Cookies: We use cookies to give you the best possible experience on our site. By continuing to use the site you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more.

House of Commons Hansard
27 February 2018
Volume 636

    [Relevant Documents: Oral evidence taken before the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee on 27 November 2017, on the Homelessness Reduction Act, HC 554; Fifth Report of the Communities and Local Government Committee, Session 2016-17, the draft Homelessness Reduction Bill, HC 635, and the Government response, Cm 9443; Third Report of the Communities and Local Government Committee, Session 2016-17, Homelessness, HC 40; Eleventh Report of the Committee of Public Accounts, Homeless households, HC 462; Sixty-third Report of the Committee of Public Accounts, Session 2016-17, Housing: State of the Nation, HC 958; and Written evidence to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, on the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government Supplementary Estimates 2017–18, reported to the House and published on 21 February 2018.]

  • I should inform colleagues that, following recommendations from the Procedure Committee, this year the subjects for the estimates debates have been chosen by the Backbench Business Committee, based on bids from Members. The subjects chosen by the Backbench Business Committee were then recommended to the Liaison Committee, which in turn, under Standing Order No.145, recommended them to the House, which agreed to them on 22 February. The first debate will be introduced by Layla Moran, who should speak for no more than 15 minutes, in accordance with the Standing Orders. Because so many Members wish to speak, after Layla Moran has introduced the debate I will impose a time limit of six minutes.

    Motion made, and Question proposed,

    That, for the year ending with 31 March 2018, for expenditure by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government:

    (1) further resources, not exceeding £296,942,000, be authorised for use for current purposes as set out in HC 808,

    (2) further resources, not exceeding £484,352,000, be authorised for use for capital purposes as so set out, and

    (3) a further sum, not exceeding £1,618,448,000, be granted to Her Majesty to be issued by the Treasury out of the Consolidated Fund and applied for expenditure on the use of resources authorised by Parliament.—(Wendy Morton.)

  • It is a great pleasure to introduce this estimates day debate on the spending of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government as it relates to homelessness. I would like to start by thanking the hon. Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan) for co-sponsoring the debate. I also thank colleagues on the Public Accounts Committee and the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), the Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, all of whom supported our bid to the Backbench Business Committee. I am delighted that so many Members wish to speak.

    I draw Members’ attention to the reports of the Public Accounts Committee and the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee that are listed on the Order Paper. It was a real eye-opener to work on the Public Accounts Committee as a lead member on that inquiry, alongside the hon. Member for Chichester and the Committee’s Chair, the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier). I will focus my remarks today on that report, which is well worth a read.

    The Public Accounts Committee heard and read evidence from a wide range of witnesses. I would especially like to thank St Mungo’s for hosting us and showing us its exemplary work, which led in large part to the questioning we went on to do. The report, which received widespread media coverage, made a number of recommendations on how the Government could more effectively co-ordinate and prioritise spending on tackling rough sleeping and helping all homeless households. These issues are of huge concern across the House and across the country, but they are of equal concern to very many members of our communities, especially on such a freezing day, in a week that is unusually cold.

    In my constituency of Oxford West and Abingdon, residents regularly raise concerns about rough sleeping and provision for homeless people—it is the No. 1 issue at the moment. I pay tribute to the incredible work being done in my constituency, especially by Homeless Oxfordshire, formerly known as Oxford Homeless Pathways. It has told me that in Oxford alone it is reaching out to, on average, two new people a day who are seeking its help.

    Recent news reports have highlighted a heavy-handed approach by Oxford City Council, with notices issued threatening homeless people with fines of up to £2,500 if they did not move their belongings. The treatment of homeless people in our city has sparked outrage from the public. There is now real determination, and not just in Oxfordshire but across the country, to ensure that we treat those who are sleeping rough with the dignity and respect they deserve.

  • The hon. Lady is making a powerful speech. Does she agree that we should also be concerned about some of the campaigns that have arisen aimed at the “fake homeless,” including one campaign in Devon that has led the police and Torbay Council to intervene because of the risk of vigilantism? Does she agree that, in the face of rising rough sleeping and homelessness, we should be taking a generous approach to those who are most vulnerable, not seeking to label them as fakes?

  • I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. I completely agree that a compassionate approach is absolutely what is needed.

    Following a campaign by Oxford University students, I was pleased to be able to introduce a private Member’s Bill earlier this month aimed at repealing the archaic Vagrancy Act 1824, a Dickensian law that is no longer fit for purpose.

    Oxford is not alone in seeing an increase in the problem of homelessness. Anyone who has visited a town or city centre recently will know that rough sleeping is now at crisis levels. Indeed, the Public Accounts Committee concluded that homelessness is a national crisis, with the number of rough sleepers rising year on year since 2010, doubling to over 4,100 in 2016. Crisis estimates that the figure is now as high as 9,000, and possibly more. Last summer in England there were over 78,000 households in temporary accommodation—this is not just about rough sleeping—which is up by 65% since 2010. Then there are the hidden homeless: the sofa surfers or people staying temporarily with friends and family who escape national statistics on rough sleepers.

  • Is my hon. Friend as concerned as I am that youth homelessness is one of the largest factors contributing to those figures, due to the benefit cut for 18 to 21-year-olds? Is it not time we reintroduced those benefits?

  • Yes, I agree. In fact, joined-up thinking between Departments is a theme that I will return to later in my speech.

  • The hon. Lady is making a powerful speech. Does she agree that it is important to tackle homelessness before it happens? The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which will come into operation in April—I was proud to sit on the Committee that scrutinised it—will deal with this by alerting services of the risk 56 days before people become homeless, and indeed the Government are providing £73 million to help local authorities tackle this.

  • I am indeed getting to that point, at which I will be very generous in my comments.

    I am sure that hon. Members are aware of the scale of the problem. How can we not be, when we heard the story of the gentleman who died right on our doorstep in the underpass of Westminster tube station just a few weeks ago? It is clear that the House needs to take this issue much more seriously, and I am sure that many of our constituents would agree.

    It is worth repeating some of the key statistics from the Public Accounts Committee’s report. There has been a 134% increase in rough sleeping since 2011. The average life expectancy of a rough sleeper is only 47. People on the street are 17 times more likely to be the victims of violence than those in settled accommodation. Children in long-term temporary accommodation miss far more days of school, at an average of 55 days a year. The country is seeing record problems including record numbers of rough sleepers, and huge increases in the number of families living in temporary accommodation and in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, sometimes for two and a half years at a time. It has never been more important for this House to ensure that the Government are spending enough—and, critically, that they are spending wisely—to address this problem of national significance.

    Having looked at the supplementary estimates—dare I say that I have not read them line by line?—it seems that the Ministry proposes an overall reduction of £470 million in its resource budget. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us what impact this is likely to have on homelessness. But this is not just about overall spending; it is also about how effectively the money is spent. The Public Accounts Committee has expressed concern over how effectively taxpayers’ money is being used. There have been some welcome developments, including the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

  • I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate. Southwark Council, one of the local authorities that serves my constituency, is a trailblazer for the Homelessness Reduction Act and has been much praised by the Minster’s predecessor for its implementation work on the Act and its good prevention work. Within a matter of months, Southwark Council will have to issue redundancy notices to the staff that it has recruited to implement the Homelessness Reduction Act, unless the Government can confirm their ongoing commitment to fund the implementation of the Act. Does the hon. Lady agree that the Homeless Reduction Act, which I and many other Members supported, will be a wasted opportunity to address homelessness unless the Government make that commitment?

  • I absolutely agree. Indeed, I will make that point myself later. We need to ensure that the resources are available to make this work.

    Local authorities spent £1.1 billion preventing and tackling homelessness in 2015-16, but the Public Accounts Committee found that there were problems: a lack of guidelines on how they should spend the funding they receive and what outcomes they are aiming for. The increase in spending to address homelessness coupled with ongoing cuts to local authority budgets means that councils are struggling to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place. Instead, their funding is being spent on tackling homelessness after it has already occurred.

    According to the National Audit Office report that underpinned our inquiry, spending on temporary accommodation, which is often poor, has risen from £622 million to £845 million. Meanwhile, countries such as Finland that have prioritised prevention are saving an average of £13,000 a year per homeless person. The key feature is that such countries give homeless people a stable place to stay, where they can rebuild their lives.

  • Will the hon. Lady therefore welcome the £28 million investment in the Housing First initiative, which is very much along the lines of the Scandinavian model to which she refers?

  • I will, of course. Any money in this area is a good thing, but I do have a concern about the supplementary estimate for 2017-18 that I want to raise with the Minister.

    The estimate proposes a reduction in current spending on preventing homelessness, from £265.8 million to £263.6 million. It also proposes to remove £25 million of capital funding previously allocated for reducing homelessness that will now not be spent in 2017-18. Given that the NAO and the Public Accounts Committee were both clear that there needs to be a focus on preventing homelessness in the first place, these figures are a cause for concern.

    I very much welcome the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, as did the whole Committee. Our concern, however, was that far too much sway was put on the Minister for that Act alone to be the panacea. It is not going to work without extra funding available to councils in order to implement it and without funding for truly affordable rents, particularly social rents.

    Let me highlight the case of one of my constituents, who lives in a rented house in Abingdon with her two children, one of whom has autism. She recently contacted me because, despite working full time, she cannot afford her rent and is terrified of eviction. She has looked high and low, but cannot find anywhere to live in Abingdon. This story exemplifies the crux of the issue. The report showed that the main driver of the current rise in homeless is the spiralling rents in the private rented sector. As a nation, how did we get to the stage where a mother in full-time work cannot afford a roof over her head?

  • Surely building more houses can help to reduce homelessness. Does the hon. Lady welcome the £9 billion that the Government have put towards building more affordable and social housing?

  • I do welcome it, although I worry. As the hon. Gentleman will know, given that his constituency is in Oxfordshire, even something “affordable” in Oxfordshire is not really that affordable when people want to buy. The prices are 80% of market value, but in a grossly inflated market. The key issue is that very little social rented accommodation is being built in our county and across the nation.

  • Will my hon. Friend give way?

  • I have to make some progress. I am sorry, but I am mindful of what Madam Deputy Speaker said.

    The estimates show a £259 million reduction in Homes and Communities Agency funding for starter homes and a £72 million reduction this year in affordable homes spending. This worries me. Meanwhile, the estimates show a significant increase in funding for Help to Buy. But those who are about to become homeless are very far from accessing Help to Buy: they have no spare cash, so how are they meant to raise the money for even a small deposit? The estimates also show that capital spend on other housing programmes will fall by £1.2 billion—a reduction of 40%—from £3 billion to £1.8 billion. Help to Buy is useful, but it is certainly not the fix-all solution. The Government have got the emphasis wrong.

    Liberal Democrats would like to see a more ambitious programme of house building, but one that aims to be truly affordable—not 80% of market value—and that, critically, also includes rented housing. We have yet to hear from the Government how they are going to achieve that, in the latest Budget or elsewhere.

