There are too many people sleeping rough and I am determined to do more. That is why the rough sleeping and homelessness reduction taskforce will deliver a cross-Government strategy to tackle this issue, with the help of an expert advisory panel.
I welcome the Minister to her new role. Rough sleeping has doubled nationally since 2010, but in my constituency it has doubled in the past two years, according to our local charities Leamington Winter Support and Helping Hands. Of course, the biggest cause of homelessness is a lack of affordable housing. In my constituency, developers have delivered—
That is an interesting question, because those statistics are not aligned with November’s rough sleeping statistics. However, we recognise concerns about viability assessments for affordable housing. Last autumn we consulted on proposals to simplify viability assessments and increase transparency. We will announce further details of our approach when we publish the new national planning policy framework consultation later this year.
The number of rough sleepers in Darlington has doubled since 2010. Is that caused by: (a), a reduction in council budgets; (b), more than £5 million of cuts to housing benefit; (c), the bedroom tax; (d), the lack of affordable housing; (e), universal credit—I could go to (z), Mr Speaker—or the Minister’s failure to tackle soaring rents in the private sector?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question but, frankly, this is not a laughing matter. The Government are clear that one person without a home is too many. We have already taken steps towards combating rough sleeping and homelessness. For instance, we have implemented the most ambitious legislative reform in decades through the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which comes into force this April. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) for all his hard work on that Act. We will ensure that more people get the help they need earlier to prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place.
The massive increase in homelessness and rough sleeping in my city of Glasgow is in stark contrast to the situation under the last Labour Government, when homelessness fell by more than three quarters. Given that shocking situation, what plans does the Minister have to roll out the finished Housing First pilot scheme, which prioritises rapid rehousing and permanent tenancies as a national strategy following the excellent pilot results in several British cities?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, which rather seemed to be about a devolved matter. As the nation gets to grips with this issue, the rough sleeping advisory panel, which I will chair, will include key figures from local and central Government, as well as homelessness charities. The panel’s role will be to support the taskforce in developing a cross-Government strategy to halve rough sleeping by 2022, and to eliminate it altogether by 2027. The first meeting of the advisory panel will take place on 1 February.
The interesting thing about the Wolverhampton area is that it is part of the west midlands, so we are working very hard with Mayor Andy Street, who will be joining me on the rough sleeping strategy panel. I look forward to our first meeting on 1 February.
I am launching an appeal for mobile phones with local charity Doorway to enable those who are homeless or suffering to get back on their feet—literally—and have an emergency lifeline. Will the Minister offer support for what is, for some people, a controversial initiative locally and agree that it is much more controversial that in the UK today we still have some people who are homeless, which is why the Government are prioritising that area?
In Rugby, council officers go out into the community to speak to rough sleepers and have recently placed four in supported accommodation, but more often than not offers of support are declined and only last week Warwickshire police charged two rough sleepers for aggressive begging. Does the Minister agree that it is vital that we provide support for those who are forced to sleep rough, but that it is important also to ensure that support goes to those who are in genuine need?
My hon. Friend is quite correct: this is a complex matter involving some inherent difficulties such as mental health issues, family breakdown, crisis and chaos, but equally, the state has to be fair-handed, and if people are begging aggressively and have properties of their own, the state will do what it has to do. Our focus is on rough sleepers who need the help most.
It is a pleasure to welcome the Minister to her place. She will be aware that, following a grant that provided funding for the Torbay End Street Homelessness campaign, we have seen the number of rough sleepers fall. Will she confirm how work of that sort will be complemented by the Homelessness Reduction Act coming into force later this year?
I thank my hon. Friend, whom I have known for many years, for his good question. We want to pick up on the pilots around the country that are working so well, and the Homelessness Reduction Act means that councils will have a duty to try to help people before they become homeless. That is why, as part of a suite of efforts, we are looking into dealing with these matters. We are confident that, by 2022, we will halve rough sleeping in this country.
There has been a noticeable increase in the number of rough sleepers in Shipley over the past year or so. Will the Minister set out what the Government are doing with Bradford Council to try to deal with that issue? Does she agree that, to help homeless people, it is important that Bradford Council develops new housing in cheaper, affordable areas in Bradford, rather than concentrating on building unaffordable, expensive houses on the green belt in Wharfedale in my constituency?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question; he never fails to disappoint. Interestingly, one area where councils will be able to flex their muscles more is in taking on empty homes and looking into quality rented properties that are affordable for everybody so that communities stay together. I think that is something Bradford Council ought to do.