looking further at the Housing First policy from Finland.

The hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) has just broken the news to the Opposition about Jimmy Hood’s death. He was a huge humane figure in Scottish Labour and in this House, and he will be sorely missed.

The Secretary of State tries to tell us that the Government have a good record on homelessness. Since 2010, Ministers have made 452 announcements on homelessness, but 47,000 more children are now homeless; that is more than 100 additional homeless children for every Conservative press release. What is needed now is action to deal with the root causes of this rising homelessness, not more warm words. I have a straight question for the Secretary of State: will there be any further cuts in funding in this Parliament for homeless hostels and women’s refuges under his plans for short-term supported housing?

Last week, the right hon. Gentleman and I attended a parliamentary reception in the Commons for St Mungo’s, where he rightly talked about—we both talked about—how some issues are above politics and it is important for Members on both sides of the House to co-operate on them. Homelessness and rough sleeping is one of those issues, and I know that he meant what he said so I take his question seriously.

We have no plans to cut the funding, whether for women’s refuges or for other support we are providing in relation to homelessness. Indeed, in my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s Budget just a couple of weeks ago, we saw an increase in spending and resources to fight homelessness.

The problem is that many of the decisions the right hon. Gentleman’s Government have taken have made this so much worse. In his consultation document on supported housing, he pledges to protect funding only in 2020-21, which is why homelessness charities, such as women’s refuges and Women’s Aid, are so concerned that there is still a risk to their future services. The tragedy is that we know what works because we have done it before, when Labour was in government. If he wants to act on a cross-party basis, will he back Labour’s plan to end rough sleeping homelessness within a Parliament, provide 4,000 extra homes for rough sleepers, review the social security system and build the new low-cost housing that is needed?

With respect, the right hon. Gentleman is being a bit disingenuous in his use of those figures and so-called facts. He will know that when it comes to women’s refuges—

Order. “Disingenuous” means dishonest and—[Interruption.] Indeed. The word cannot be said without a response. The Secretary of State is a most versatile fellow—very dextrous in his use of language—and I am sure he will withdraw it and use some other word. [Interruption.] Order. I cannot hear what the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) is chuntering from a sedentary position, but we can always have a cup of tea later.

I withdraw the word “disingenuous”, and let me say that the right hon. Gentleman is not being as clear as he could be if he wanted to be. When it comes to women’s refuges, we have dedicated £20 million, which will provide some 2,200 additional bed spaces. In future years, it will be right to see what the demand is and make sure we make appropriate resources available. [Interruption.]

The hon. Member for Bolsover is right to say that if somebody who uses an unparliamentary word refuses to withdraw it, that Member has only one place to go—and that is out. That applies across the piece, but to be fair, the right hon. Gentleman did withdraw the word, so the crisis has been averted. [Interruption.] Order. Anyway, it is on the record and I hope the hon. Gentleman is now content. He has a beatific smile on his face, and I think this should be canned.