    We also need to consider that people become homeless for a number of other reasons, the most common of which is the end of a private tenancy. Decreasing numbers of houses available for social rent means that local authorities are having to rely on private accommodation providers. This accommodation is often of a poor standard and does not offer value for money. There is a problem with landlords who do not want to accept people in receipt of housing allowance, and we suspect that universal credit will make this situation much worse.

  • The hon. Lady is making an incredibly powerful speech, and a lot of personal commitment has clearly been put into addressing this issue. She mentioned universal credit among other policies. Given that this has contributed to the problem, is it one of the policies that she is most embarrassed about her party pursuing while in government with the Conservative party?

  • I am afraid that that is not what this debate is about; I am going to move on.

    The NAO has found that

    “changes to Local Housing Allowance…are likely to have contributed to the affordability of tenancies for those on benefits, and are an element of the increase in homelessness.”

    The key point about joined-up thinking predates any Government. If we are truly to tackle the issue of homelessness, a key recommendation of the Committee’s report is that not only should the money and the provisions of the Homelessness Reduction Act be available, but that we also press Governments to work together.

    My last point is that a taskforce from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is meant to be leading this work, yet we were shocked to hear that the previous taskforce met only three times between 2015 and 2017. My understanding is that, as of last week, the new taskforce set up under the Homelessness Reduction Act has not even met once. It is critical that the Government take this matter seriously. Those who are homeless are in dire straits. They deserve not just our compassion and care, but, critically, they need us to find the money to put a roof over their heads. That is the best thing for them and, in the spirit of these estimates day debates, it is the most cost-effective thing to do.

  • It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran). I welcome today’s debate on the estimates of public spending by the Government on homelessness, which is a big challenge across the country. Happily, some great initiatives that aim to improve the current situation are coming up.

    First, I acknowledge the £1 billion investment allocated to combating rough sleeping through to 2020. Over the past seven years, there has been an increase in rough sleeping from 2,000 to 4,000, and one root of the problem is mental health issues, which mean that some rough sleepers refuse offers of accommodation. Moreover, many of the rough sleepers in the UK—nearly 60% of the total—are recent arrivals.

    To tackle rough sleeping in Northampton, the council has brought together a series of local services and organisations—charities, faith groups, health professionals and advice and support providers—and the police to develop a rough sleepers strategy, “Together we can change lives”, which encourages people to prevent and reduce rough sleeping in the borough. I take this opportunity to congratulate Northampton’s emergency night shelter for its great work. It opened a year ago and has provided more than 180 homeless people with a temporary shelter.

  • This very week in Taunton Deane, police are meeting with the chamber of commerce, along with health and housing specialists, to discuss the serious issue of homelessness. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is not just one solution or just one problem? We need to work together in a cross-departmental way.

  • That is absolutely critical and very much in the spirit of what I am outlining here.

    The 94 volunteers in the night shelter have helped 104 of their guests move into settled accommodation; 12 people are currently there. Alongside that is the work of the Northampton Hope Centre, which I visited last year and was most impressed by. Some 36 volunteers as well as local faith groups, Northampton Partnership Homes, S2S, Midland Heart, the county council, SSAFA, the Army, the Hope centre and the council all participated in a borough-wide count of rough sleepers in Northampton on 10 November 2017. All the people found were over 25, and of the 11 people identified 10 were already known to the council’s street outreach team. Of those, five were refusing to engage with local services, four had been provided with accommodation but lost it, as the report indicated, through their own actions. That shows the seriousness of the challenge and some of the complexities of the cases.

    The rough sleeping strategy is collaborative—a determined approach to achieve a step change in tackling the reasons why people sleep rough and help those on our streets to turn their lives around. As my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) said, the issue is about working across all partner agencies to provide the right mix of advice, support and practical help to change each person’s life.

    I believe that tackling homelessness also means building more houses. I am pleased to point out that since 2010, the Government have increased new housing numbers by 50%.

  • Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the only way of providing properly affordable homes is for local councils to build social housing?

  • That is one part of the mix of a solution. The way forward is through a whole range of options that the Government have been using. I would never under any circumstances say, “This is the one solution to providing houses or tackling homelessness”. As my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane mentioned earlier, a partnership approach is needed. We need to use all the tools in the toolbox to get on top of the problem.

  • Does my hon. Friend agree that councils ought to have their own local plans? They should be in the best place to understand local housing needs.

  • I absolutely agree that localism and a localist approach is right. The Government’s role is to empower local authorities to reflect the needs in their communities. We have already heard today how diverse the communities across the country are; “once size fits all” will not work.

    Some 357,000 affordable homes have been built since 2010 and £9 billion has been invested. I am also happy that, more locally, Northampton will be provided with an additional £198,415 to 2020 to help it deliver changes arising from the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. I believe that the Act is a giant step in the right direction. It encourages local authorities to develop solutions tailored to each area, together with the people affected by the issues. Both Crisis and Shelter have praised this legislative reform, which is to be implemented in April 2018.

  • I am greatly enjoying the hon. Gentleman’s speech. Does he agree that one way to tackle homelessness through the private sector is with cleverly targeted improvement grants for privately owned substandard properties? Those could be used to house the homeless. I am thinking of properties above shops, for instance, in town and city centres.

  • That open-minded, mixed approach is exactly the sort of thing that I would advocate. As we heard in the Communities and Local Government Committee yesterday, an approach to private and public sector housing that takes the best of each is most useful of all.

    As successful initiatives demonstrate, reducing homelessness is more effective when local authorities can distribute funds according to local needs and collaborate with volunteers and charities in the area, thus using everyone’s expertise. Fortunately, I believe that the Homelessness Reduction Act will very much help in achieving that.

  • In 2016, the Communities and Local Government Committee conducted an inquiry into homelessness and addressed many of the issues, including the fact that we do not have a really good take on what homelessness is. It is about rough sleepers, sofa surfing, and people living in overcrowded accommodation and with in-laws. The statistics are not satisfactory. The Government have accepted that we need to do a lot of work in trying to improve them. The Select Committee also did pre-legislative scrutiny on the Homelessness Reduction Bill, as it was then—the first time a Select Committee had done pre-leg scrutiny on a private Member’s Bill. In the end, the Act that came through the House with all-party agreement and great support was significantly helped by that scrutiny.

    There are challenges. Everyone can see that the Act’s content is really good. It tries to put the emphasis on prevention so that there is not the ridiculous situation of people being told to go away and wait until the bailiffs come before they will be considered as homeless. In a case I had recently, people were told to wait until twins were born in a cramped one-bedroom flat before they would be considered homeless. The Act ought to force local authorities to take proper account of such things.

    People are entitled to a proper plan when they go to see an authority. Their expectations about what they need in respect of their jobs, their caring arrangements and the schooling of their children should be taken account of; in many cases, however, local authorities are simply not able to do that because of the shortage of housing. People who are not entitled to priority rehousing must get proper advice. One of the horror stories we heard during evidence was that people were often sent away with a scrap of paper on which there were a few telephone numbers—often out of date—and told, “Go and ring them if you want any help.”

  • Does my hon. Friend agree that single men in particular are given that message—that they are right at the bottom of the queue, and sometimes wasting their time—very early on? They will often end up homeless and on the streets.

  • It is single people in that situation—women as well as men. We had evidence from both at our Select Committee inquiry. They are not entitled to priority rehousing from the local authority, but they are entitled to advice, although they were not getting it in all too many cases.

    The Government have given an extra sum, between £60 million and £70 million, to help the implementation of the 2017 Act. I do not think that anyone in local government thinks that sufficient. I hope that the Government are open-minded about the issue: it was emphasised over and over again, on a cross-party basis, both by the Select Committee and the Bill Committee, that the money will have to be looked at again. The Act must not fail because of a lack of resources for local authorities to implement it.

    As it stands, the Homelessness Reduction Act is likely to reduce not homelessness but its growth. As the NAO report on the estimates highlights, the big growth in homelessness and in the percentage of people presenting as homeless and being accepted is because of section 21 notices being served in the private rented sector and people not being able to afford the rent in that sector, as local housing allowance does not keep pace with rent increases. That is the situation, and it seems that the Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, as it is now called, simply have not got their act joined up.

    There needs to be an analysis of the effectiveness of constraining local housing allowance and what impact that has on extra spending down the line by local authorities on dealing with the consequences of increased homelessness. That analysis needs to be done if Government are going to justify that position. Something needs to be done urgently.

    Another problem is that many homeless people, including single people or people in temporary accommodation, are offered supported housing at some stage. All the evidence, from St Mungo’s and others, has been that the Government’s current proposal of grants being given to local authorities—albeit on a ring-fenced basis initially—to deal with supported housing of less than two years’ duration, which generally applies to people who are homeless, is not going to work. It will not encourage the provision of supported housing or allow existing housing to be maintained. St Mungo’s, the Salvation Army, Home Group and the YMCA have all given evidence to the Government and to my Select Committee to say that that needs to be revisited if we are going to have a proper service and system.

    This should not be simply about trying to address the issues of people who become homeless. That is really important. Why have we got a problem? In the end, it is because we have a shortage of housing in this country. I know that the Government have an ambitious target, which I share, to get us to a point where we are building 300,000 new homes a year in this country. However, we are not going to build those new homes unless a very high percentage are built by local authorities and housing associations with Government support. That is the reality.

    I welcome the Government giving a £1 billion lift to local authorities by raising the housing cap, but as the Treasury Committee has argued, we need to abolish that cap altogether, and the Government need to sit down with the Local Government Association and look at how we can start delivering social housing that people can afford. What is needed in this country is a major programme. That is needed for the people who cannot afford to buy and cannot afford rents in the private sector, and it is needed to hit the 300,000 target. We will not hit it any other way.

    The other great advantage of social house building of that scale is that it is counter-cyclical. We all know that building by private developers will go up and down with the market. At least we can have a degree of certainty in the long term if we plan for a major social house building programme, which will continue through recessions. The Government ought to give serious consideration to that.

    Finally, we have to think about the right to buy in areas of acute housing need. It cannot be right to give people a 70% discount to buy homes that are the only ones available for people in acute housing need and people who become homeless. Surely we need a review of the effectiveness of public spending, because that simply cannot be right.

    Let us have a look at the discount in areas of acute housing need or at the possibility of suspending the right to buy for a period, with local support. Let us at least look at 100% of the receipts being reinvested in social housing, rather than the percentage of the receipts at present, so that we can deliver back not simply one-for-one replacements—even that is not happening—but like-for-like replacements. A family home being sold off and replaced by an upper maisonette really is not good enough for a homeless family with children who need a home with a garden to live in.

  • It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) and to co-sponsor the debate with the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran).

    Homelessness touches every part of the UK, and we in this place need look no further than the entrance to Parliament, where tragically a Portuguese man died just two weeks ago. Figures released this year show an increase in rough sleeping of 169% since 2010, which means that on any one night, more than 4,000 people are sleeping on our streets. While those figures are shocking, they do not show the true scale of the problem.

    When we think of homelessness, we imagine people sleeping in doorways or underpasses, or on park benches, but there is another type of homelessness: people living in temporary accommodation. In March last year, an estimated 77,000 families, including 120,000 children, were living without a place to call home. Those are people living in hostels and bed and breakfasts. They are not sleeping on the streets, but they are without a home.

    There are countless others whom we do not hear about: the hidden homeless who are without a home and out of sight. I recently met a constituent who is a single mother of three and works part time. Her tenancy agreement ended after her landlady wanted to move back into the house, but when my constituent tried to find another home, she discovered she could not afford anywhere to rent, as the rental market had moved beyond her reach. Chichester District Council offered to put her up in a B&B 20 minutes away but, as a mother, she knew the destabilising effect that that would have on her children, and the long distance would make the school run challenging and expensive. Instead, she has had to split her family, with two of her children staying with her mother while she and her youngest are with her grandmother. That decision meant that her children could stay at their respective schools, unlike many others in temporary accommodation, who miss an average of 55 school days. That story is not uncommon, as the termination of private sector tenancy agreements is now the biggest single driver of homelessness.

    Successive Governments have failed to build adequate quantities of housing and the right type of housing. The demand-supply ratio has forced up rents and house prices, especially around the south-east. Across England, rents have increased by three times the rate of earnings, and the average rent for a two-bed flat in Chichester is now £944 a month. For many on lower incomes in expensive areas, there is a likelihood of their being priced out of the market and, without family help, becoming homeless.

    To tackle that, we know that we need to build more homes. I am pleased that the Government have announced a raft of policies to achieve that and have put house building at the top of their agenda. The multi-pronged approach is the right one, and just one of the measures that are being put in place is a change to planning law so that there are tougher consequences when planned homes are not built. For too long, developers have acquired planning permission and enjoyed watching the value of land increase while failing to lay a single brick.

    Of course, investment is key. The £1.5 billion home building fund and £2.7 billion increase to the housing infrastructure fund will go a long way towards ensuring that houses are built in areas where there is great need. I am sure that we all welcome the further investment in the affordable homes programme to the tune of £2 billion, meaning that the programme expenditure will reach £9 billion by 2020-21.

  • My hon. Friend is surely right about the importance of a long-term solution and providing more affordable housing, including in our area of West Sussex. Does she agree that there is also an important role for schemes such as emergency hosting for young people who become homeless, which can be provided by volunteers? The brilliant Depaul Nightstop service—I declare an interest, as my partner works for Depaul—provides such a scheme, but in only half the local authorities in England.

  • I do, and I am familiar with that fantastic scheme. We need to be more innovative to solve this problem. With a large number of people seeking permanent homes, house building measures are a step in the right direction, but building homes takes time, and many people’s needs are urgent, so such schemes are helpful.

    The country has faced similar situations throughout its history. In post-war Britain, when the nation was struggling to house its people, my own grandparents, newly married with a baby daughter, found themselves homeless after both had served their country during the war. No facilities for families were available at that time, so their only option was to stay in male-only and female-only hostels while their young daughter—my mum—went into an orphanage. Their plight was resolved when they were offered a prefabricated house to rent. My nan loved her prefab and always talked fondly of her first home. It was not just a house; it was the key to her building a happy family life. I urge the Government and local authorities to think innovatively so that they can provide more social housing in high-price areas for rental quickly.

  • Does the hon. Lady agree that one area to look at is prefab housing? I know that it got a bad reputation, but it might be the way forward.

  • I think it is worth looking at. I have looked at some modern homes that have been pre-made in factories, and they are lovely, spacious and very warm—in fact, the one I went into was too warm.

    Rough sleepers are among the most vulnerable people in society. We know that they have complex needs. Some are suffering from mental and physical health conditions. That point is highlighted by the fact that rough sleepers are nine times more likely to commit suicide then the general population.

    In Chichester, we have a strong community spirit, with people willing to go the extra mile to help one another. As an MP, I have had the privilege of meeting and working with many of these people. Charities such as Stonepillow work alongside churches such as St Pancras with the 19 rough sleepers in Chichester, providing them with basic facilities, including washing machines, a warm shower, a meal and a bed for the night. Importantly, they help to build support plans and offer a guided route to help people to get their life back on track. A GP surgery runs a needle exchange programme so that people suffering from addiction can take get the right advice and begin to turn their lives around, as they can through the Change, Grow, Live programmes provided by the council.

    As I am sure that colleagues are aware, addiction is more prevalent among those who sleep rough. I hope that that the Government’s Housing First pilots in the north, which do not have strict preconditions attached to them, are successful, and that this model can be rolled out across the rest of the UK.

    The Homelessness Reduction Act will provide a shift in the homelessness policy by working on preventive measures. We all agree that prevention is key, and the policy will ensure that everyone who is homeless or threatened with homelessness will be able to get advice and support from their local authority. Chichester District Council has been given £113,400 of extra funding to deliver the changes.

    I welcome the Government’s commitment to halve the number of rough sleepers by 2022 and to remove rough sleeping from our society by 2027, as well as their recognition of the complex nature of homelessness, which cannot be tackled by one Department alone. Tonight, however, thousands of people will be on our streets in sub-zero temperatures, while the number of people in temporary accommodation is unsustainable and actually very expensive. We need to find an effective solution, and while the Government’s housing policies will increase the housing stock over time, we need to prioritise more social housing in high-rent areas as, at 30% to 50% of market rents, these are the only truly affordable options for those on modest incomes.

  • It is a privilege to be the third member of the Public Accounts Committee to speak in today’s debate. It would be remiss of me not to mention the speech made by the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran), who is a member of the Committee, in which she focused a laser beam on issues of concern to her. I am also delighted to follow the hon. Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan), who is not afraid to go after any Department, and does so without fear or favour.

    The problem of homelessness goes much deeper than the 9,000 rough sleepers in this country. As a report published by the Public Accounts Committee clearly outlined at the end of last year, there are over 78,000 households in temporary accommodation, including 120,000 children. Although these tens of thousands have a roof over their heads, they do not have a place to call home. This is a national disgrace, but it is not inevitable.

    Solutions will require effective decision making by the Government and the proper targeting of funding. It is all very well for the Government to announce £1 billion to end homelessness, but if that money is wasted and there are overruns, those we seek to help will not get the assistance they need. What is certain when we talk about money is that the solution is not to cut funding for preventing homelessness, or to remove the £25 million in capital funding allocated for reducing homelessness, as the Government have done in the past.

    The Public Accounts Committee report, which the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon mentioned, highlighted the then Department for Communities and Local Government’s light-touch approach to homelessness—with the emphasis on “light-touch”—and its many failings. This must be turned around.

    We have heard that the Department is working closely with other Departments and local authorities to reduce homelessness, and about the good work of the homelessness task force. Over and over again, Departments have promised to engage in joined-up working and have given lofty assurances about fixing major problems. All too often, however, we see that the reality is very different, and unrealistic promises have come crashing down under the Public Account Committee’s scrutiny once Departments’ plans come into contact with the real world. That is the issue with homelessness: we have all these lofty ideals, but if we are not delivering on them, ultimately the problem will go on and on.

    We see from the Public Accounts Committee report that despite the promises of joint working between the former Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department for Work and Pensions, neither has assessed the impact of changes to the local housing allowance. This is despite clear evidence of the ever-rising cost of private rented accommodation. The availability of affordable accommodation for people on low incomes is dwindling in areas of high inequality, yet little seems to have been done by Departments to tackle this. The report is clear in recommending that the Department should put together and implement a realistic strategy, with specific actions to reduce homelessness. These actions must be backed up with realistic measures to ensure that those actions achieve the right outcome.

    Why is a Welsh MP speaking in a debate on homelessness, which is a devolved matter? It is because I want to bring up the example of what we are doing. In Wales, with our Labour-led Welsh Assembly, we have an innovative approach to homelessness under the Housing (Wales) Act 2014, which came into force in 2016. Local authorities in Wales have assisted more people, and there has been a reduction in the number of people who remain homeless after seeking help. That has been achieved, among other important changes, by placing a legal duty on local authorities to help to prevent homelessness. I strongly believe that England can and must follow the example set by Wales, and I hope that that will emerge during the passage of the Vagrancy (Repeal) Bill. It is simply not acceptable that families who do not have access to social housing are put in substandard private accommodation.

  • Will my hon. Friend give us a couple of examples from Wales so that we can understand how Wales has tackled this issue? He has mentioned legislation, but can he give us some examples of the practical implementation of such measures?

  • Yes, I can. In my constituency of Islwyn and in Caerphilly, we have the quality home assurance, which is providing top-quality accommodation. We are ensuring that families do not have to stay in bed and breakfasts, and that they are given accommodation as soon as they become homeless. These are small steps, but they are making a large difference to people’s lives in my constituency.

    It is not a good situation if people have substandard accommodation, and it is not even a good use of taxpayers’ money. Perhaps the only beneficiaries of such a situation are the unscrupulous landlords who charge extortionate rents for substandard accommodation and get away with it, with the taxpayer footing the bill.

  • May I inform my hon. Friend about a converted warehouse in the middle of an industrial estate in my constituency where four London boroughs are placing families? We estimate that the landlord of that premises gains between £1.2 million and £1.5 million of taxpayers’ money each year.

  • Sadly, that is not an isolated case. There are a number of cases, especially in south-east England—I know some Members in the Chamber represent that area—of unscrupulous landlords cashing in on the misery and misfortune of homeless families. Something needs to be done by the Government, and we need to come down on these people like a ton of bricks.

    The rapid increase in the number of rough sleepers and those in temporary accommodation strongly suggests that the Government’s approach to tackling homelessness is failing. Clearly there is a need for radical thinking on this matter, in line with the example set by Wales, that goes beyond undoubtedly well-meaning but ultimately vague and unrealistic promises.

    The local housing allowance appears to be unfit for purpose in supporting families into private rented accommodation. Something should be done about the level of the local housing allowance or the cost of private rents—or both. Even more than concrete action on the LHA and the cost of rented accommodation, it would clearly make sense to increase the supply of social housing, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) said.

    It is well known that there is a severe housing shortfall in this country. It seems that relying on private developers to build the necessary units of housing is another Government strategy that is failing. Perhaps it is time for the Department to consider expanding the delivery of new units of social housing and ensuring that social housing remains under the ownership of local authorities. While I think that we can all agree that people should be able to own their own home, we can ensure value for taxpayers’ money only if social housing is not constantly sold off to the private sector.

    While this is merely the tip of the iceberg in addressing the causes of homelessness, such measures would at the very least represent an important step forward in reducing the numbers of people who find themselves without a home. We have heard it many times in this place and elsewhere, but I will say it again: we live in one of the richest countries in the world, but it is clear that rising inequality has created a divided nation between the haves and the have-nots. It is almost like there are two countries, and this is expressed clearly and harshly in the number of homeless people. We can and we must act to reduce the extent of homelessness in this country. It is our duty to those people and to the 120,000-plus children living in temporary accommodation. Their families are suffering; they need our help now.

  • It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans).

    There is no inevitability about homelessness. In 21st-century Britain, there is no reason for anybody to sleep rough on our streets. It is perhaps too easy to walk past a rough sleeper and pretend that they are not there, and to think that the individual before us must have done something wrong—that they are a drug addict or alcoholic, someone to be fearful of and stay away from. We must break this taboo. Every rough sleeper is somebody’s son or daughter and every or any single one of us could be in that position within a small number of unfortunate life events. We must never forget that.

    It cannot be said enough that one person sleeping rough on our streets is one person too many. In last year’s autumn Budget, the Chancellor announced £28 million of funding for three Housing First pilots in Manchester, Liverpool and the west midlands. That was such an important move, because the underlying causes of homelessness, and, in particular, rough sleeping, are incredibly complex. To suggest that they are attributable to any single cause is to display an unwillingness truly to understand the issue.

    The more we can learn about what forces people on to our streets, the better we can target preventive support, yet there are some things that we do know. If we look at the 2016-17 Combined Homelessness and Information Network figures for London, we can see that among those who were interviewed the single biggest reason given by new rough sleepers for leaving their previous accommodation was the loss of a tenancy, yet that was not because they were evicted for antisocial behaviour or rent arrears. Individuals were asked to leave, most likely through section 21 notices from their landlords. The second biggest reason was relationship breakdown, which is not all that unexpected given that young single men are rarely considered a priority need unless they are vulnerable. We need to consider both issues to see how rough sleeping can be prevented, but it is more important to ensure that there are support services in place for those already sleeping rough on our streets.

    The CHAIN report found that 47% of the rough sleepers that the network spoke to had mental health support needs, 44% had alcohol support needs and 35% had drug support needs. That underlines the problem in trying to tackle this issue: rough sleeping is not simply a homelessness problem. All too often we hear stories of individuals who have been helped off the streets and into temporary accommodation but who do not get the support they need to address the root causes so, unfortunately, they end up back on the streets.

    Addiction can also affect people’s ability to enter emergency accommodation. In my experience, those sleeping rough on our streets cannot stay at the local night shelter or hostel because they have an alcohol or drug addiction. That is why Housing First is so important. We need to get vulnerable people off the streets and into stable accommodation so that we can help them with their underlying support needs.

  • We do not have to go too far from here—just down to Victoria—to see people living rough on the streets. I often wonder why nothing has been done about them, and I see them regularly down there. There is another factor too. Homeless families have been exploited by landlords and are in overcrowded accommodation, and some of them are evicted because they cannot afford to pay the rents, so we should think about building council housing for a change as well.

  • The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I want specifically to talk about rough sleeping, and he raises a point about wider homelessness. I have no doubt that colleagues across the Chamber will speak more widely about homelessness, but I want to talk about rough sleeping, which does not necessarily fall into the category of families. It tends predominantly to involve young single men and young single women.

    We do not have to look too widely across the world to see that Housing First is working and helping rough sleepers with the most complex needs.

  • The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about Housing First, in that it is a well-proven approach to addressing the complex needs of rough sleepers. Does he therefore agree that three pilot schemes, none of them in London, represent a paltry approach from this Government to a practice that we know works and that should be funded to address this urgent crisis?

  • The hon. Lady, with whom I worked on the Homelessness Reduction Act, makes a good point. If she bears with me, she might like what I will have to say in just a few moments.

    In my view, the Housing First approach is a common-sense approach. Think about it: how can we provide the support services needed to help rough sleepers with their mental health, drug or alcohol issues when the support workers never know from day to day where they can find those individuals? How do we address the general and mental health problems that are all too common with rough sleepers when they are under extraordinary pressure and physical strain from living on the streets?

    Like the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes), I am pleased the Government have launched the pilots, but I think that it is time to go further and faster. I believe that the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government wants to go further. He is committed to tackling the issue and is determined that the Government will halve rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminate it entirely by 2027. But I want him to be bold and radical. If this was the first time that such a project had been undertaken, I would understand being hesitant about moving faster and the desire to evaluate how the pilots work, but they already exist in the UK and are used across the world. We should implement Housing First across the country as a priority. At the very least—and I look to the Minister on this—let us have a timetable for the full roll-out of Housing First programmes across England.

    Most importantly, we must ensure that the programmes are fully linked up with local support services that are given the funding they need to help those sleeping rough with their mental health problems or addictions. Of course, that will involve spending money, but in my view that is a short-term cost. The study by the University of York and the Centre for Housing Policy found that Housing First programmes cost between £26 and £40 an hour, yet the potential savings are estimated to be as high as £15,000 per person per year if we include reductions in use across the NHS and in our police and courts services. So this is not only the right thing to do, but will save the taxpayer money.

    Homelessness and rough sleeping in particular often have many complex underlying issues, which means that addressing them will require more than one solution. The Government have already made good progress on tackling homelessness, whether through the Homelessness Reduction Act—it was a privilege to serve on the Bill Committee, and I am delighted that it has become an Act of Parliament and will be implemented in April—

  • Will my hon. Friend give way?

  • I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. As a student, I studied sociology and I spent some time on the streets and at St Martin-in-the-Fields at the Crypt. I know that people went through a lot of hard times down there, and that was many years ago—decades and decades ago. This problem has been with us for such a long time but what we must do is think outside the box and always be flexible. Housing First is a great and a wonderful project, but we must go further and we must always look at these people, communicate with them and ask them why they are there. It is not always just about mental health or family breakdown. There are many reasons, but we must keep the line of communication open.

  • I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, which has taken up a fair chunk of my remaining time—but nevertheless I thank him for it. We need to stop thinking of rough sleeping as simply a homelessness problem and, by rolling out Housing First programmes across England, linking them with support services and giving them the funding they need, we have the opportunity to transform the lives of the people sleeping rough on our streets. My hon. Friend is right that we need to think outside the box. I think that to a large extent Housing First is the answer, but we must roll it out faster and further. I know that the Secretary of State wants to do this, so I say to the Minister: let this be the Government that end rough sleeping for good.

  • I speak as co-chair of the all-party group for ending homelessness, which I am pleased to co-chair with the hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince). I work with him to highlight solutions in a non-partisan way. Doing so takes awareness of the policies contributing to the problem as well as ability to identify the policies that are missing altogether. It also takes an admission that Ministers try very hard to avoid: homelessness has risen every year since 2010. This year-on-year growth is avoidable and appalling. In 2005, the numbers of people rough sleeping across the whole of England were 459. It is now estimated that 8,000 people slept rough in London alone last year. Shelter estimates that more than 300,000 people were in temporary accommodation last year, including, as we have heard, 120,000 children who woke up on Christmas day in often unsuitable places, perhaps sharing a bathroom or kitchen with strangers. That growth is a direct result of Government policies since 2010. When Ministers axed national funding for genuinely affordable homes and brutally slashed council funding, including £200 million from my borough of Southwark, it is hard to deny the impact.

    When our safety net of the social security system is picked apart, leaving disadvantaged people with no income at all in too many cases, especially under universal credit delays, it is inevitable that homelessness will rise. When mental health services are eradicated, Ministers cannot pretend not to know that 40% of homeless people have mental health conditions. When Ministers undermine supported housing for people with mental health conditions and other vulnerable groups, the problem will only grow. When drug and alcohol cessation services are decimated, it is simply deceitful to pretend it will not contribute to a rise in homelessness and costs to the NHS, as people end up admitted to A&E in crisis.

    Costs are rising. Southwark Council spent £3 million tackling homelessness last year, on upfront help to prevent people from losing homes and to tackle rough sleeping. But still in my surgery sessions I see the problem every week. I have seen a 65-year-old cleaner sleeping on night buses, in work but carrying as many of her belongings with her as she could carry. I have seen a 19-year-old woman sleeping with different men every night rather than go back on the streets. I have seen a working family with three children under 10 wrongly denied the right to continue working in this country by the Home Office and put on the streets by a private landlord until a local church stepped in.

    As in so many other areas where the Government have abdicated their responsibilities, we see people and charities stepping in. I would like to thank the staff and all volunteers providing crucial support and services across our country, but in particular in my community. We have seen massive growth in visible rough sleeping around Elephant and Castle and London Bridge, and temporary accommodation in Southwark is simply exhausted. I have been trying to help the Robes Project over a number of years. I have slept outside Southwark cathedral three times—please do sponsor me this year—in winter to raise awareness and funds for its work in providing accommodation and food in 28 churches every winter, opening its doors in November. It relies on volunteers to provide that accommodation and food. It does an incredible job.

    In recess, I spent a very cold evening with St Mungo’s outreach team on its StreetLink work. Anyone can refer a rough sleeper to StreetLink online, through their app, or on the phone 24 hours a day. Sadiq Khan has advertised StreetLink and since December, Londoners have referred over 2,000 homeless people using this service—double that at the same period last year. I think that demonstrates a public will to tackle the problem that is simply not matched by Government action. It is because of St Mungo’s amazing staff and volunteers like Eamon, Darren and Dave, who I met on that cold Monday evening in recess, that desperate people are getting the help they need in this extreme weather.

    The cold weather is not the only reason people are more concerned about the issue currently. Just two weeks ago a homeless man died on our doorstep here at Westminster—a shocking case, but sadly not isolated. Just weeks earlier and within a mile of this place, another man died on the streets of our capital. Deaths of homeless people have been recorded from Edinburgh to Birmingham in the past couple of months alone.

    Ministers have twiddled their thumbs, ignored the problem and passed the buck for far too long. There are clear policies to help: building more homes and supporting councils to build more, as well as lifting the local housing allowance freeze; intervening in the failing private sector to cap rents and provide secure, longer tenancies, in particular for families; funding the services we know help in mental health, and in drug and alcohol cessation; ending delays and cuts to disadvantaged people, from universal credit to the personal independence payment and the employment and support allowance; and backing a rent deposit scheme, as advocated by Crisis.

    One of the lowlights of the 2010 election was the “Broken Britain” slogan. Little did we know that the Cameron soundbite was a destination, not a description. Nothing highlights how badly broken our country is than people freezing to death on our streets in the face of, and as a direct consequence of, a cold-hearted Government ignoring what worked, denying culpability, and refusing to fund and implement sufficient viable solutions today.

  • Reducing homelessness across the UK has to be a huge priority and I welcome the work the Government are doing to move forward. The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 will ensure that all English local authorities, public services and the third sector work together more effectively to prevent homelessness. The Act, which comes into effect in April, will also help the Government to meet their aim of eliminating rough sleeping by 2027.

    I am delighted with the efforts to bring local services and providers together. I spent much of the autumn in my constituency examining our local homelessness services, holding a number of summits with different groups from the public sector, charities and business, and bringing along the then Minister with responsibility for homelessness and the Home Secretary to meet them. From those discussions, it was abundantly clear that drawing up invisible barriers between services, and being protectionist about priorities and funding cuts, does nothing to improve the support available to people either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. I am pleased that Ministers have committed over £1 billion to tackle homelessness through to 2020, with money going directly to local authorities, as well as to centrally funded homelessness programmes. In particular, the pilot studies that will place to look at new ways to combat this issue are very welcome. I hope the Government will learn those lessons and roll out the successful aspects of those schemes sooner rather than later.

    In Mansfield, the number of people classified as homeless and in priority need has actually fallen since 2012. I am pleased to note that the numbers registered as living in temporary accommodation has fallen, too. That is down to a number of factors, including the good work done by the local authority and by Framework, which provides commissioned services, including an amazing outreach programme. It is heart-wrenching to hear about the lives and stories of some of the people using its service. When I went out with Framework’s outreach team at 6 am on a cold autumn morning, I met a number of Mansfield’s homeless people. The striking thing is that so many are in that position through no fault of their own. One in particular struck a chord with me: a young man who had been injected with class A drugs by his mother while still at primary school. The truth is that he never had a chance. The outreach service is working with him and others to help them get on their feet. The key thing about the work done by Framework is that it recognises that while the housing aspect is obviously a huge factor in tackling homelessness, equally important is access to support services around mental health, drugs and alcohol, and a complex variety of needs. It is telling that many of Mansfield’s entrenched homeless have been given housing in the past, but have been unable to keep it for a variety of complex reasons.

    It is concerning that despite the positive figures since 2012—as I said, the number of homeless people has actually fallen by about a third—in the past year it has started to creep up again. Far from the simplistic image that is sometimes painted of homelessness, where many people talk about the lack of available housing—it is hugely important, yes, and prevalent in London and other areas where the cost of housing is extortionate—in my view it is not the key issue in Mansfield. The causes of rough sleeping are incredibly complex. Individual circumstances can be driven by mental health issues, addiction, family breakdown and so on. That is why it is so important that local services, including both health and housing departments, offer a co-ordinated approach. In Mansfield we have a strong network, including charities such as the Beacon Project which are committed not just to offering food and shower but prioritising getting everybody access to key services.

    When we talk about homeless people, we often think of rough sleepers first. However, as many hon. Members have already said, many fall into the hidden homeless category. Many people are sofa-surfing with friends and family, without a home to call their own. Young people, in particular, can struggle with the upfront costs of renting, and landlords see them as a risky proposition. That is why last year I supported the Crisis Help to Rent campaign, looking for additional funding for local projects aimed at helping homeless people into renting.

    One point that is clear from the discussions I have had locally and with Ministers is that low-level ongoing support can make a huge difference to people’s lives, helping them to not just gain but maintain a tenancy for the long term. As my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) said, support in managing mental health issues, addiction, financial management, learning difficulties and sometimes even just a regular conversation with a trusted friend can be the difference between leading a relatively normal life and a life on the streets.

    In Mansfield, we have some fantastic supported housing associations that help to get people back on their feet. They would love to be able to offer that ongoing support too to the people who rely on them, but they struggle to access the funding to do that. Often, in my experience, they do it anyway through their own dedication and at their own cost, but they would benefit hugely from more support. I was pleased to see an additional £250,000 come forward for Mansfield over three years, through the flexible homelessness support grant, to support the local authority in boosting some of these services.

    As I said in my first sentence, homelessness clearly needs to be addressed as a priority and it is important that funding reflects that. I welcome the Government’s determination to end rough sleeping and to cut the number of homeless people, and the multiple measures, pilot schemes and changes that have come forward already. The Homelessness Reduction Act is a big step forward and I hope to see the Housing First pilot expanded quickly. One thing that is often overlooked is that prevention is far better than cure, and this needs to be clearly built in to the Government’s plans if they are to meet their commitment. We must ensure that tackling homelessness remains a central priority and that Government funding levels reflect its importance, not just in terms of housing but, vitally, for the support services that come with it.

  • It is nothing short of a national disgrace that in 2018 in the United Kingdom, one of the richest countries in the world, there are people left with no alternative but to sleep on the streets. This disgrace was brought sharply into focus by the recent death of a rough sleeper in Westminster tube station, not a stone’s throw from this place. My own city of Birmingham was ranked 14th in England last year for people sleeping rough, an increase from the previous year. A recent Public Accounts Committee report found that there are more than 9,000 rough sleepers in England. That is 9,000 people who have nowhere to feel safe; 9,000 people with nowhere to live rather than simply exist; 9,000 people with nowhere to be at peace.

    Although rough sleepers are the public face of homelessness, the problem permeates far deeper in our society. The total number of people who are classed as homeless under the law, including single people in hostels and those in temporary accommodation, is truly shocking, with some 78,000 families in England, including 120,000 children, currently living in temporary accommodation. There has been a rise of roughly 29,000 since 2011. Shelter calculated that this equates roughly to 307,000 people recorded as homeless across Britain.

    Homelessness is costing local authorities around £1.15 billion, £845 million of which is spent on temporary living costs. The National Audit Office recently concluded that Ministers have no grip on the causes or costs of rising homelessness and have shown no inclination to grasp how the problem has been fuelled in part by housing benefit cuts. It concluded that the Government’s attempts to address homelessness since 2011 have failed to deliver value for money. Recent research carried out by Crisis showed that there will be significant costs to future Governments if policies remain the same, and that investment in homelessness prevention and rapid response is much more cost-effective.

    Homelessness often results from a combination of events, such as relationship breakdown, debt, adverse experiences in childhood and ill health. A recent audit found that 41% of homeless people reported a long-term physical health problem and 45% had a diagnosed mental health problem, compared with 28% and 25% respectively in the general population. Issues such as depression, alcohol or drug abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder often contribute to homelessness and are exhibited by those who are homeless. For our already over-stretched and under-resourced mental health services, these hard-to-reach individuals pose a serious and complex challenge.

    Labour provided 2 million more homes, enabled 1 million more people to be homeowners and provided the largest investment in social housing in a generation. Under Labour, homelessness fell by roughly three quarters between 1998 and 2009 to record low levels. This Government cannot escape the fact that because of their policies, we have seen a steep drop in investment for affordable homes, crude cuts to housing benefit, reduced funding for homelessness services and a lack of action to help private renters.

    Labour is committed to establishing a Prime Minister-led taskforce on ending rough sleeping and tackling homelessness, making links between housing, health, social security and work. The fact this work would be led by the Prime Minister demonstrates the importance to Labour of ending the tragedy and national shame of homelessness in this country. I hope that the Government will treat this issue with the seriousness and tenacity that it deserves.

  • I thank the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) for nominating this important debate and my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan) for co-sponsoring it. As we gather here, the beast from the east is making its presence felt. Conditions serve as a timely reminder that when the weather is harsh, many people find themselves out on the streets and without a warm home. Today of all days, I am conscience of how the weather affects those who are homeless. In my constituency, temperatures are set to drop below minus 4° overnight. It is vital that we help people who may be rough sleeping.

    My borough of Stockport has changed the way that it provides emergency shelter in cold weather. Help will now be available to rough sleepers one night after temperatures drop below zero. That is over and above the legal requirement to provide enhanced support after only three nights of sub-zero temperatures, and I am encouraged to see emergency accommodation with beds and showers opening earlier. This week’s severe weather is a reminder to us all of the conditions too many people have to survive in without a roof over their heads.

    Charities and shelters do incredible work over the winter months to support those who find themselves on the streets. Last week, I had the opportunity to witness at first hand the great effort undertaken by one of our charities to help the most vulnerable. Human Appeal is an Islamic faith-based charity in Cheadle that engages in humanitarian work at home and abroad—it works not only in 25 countries across the world, but in the UK. It recently provided assistance following the Manchester bombing last year, and it raised £94,000 for victims of the Grenfell fire tragedy. Every November, Human Appeal runs the “Wrap Up Manchester” campaign, collecting coats and warm clothes for distribution to rough sleepers and the homeless on the streets of Manchester.

    Charities such as Human Appeal demonstrate the vital work that grassroots campaigns can contribute, in addition to the initiatives instigated by the Government. If we are truly going to eradicate homelessness, in my view it will require a collaboration between charities and governmental efforts. As a member of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, which played an important part in bringing forward the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, I visited and heard evidence from charities such as St Basils in Birmingham, as well as Crisis and the Children’s Society. From speaking to young people who have been homeless, whether they were sofa-surfing or sleeping rough, it was evident that issues such as depression and addiction play a part in the personal cycle of chronic homelessness that is difficult to break if it is not tackled early. Having a permanent home offers vulnerable potential rough sleepers security and boosts their self-esteem. It provides a route for them to rebuild their lives and provides a solid foundation to pursue their goals and put their lives back together.

    The Government’s plan to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminate it altogether by 2027 is ambitious but achievable. If we are truly serious about eradicating homelessness, we must be ambitious in our actions and help people into homes and put a roof over their hands. I welcome last year’s autumn Budget announcement of £28 million of funding to pilot a Housing First approach to address this very issue. Three major regions will roll out the pilots, and my region of Greater Manchester will benefit from £1.8 million from that funding pot.

    This is an issue that people really care about. Greater Manchester’s bid to end rough sleeping by 2020 has attracted support from local business and benefactors. Working together with charities and members of the public, they have raised more than £135,000 for this mayoral homeless fund initiative. Along with the £1.8 million from central Government, that will go a long way in combating rough sleeping in the city region. As part of the Manchester pilot, 15 housing associations and two private rented sector landlords have come together to form the Greater Manchester homes partnership and provide 270 homes for entrenched rough sleepers over a three-year period. The councils have also agreed to give homeless people free access to the documents that they need to secure housing, such as birth certificates. The pilots will support some of the most entrenched rough sleepers off the streets and help them back into a home that will provide stability in their lives. That will help them to recover from complex health issues, such as mental health difficulties, and help sustain their tenancies. It is really important to have that wraparound support.

    I am a great believer in learning from our friends and neighbours, so I will turn to Finland for an example. The Finnish Housing First initiative was introduced in 2007 and permanent housing, based on a normal lease, was seen as a fundamental solution for each homeless person. Over the 10 years since its inception, hostels have been converted into supported housing units with independent flats for tenants. Finland has all but eradicated rough sleeping. If Finland can do it, we can too.

    I extend my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) for introducing the Homelessness Reduction Act, which will be implemented fully in April. It has been a privilege to serve on the Select Committee with him to scrutinise and bring this legislation forward. I welcome that action and the Government initiatives to drive this forward and eradicate homelessness.

  • The hon. Member for Cheadle (Mary Robinson) and all those who have spoken so far have made passionate speeches, showing how they care about homelessness in their constituency. I hope, therefore, that if my Homelessness (End of Life Care) Bill gets a Second Reading, they will be there to support it. I share their passion, but I want to make a boring speech. I want to speak about the estimates that are before us today—this is an estimates debate. The reason is—to make a serious point—that the House does not do its job properly, and has not done so for decades, because it does not hold the Government to account for their draft budgets and how they spend taxpayers’ money. This Parliament talks about parliamentary sovereignty all the time; I wish we had some, but until this Parliament stands up to the Executive and plays its role in analysing how the money is spent, we will not have anything like parliamentary sovereignty, Brexit or no Brexit.

    I make that point with respect to homelessness because there cannot be many other issues on which it is as important that the House get to grips with the money. To illustrate that point, I refer hon. Members to the estimates, which I am sure they looked at ahead of this debate, including the central Government supply estimates published last April, which are the subject of this debate. Nothing in the many tables and figures in the section on the Department for Communities and Local Government, as it was then, talks about homelessness; they are all in very broad aggregate totals that tell us nothing. This is completely unnecessary. Other Parliaments, including the New Zealand and Swedish Parliaments, are given detailed information on spending. They get to deal with the figures and so make real decisions on how the money is spent. We do not, and that is shocking.

  • I seek the right hon. Gentleman’s advice. He was a Minister for five years. Was this his experience of the Department he ran?

  • Yes, it was indeed, and when the Cabinet debated ways to improve value for money, I made the same argument. The then Prime Minister was interested and asked the Cabinet Secretary to pursue it, but unfortunately, after several meetings, it was blocked by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer.

    I move now from the main supply estimates to the supplementary supply estimates, which—again—I am sure others have read in detail. These are a little more illuminating and come with a proper memorandum. Hon. Members might be interested to know that they reduce the amount of money for homelessness. It might be for a good reason—I do not know—but it talks about a £9 million reduction in the flexible homelessness support grant. Apparently a new procurement strategy and vehicle is being set up that means the money cannot be spent. I am sure that that £9 million could have been spent on homeless people. It also talks about removing £16 million from the Move On fund—it could not be spent in-year and so apparently has to be spent later on in this Parliament. That is another £16 million not being spent on homelessness. Perhaps the Minister, who I am sure has been briefed for this debate, can tell us why £25 million has been lost from the homelessness budget this fiscal year. If we are to get to grips with this, we have to get to grips with the money.

  • Does my right hon. Friend agree that something could be learned from the close scrutiny the Scottish Parliament gives to these figures? That might be instructive for this place.

  • I agree with my hon. Friend. One advantage of devolution is that we can experiment with new ways of doing things, one of which might be better scrutiny of the money.

    I am a bit of a geek on this. I wrote a pamphlet about 15 years ago on it. I did some research and found that the last time the House voted down a request from the Government was 1919, which shows that the House has basically given up its role in scrutinising the Budget properly. When one asks for more information, one ends up going to the National Audit Office, which does some decent work on the figures to help the Public Accounts Committee, which is behind the report we are debating now. I refer hon. Members to the NAO report on homelessness published last September, which shows the full extent of the problem. It shows that local authorities spent £1.148 billion on homelessness in 2015-16—the last year we have figures for—of which £845 million was spent on temporary accommodation and £303 million on prevention, support and advice. There is little detail beyond those big aggregate figures, which do not tell us much about how the money was spent.

    The commentary in the Auditor General’s report is instructive. Paragraph 128 states:

    “Local authorities fund the cost of homelessness from a number of different sources… The Department does not know how much of each source of funding is used for each component of homelessness services. Without this information, it cannot fully understand the impact that reducing one source of funding will have on the others…the Department does not have the information it needs to predict where a cut in funding will limit a local authority’s ability to meet its duties.”

    What does that mean? The Department does not know. We are not told. Who does know? Who knows where this money is being spent and whether it is being spent in the best way possible? It is time we got our Parliament up to scratch. Then we can talk about parliamentary sovereignty.

    I turn to others parts of the NAO report, which we paid for—it is an expensive and detailed report and we ought to read it properly. It is provided to the House free for Members. I refer them to paragraph 24, which is headed, “Conclusions on Value for Money”. It says:

    “The Department’s recent performance in reducing homelessness therefore cannot be considered value for money.”

    We need to get to grips with this. The money we are spending is probably not enough and the way we are spending it is not very good. We will not tackle this problem until we sort ourselves out.

    The only thing we can find is the trends, and the trends are worrying. We have been spending more in recent years on dealing with the symptoms of the problem—temporary accommodation—but less on prevention. It is great that we have the Homelessness Reduction Act—a brilliant piece of legislation—but we are spending less on prevention, which is not what Parliament wants. Homelessness is a scar on our society. We in this place are elected to do our job properly, to scrutinise the money and tackle this problem. Until we sort out our processes on things such as public expenditure scrutiny, we will never do that job properly.

  • I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests: I am a vice president of the Local Government Association, have a small property portfolio and was the sponsor of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, of which I am very proud.

    I thank the previous speaker, the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey), for bringing us back to the key issue, which is how the money is spent on the things we care about. As the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) alluded to, homelessness comes in many guises, but there are three predominant categories. The first are the people we see on our streets: the rough sleepers. The estimates vary, but between 4,000 and 9,000 people at any one time are sleeping rough on our streets. As has already been said, imagine what that must be like in weather such as this! It is a national scandal that a single individual in this country should be sleeping rough on our streets in this day and age.

    Secondly, we have the temporary accommodation. Nearly 80,000 households and 120,000 children are in temporary accommodation, without a settled home. Probably even more important is the fact that 300,000 people are estimated to be sofa-surfing, staying with friends, or otherwise homeless.

    We know that the causes of homelessness are varied. The predominant reason is the end of an assured shorthold tenancy, but there are other aspects such as relationship breakdown, unemployment, injury, sickness and, to a small extent, the welfare reductions that the Government have made. What we can say—and what is clear to me from the work that I have done with homeless people—is that every single homeless person is a unique case who will need careful treatment and assistance to return to a stable footing.

    In 1977, for the first time, a Government legislated to impose duties in respect of homelessness and to prevent it from happening in this country. We look back on that now and wonder why no one had done it before, and I hope that in years to come people will look back on 2018 and say what a scandal it was that single homeless people were not assisted. At present, if families are threatened with homelessness and go to the local authority, they will be told—even today—to come back when they have been evicted. The crisis then occurs when they have been evicted: they go to the local housing office and are triaged, and if they are lucky they will be put in bed-and breakfast or temporary accommodation, but they will not be given a new house. A single person will be told, “Go and sleep in a shop doorway or on a park bench, and if you are lucky you will be picked up by one of the charities under the No Second Night Out initiative. That is a scandal that we have to end.

    I am delighted that on 3 April, this will all change once and for all. There will be a change of culture in our local authorities, and a change of culture in the way in which we treat homeless people. They will be able to go to the local authority 56 days before they are made homeless; they will then be sat down and a plan will be produced. Prevention is obviously better than cure, and I am also delighted that the Government have stumped up a total of £83 million towards implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act, which I piloted. However, my first ask of the Minister is “Please keep the money under review.” We cannot allow circumstances to arise in which it runs out and local authorities do not deliver on their responsibility.

    The 180 pages of guidance on implementing the Act that have been given to local authorities demonstrate the complexity of the change that we have made. The guidance issues a warning to authorities that there is a hook in the Act: if they do not change their culture a code of practice will be imposed, and they will be forced to act.

    I note from what was said earlier by the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon that the homelessness reduction taskforce has yet to meet. Will my hon. Friend the Minister—whom I congratulate on her appointment—update the House on when it will meet, and what its programme of action will be?

    I am delighted that we have implemented the initial Housing First pilots. As other Members have pointed out, Housing First is a key way of assisting people who are sleeping rough. They are likely to be suffering from mental or physical health problems, drug or alcohol addictions or substance abuse, and they need a package of help. How long will the pilots last, and how quickly can we scale them up so that the whole country can benefit from them?

    Finally, there is the issue of how we can assist people in the future. Along with my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), I lobbied for Help to Rent funding. I am delighted that the Chancellor allocated £20 million towards the project, but that is not enough. We need more, so that people who are hard pressed and cannot raise a deposit can find somewhere to live. In the long term the answer is longer tenancies, more housing and reducing the cost of temporary accommodation, but I commend my hon. Friend the Minister, and ask her to answer some of those questions when she winds up the debate.

  • It is an honour to take part in the debate initiated by the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran), and, indeed, to follow the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), but it is important for us to remember when we are in this place that the power of Parliament is not just the power to debate. People do not care how much we know about the issues that affect their lives until they know how much we care, and that will be evidenced in our action. Those whom we are here to represent must always be at the forefront of what we say and do here, because otherwise we risk becoming a bureaucracy that is void of compassion. That is why action to increase funding must be taken.

    My constituency is ranked 46th on Shelter’s list relating to people who are in temporary accommodation or sleeping rough. Every week, I meet people who do not have a place that they can call home. In fact, many of my constituents are unable to acquire and maintain regular, safe, secure and adequate housing. We have also heard about the homeless gentleman who passed away in Westminster station. Homelessness is not an aspiration. When we were younger and we thought about what we would like to do when we were older,becoming homeless and finding a piece of cardboard to sleep on in a shop entrance would not have come into the equation.

  • The hon. Lady is making an excellent point. Does she agree that the fact that the Housing Act 1996 describes people as “becoming homeless intentionally” is quite outrageous and offensive? Is not that the exact point that she is making?

  • I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention, and I absolutely agree with him. I should also put on record that I was a commercial property solicitor before coming to this place. No one becomes homeless intentionally. I know that that Act looks at whether someone has taken steps to put themselves in a particular position, but no one takes steps to make themselves homeless. Someone could lose their job, for example, and be two months behind with their mortgage, or they could get into arrears with their rent and have their accommodation repossessed. Did they deliberately not pay their rent? No, there were factors that meant they did not have the funds to do so. I absolutely agree that no one is intentionally homeless.

    Being or becoming homeless is an unintended consequence of many factors, and we are not doing enough to address that. Over £7 billion of cuts have been made to housing benefit support since 2010, with 13 separate cuts to housing benefit over the past eight years, including the bedroom tax and breaking the link between housing benefit for private renters—local housing allowance—and private rents. I believe that the 169% increase in rough sleepers since 2010 is a direct result of decisions made by Ministers in this place to reduce funding for homelessness services, and of a lack of action to help private renters.

    The issue of homelessness has not been adequately funded, and there has been a steep drop in investment. I understand that the Government are looking at being fiscally minded, as the hon. Member for Harrow East said, and paying attention to what they are spending, but we seriously need to invest to save in this regard. This is the sixth richest country in the world, and we cannot have people sleeping on doorsteps who are unable to look after themselves and who have nowhere to call home. We cannot have people who are sleeping on sofas falling through the gaps because they are not considered homeless. That is unacceptable. We have a chance here to make a difference and to do something. We have a chance to invest in lives, because we are here to serve people. If we forget that, we have forgotten who we really are.

  • It is a pleasure to speak in the debate. I have been looking at homelessness and its associated problems for a number of years. For four years, I was director of policy at the Centre for Social Justice, which looks at the root causes of poverty in the UK. We specialised in looking at long-term worklessness, addiction, educational failure, serious personal debt and the like. One of the things we discovered when looking at those problems, each of which can cause subsequent problems and hold people back, was that even when people had a lot else that was going right in their life, those other points of stability were undermined if they did not have a stable home.

    That is one of the reasons why it has been so depressing to see homelessness creeping up. We know that the problem has a number of root causes, and it is good to see the Government starting to get to grips with them. First, there is an over-inflated housing market in parts of our country. The price of property, particularly for rental, is simply too high. As Members on both sides of the House have said, this has led to instances of young families who are in work finding that they cannot afford to get themselves back into the rental market when they fall out. People who are doing all the right things find themselves trapped outside the rental market for want of an up-front payment. Also, house prices are far too high in certain centres of population.

    All that is why it is so important that the Government continue their major investment in home building. The £44 billion announced by the Chancellor in last year’s Budget will go a long way towards solving the long-term supply problem in our housing market. I am very proud that the Government have set themselves the excellent ambition of getting 300,000 new homes a year built. We must get on top of that as quickly as possible, and it is very good that the start-up figures show we are moving in that direction.

    There are also more complex problems that lead to people falling out of even temporary accommodation and on to the streets. These are problems of mental health, addiction and entrenched issues that are not always dealt with in a timely fashion. That is why we need to back the pilots the Government are putting money into. Housing First was championed in a report by the Centre for Social Justice—it was after I left; I cannot take any credit for it. It showed that when such a policy had been implemented in Belgium, Finland and parts of the USA, meaning that housing accommodation was given to people first—rather than treatment first, which is still the predominant model—it gave homeless people the base that they need if treatment is to work. It gave them stable foundations so that they could fix the other problems in their lives and stay off the street permanently. That has to be the right approach. We need to create an environment that makes it possible for people to overcome complex mental health problems and complex problems of addiction. The street is simply not the right environment in which to do that, and I would go so far as to say that many of our current hostels and places of supported housing are also not the right environment. We need a much more secure base for those most vulnerable people.

    The housing first initiative in Finland, which my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mary Robinson) mentioned, has led to a dramatic reduction in the number of people who are homeless or sleeping rough since 2008. In its first seven years, homelessness in Finland fell by 35%, which was a remarkable achievement. We will all be looking to the pilots in Manchester, Liverpool and the west midlands.

    While dwelling on Housing First, I always think of a chap called Wayne, whom I came across in north London. He had been in the Army. He left with post-traumatic stress disorder and ended up on the streets within a year, and he had stayed on the streets for the better part of a decade. During that time, he had been in and out of the court system on account of stealing so that he could fuel his alcohol problem. Within six months of his having come under the Housing First initiative, he had started to receive mental health treatment and treatment for his alcohol problems. Within a year, he was staying out of the court system entirely, and now he has moved into work and a private rental settlement of his own. This intervention is the future; it is absolutely right that the Government are backing it.

  • Several hon. Members rose—

  • Order. With apologies to the hon. Gentleman who is about to speak for the short notice I am giving him, I am afraid that I must reduce the time limit from six minutes to four minutes.

  • I am perhaps unnaturally excited about taking part in an estimates debate. When I first picked up the estimates document earlier on, I thought that it was a private Member’s Bill speech by the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). However, I am genuinely very delighted to take part in the debate, not least because I am a member of the Procedure Committee, which has helped to drive this change in parliamentary practice, alongside my hon. Friends the Members for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman), for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), and for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). It is also because I get to sit alongside my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North, who has the ability to combine the subjects of budgets and procedure, so the stars have truly aligned this afternoon.

    I want to focus my remarks on expenditure on housing and the need for another John Wheatley, who is one of my predecessors. The late, great John Wheatley served as the MP for my constituency from 1922 to 1930. Two wonderful things happened in 1924. First, the greatest football club in the history of the earth, Airdrieonians, won the Scottish cup, but, more seriously, John Wheatley was appointed Health Minister and pioneered an enormous expansion of social housing through the Housing (Financial Provisions) Act 1924. That legislation allowed central Government to provide subsidies to build public housing. It was a small but significant step that saw over half a million council homes built by 1933. Today, sadly, in 2018, the UK still faces a housing crisis, and it is in that regard that I want to address Government policy and spending on housing.

    I very much welcome the Government’s signal by renaming—and indeed upgrading—the Department for Communities and Local Government as the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, but I hope that a name change is not all we will see with regard to housing, because what we need from this Government is a radical change on housing policy. I believe, just as John Wheatley did, that everything stems from the provision of warm, safe and affordable housing. That is why I want the Government to spend even more money on housing, and it is why I want them to abolish the right to buy entirely. The two cannot be done in isolation. Without following both policies, we essentially operate with one hand tied behind our backs, as Members in England will know. I am very glad that Welsh Labour has followed the SNP Government’s commitment to abolish the right to buy. I am not sure whether that is official Labour party policy in Westminster, but it certainly should be.

    It is important to note that housing is a devolved competence in Scotland. We have now delivered nearly 71,000 affordable homes in Scotland since taking office 11 years ago. Indeed, we have a very ambitious target of building 50,000 extra affordable homes by 2021, 35,000 of which will be for social rent. I saw a number of those at Gallowgate only last week. Because we do not sell off our council housing, that allows us to make a dent in tackling the demand for social housing, which is something that Margaret Thatcher failed at spectacularly. In stark contrast, in June last year The Guardian reported that in England council homes are being sold off almost three times faster than local authorities can replace them, so the Government must do more on housing. It is deeply concerning that the Department has surrendered £742 million to HM Treasury for other housing schemes.

    In my remaining 40 seconds, I want to address devolution deals. It is interesting to note in the estimates that other large reductions in the resource departmental expenditure limit include a surrender from the Department to HM Treasury of £74 million that had been earmarked for devolution deals. It has not gone unnoticed in Scotland that the Scottish Government seem to consistently outspend the paltry amounts offered by the UK Government to Scottish regions for regional or city deals. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North shares my disdain for the paltry amount served up, with a shortfall of £250,000 for the Aberdeen and shire city deal. Indeed, my hon. Friends from Ayrshire are still wondering when their growth deal will come. I want to see more support for city deals—

  • The hon. Gentleman talks about shortfalls for city deals. Does he recognise that it is the Scottish Government’s reticence that is stopping money from coming to the city deal for Stirling and Clackmannanshire, as well as the Tay cities deal?

  • No, I do not, so I will move on, but I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving at least something to Scotland—an extra minute.

    Above all, I want to see a new John Wheatley at the Government Dispatch Box investing in social housing and abolishing the right to buy. If we do that, when we come back to debate estimates on housing expenditure in future years, we will start to see progress—real progress—in tackling the UK’s housing crisis.

  • I want to whizz through an excellent partnership between YMCA Birmingham and the Government in providing accommodation for young, formerly homeless people. I spent an excellent three years of my working life working for YMCA Birmingham. It has been in existence since 1849, so it did not need my help to continue working—it had obviously been doing a grand job of work for a considerable amount of time. During those three years, and immediately before and immediately afterwards, the Government offered YMCA Birmingham tremendous support through what might seem to be a lexicon of the funding available. Indeed, YMCA Birmingham seems to have been particularly lucky. Alan Fraser, the chief executive who appointed me, is obviously a very wise man, and the organisation’s success is partly down to his brilliance.

    When I joined the organisation, it had just been given £450,000 of empty homes money. The Government had provided £100 million through two separate rounds of funding to bring buildings that had been lying empty for a number of years back intro use as accommodation. I understand that thousands of properties across the country would benefit from such funding, if the Government were to initiate it again. We probably do not hear much about that because lots of those buildings are outside London—clearly our focus is largely only in London. Would it not be lovely if we could look north to the midlands and beyond, and share some of the money universally? We used the £450,000 to bring a former social care building back into use. We converted the building to create 33 units of fairly self-contained accommodation—just three of the properties shared kitchen facilities.

    During my tenure we also received £1 million in affordable homes money to create the Chris Bryant centre and the Vineyard in Erdington, with 33 flats of mostly single-bed accommodation. Also on that site, although not funded by the Government, we had a training and conference facility and a café, because the YMCA is diversifying its offering into social entrepreneurship to raise money to help to subsidise the excellent housing it provides.

    Perhaps most importantly for this debate, the YMCA was also granted money through the homelessness change and platform for life funds to modernise its 72-bed hostel in Northfield, which I am sure the Minister will be visiting with me very soon—it would be lovely if she would just smile and say yes.

    The hostel’s facilities were euphemistically described as “study rooms”—10 square metre rooms that had space for only a bed and a table. Twenty of those rooms have now been converted to include en suite accommodation. Money has been provided for training facilities on the site, and for health visitors to visit previously homeless people on site. Their chaotic lifestyles sometimes mean it is difficult to persuade them to get to a GP, so why not bring the health visitors to them? Government funding has allowed that to happen, so let us not say that this Conservative Government do not support the homeless and the provision of services in all tenures across the UK.

  • Who would choose to spend £845 million of taxpayers’ money on poor, shabby, terrible temporary accommodation that is often never checked by local authorities? I could tell the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) about all sorts of guidance on how local authorities should act, but none of that guidance is enforced or checked. Families are living in accommodation for which we would never wish to pay.

    That £845 million could be better spent on thousands of modular homes—prefabs—that would allow people to be warm, dry and able to pay their rent. The estimates also show us that £72 million for affordable homes is to be handed back to Her Majesty’s Treasury by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government because the money is no longer needed.

    Who in this House believes that that £72 million is not needed for affordable homes? If the Government do not feel they need it, they should give it to me. Let me spend it. I will spend it on 1,333 genuinely affordable modular homes. I can find the sites; I can suggest where we can do it. I promise the House that I can get £124 million spent by 1 April on real homes that people need.

    We have so many of these debates, with lots of warm words and good intentions, but with not one house built. The time has come to get building. The time has come for each Member to pressurise their local authorities to release the land they are sitting on for social housing and to make sure that doing so is a priority—it currently is not for most local authorities. The time has come to talk about the green belt, most of which is not green and is not beautiful, and could be built on. There is enough land around London stations to build 1 million new homes if we chose to do it. The question is: do we choose to?

  • The hon. Lady reminds me that I piloted a Bill through this place to enable Transport for London to do precisely what she is asking for. Will she therefore join us in calling on the Mayor of London to do the job that he is elected to do and build new homes?

  • I will do everything I can to encourage the Mayor to do that, but it is not just about the Mayor; it is also about the Government and local authorities. It is about how serious we really are about building homes, attacking shibboleths such as the green belt, and forcing local authorities to use the sites they have not to generate cash, but to build homes. It is about what our priorities are. Having sat in all these debates, I suggest that when it comes to it, we do not really want to do this. It can be done and it should be done, but it is up to us whether or not we choose to do it.

  • I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in this debate on a subject I am so passionate about. In Britain, we are famous for moaning about the weather, especially this week, but it is unbelievable that in this day and age thousands in our country have to endure it without a roof over their heads. That is why I have been working to reduce homelessness, and why I think the Government’s target to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminate it by 2027 is so important. We need to tackle it with a multi-layered approach, because it is vital that we do not over-simplify the problem and its solution.

    I represent a lovely constituency, which I believe is the loveliest pocket of Wiltshire. It is one that people would not necessarily associate with homelessness, yet it is a problem there. There are an estimated 147 rough sleepers in Wiltshire, but the official figures do not always paint the full picture; they use only one night and do not cover all of Wiltshire. In addition, we too often associate homelessness only with rough sleeping, yet it also includes sofa surfing and those in temporary accommodation. I stress that homelessness is not just a problem confined to the cities; it also affects market towns and villages. The problem might be more stark in London and other cities, but one homeless person is one too many.

    At this point, I must commend the work of our local charity Doorway, which is based in Chippenham and whose role is essential, as the support and help it gives local people is invaluable. In addition, I should mention the work of our local Salvation Army, which has offered support to me in dealing with cases, including by taking calls and offering care packages late at night.

    I am a firm believer that when it comes to homelessness, prevention is key, which is why I was so proud to support the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. It will end the current postcode lottery in provision, and I agree with the chief executive of Crisis, who described it as

    “a crucial step…in fighting homelessness”.

    It will make the system fairer, and it will mean that we will stop having to wait until it is too late; instead we will start to prevent homelessness, with personalised housing plans and support.

    Crucially, there is evidence to suggest that a number of secondary issues are often triggered by homelessness, such as mental health issues, alcohol addiction and drug dependency, and so preventing homelessness will also prevent these problems. Homelessness is complex and needs a multi-layered approach to tackle it, so I welcome the more than £1 billion that has been allocated to tackling homelessness through to 2020, but it is important to note that homelessness is increasing. It is therefore vital that we tackle it head on with an ambitious multi-layered approach, which is why I back the Government’s actions.

    I stress again the importance of not over-simplifying the solutions to a complex problem. We must look at homelessness in the round: putting money into mental health, financial education, debt support and the like will contribute to that. Colleagues have touched on the idea of a Housing First scheme, and I echo their sentiments in saying that I would like the Minister to speed up the rolling-out process.

    Because of the time limit, I shall conclude swiftly and not mention my other valid points. Although there is a long way to go, I very much support the Government’s taking action to deal with this complex problem by addressing the solution in the round.

  • Never did I think we would have to debate this issue after the work Labour did to reduce homelessness. [Interruption.] We are talking about people’s lives, so I do not need cheap comments from Conservative Members.

    I want to put the Government under proper scrutiny, first by asking them why they think it is acceptable to halve homelessness by 2022 and abolish it by 2027—why not this year? People need housing now. We have heard how successful Housing First is and the academic evidence supports that. I am particularly proud of the work done by the University of York’s Professor Nicholas Pleace. He has highlighted how successful the scheme has been. Pilots have been carried out in Finland, Norway and Denmark; let us implement the policy now and change the life chances of so many people.

    I wish to dig into some of the numbers, because I have some serious questions to ask about the allocation for housing programmes in the Budget. Why is so much money being allocated to Help to Buy? Two thirds of this year’s housing budget is expected to be spent on the Help to Buy scheme. What scrutiny has there been of the programme? Some £3.6 billion has been spent on it in 2017-18, and it is predicted that it will be £4.6 billion in 2018-19, £5.1 billion in 2019-20 and £5.6 billion in 2020-21. I ask because only 57 households in my constituency have benefited under the scheme, yet shares in Persimmon have rocketed, giving its bosses bonuses worth half a billion pounds, with the chief executive officer getting £112 million. Just 4% of that bonus could have solved the homelessness problem in my constituency, where homelessness has gone up by 15 times since 2010.

    Homelessness is such a serious issue in my constituency. We have had zero new social housing units and no housing built altogether in the past two quarters. The only homes that have gone up since 2015 have been luxury apartments. That does nothing for the people of my city. We have not only street homelessness but lots of people living in inappropriate accommodation. I have seen in my constituency a mum who has to sleep on the floor next to her kids in the bunk beds, in a five-by-four room. I have seen a mum and dad who have to sleep on a single mattress in another cramped five-by-four room, with a cot, a baby on the way and nowhere to go unless they present themselves as intentionally homeless. I agree with the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey) that that is a disgraceful term, because nobody is intentionally homeless. We need to put in place a Housing First policy to address these serious issues.

    I call on the Minister to work with her Department to reject York’s proposed local plan. A site was allocated for family housing, but only 3% of it will be affordable, let alone provide the social housing that we need. In fact, the local plan presented to the Government seriously undercuts the number of housing units needed and does not address the serious situation in the city, where housing is completely unaffordable. The average rental price is £853 per calendar month, so people who are not intentionally homeless cannot access any housing whatsoever. They certainly cannot consider the housing ladder. I urge the Minister to look into this situation.

  • It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) in this important debate. There are so many different issues that affect people’s lives and cause homelessness, but rough sleeping is particularly complex. I am thinking of those people who are out on the streets in this appalling weather, and indeed throughout the year. There are so many factors, ranging from mental health problems to family breakdown.

    We must recognise that the family is the source of our health, wealth and education, so it is such a loss when someone loses their family home. That is why the work that my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Alex Burghart) has done through the Centre for Social Justice is so important, because having a home is the foundation on which we build all our other support networks. We all need that stability and security. That is clearly a problem for adults and parents, but growing up in an unstable home environment is especially difficult for children, as it is so much more difficult for them to reach out to get the help they need.

    Homelessness often leads to mental health problems and to drug and alcohol problems. There is a particular problem with the increasing use of the drug Spice, which is cheap and readily available but has such a negative impact on people. The police must do more to crack down on the sale of Spice, which does so much damage.

  • Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the problems is that Spice is categorised as a class B drug, rather than class A, despite its impact?

  • The right approach by the police will naturally follow the right categorisation, so the clear suggestion is that Spice ought to be re-categorised as a class A drug, so that law enforcement agencies respond appropriately.

    I want to take this opportunity to recognise the valuable work that Bolton Council and Wigan Council do to tackle homelessness in my constituency, and the important work done by charities such as Urban Outreach. The charity Crisis has recognised what the Government are doing, stating: “Crisis supports the commitment made by the Government to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. In the Budget there were welcome announcements of further funding on homelessness.” That recognition of money going to the right place is welcome. Bolton is set to receive an additional £187,000 over the next three years, which is very welcome. On a recent visit to Greater Manchester, the Prime Minister committed another £1.8 million to end rough sleeping, and a further £1 billion overall has been allocated to tackle homelessness, running up to 2020.

    The Government are doing their part, but local government also needs to do its part. Councils have an important role to play, because they are closest to the communities affected. It is really important that they do their job. We must also consider our new metro Mayors. I am pleased to recognise the commitment made by the Mayor of Greater Manchester to eradicating rough sleeping across the city by 2020. That is an incredibly important commitment. He will work with charities, churches, businesses and local government across Greater Manchester to achieve that, but also with national Government.

    We must also recognise that the initial Greater Manchester spatial framework, which was intended to ensure that infrastructure and housing is developed in tandem, was not fit for purpose. There was far too much urban sprawl of three, four or five-bedroom semi-detached and detached houses, which will not solve the problem of homelessness and rough sleeping. We have to ensure that the right housing is built in the right locations.

    I am pleased that the Government have committed to halving rough sleeping by 2022, and eliminating it by 2027. I look forward to their taking inspiration from the work that the Mayor of Greater Manchester will do to eradicate it by 2020.

  • It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bolton West (Chris Green).

    Since 2010, rough sleeping has risen by 169% nationally and the number of households accepted as homeless has increased by a half. Incredibly, for the sixth largest economy in the world approaching the third decade of the 21st century, there are now 120,000 children living in temporary accommodation. Two weeks ago the desperate issue of rough sleeping was made urgent and immediate to this House with the tragic death of Marcos Amaral Gourgel just yards from this place. This came just four short weeks after the equally tragic death of a woman in my constituency of Warwick and Leamington.

    This may come as something of a shock to many in this place, but the reality is that Warwick district is the worst for homelessness in the whole of the west midlands, according to Government figures. In fact, in 2015-16 the local district council received 705 applications as statutory homeless, of which only 172 were accepted. This is against a housing waiting list of around 2,500 people.

    We are witnessing a humanitarian crisis on our streets. Rough sleeping and homelessness are in nearly every community, as we have heard from Members across the Chamber. It is clear that the causes of this crisis are many and complex, but fundamental to tackling the explosion in rough sleeping, as many Members have said, is the urgent need to build enough housing of the right mix and in the right place. I accept that there has been a failure of successive Governments to build enough housing, but the crisis has really developed in the past few years and been fuelled by the savage cuts to welfare.

    The challenge to build sufficient housing needs greater ambition than that proposed by the Chancellor. Although 300,000 new homes a year may sound impressive, the harsh fact is that less than 2% of new builds will be council homes. Likewise, it was welcomed when the Prime Minister announced last September a £2 billion fund to invest in social housing—equating to just 25,000 homes—but it was also clear that the ambition was perhaps not enough against the true need.

    I am committed to working to tackle this problem in my constituency and, by extension, nationally. Although I may not be able to alleviate the financial pressures of those who have seen cuts to their housing benefit, employment support allowance, personal independence payment or other support, I am determined to bring together all professional agencies and authorities to bring an end to this crisis in Warwick and Leamington. The target of 2027 is too late. As in Manchester, I really want us to resolve this—collectively and collaboratively—by 2020. In just two weeks I will hold a meeting with all those bodies, including mental health, homelessness, addiction and recovery charities, the two local authorities and a manufacturer of low-cost prefabricated modular housing. I found the comments of the hon. Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan) and my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) particularly pertinent to that point.

    Land is critical. I have said before that we must insist on or urge a change whereby local authorities are compelled to use their land exclusively for council and social housing. The truth is that the public are angry at the inaction of the Government in resolving this situation with urgency. The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 promoted by the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) is to be applauded, but the woeful lack of urgent action by the Government to eliminate rough sleeping before 2027 is viewed by the public as a disgrace.

    Critical now, as we have heard, is building council housing on an industrial scale. There have been just 47 council homes built in Warwick and Leamington since 2010. We must provide temporary refuge and accommodation for those sleeping on the streets, and ensure that mental health and addiction services are properly funded and that we put money back into Supporting People budgets, which have fallen by 45% since 2010. Finally—

  • Order. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman cannot have a “finally”. He may have two words to conclude.

  • Two words? Thursday sees the relaunch of the cross-party group on council housing. All hon. Members are very welcome to join us.

  • It is a pleasure to be able to speak in this debate about a challenge that has been particularly discussed in my constituency over the past few days.

    We must look at how we quantify the challenge. At the moment, most of the statistics come from the rough sleeping counts, which date back to the Victorian era: the idea of walking around—a bit like a train spotter, but for vulnerable people—trying to spot people sleeping rough. If someone visibly might be homeless but is standing up in a doorway, they would not count and the process tells us nothing other than the numbers out there. For me, the statistics gained are pretty useless and can vary massively.

    When I was deputy leader of Coventry City Council, it was supposed to have done brilliantly in addressing homelessness one year. We said that that was because we did not think the organisation that did the rough sleeper count had done a particularly good job, and a year later the number went up. That was not because anyone felt that the numbers had hugely increased but partly because of how the count was done, which was completely archaic.

    I very much welcome what was done under the Torbay “End Street Homelessness” campaign and the proper connections week survey that it undertook recently. Volunteers spent a week on the streets interviewing people sleeping rough to find out why they were there and to treat them as individuals and humans, not as someone they had spotted from a distance. The process has produced useful statistics—actually a slightly higher number than the official rough sleeper count—and something that we can work on.

    Then there is the campaign featured in the national media today: the “fake homeless” campaign, which the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) referred to in an intervention. A lot of the campaign comes out of frustration with the current legislation, which is woefully out of date. The Vagrancy Act 1824 was passed in a completely different era. In theory, it criminalises someone for sleeping rough, which none of us would consider an offence—the act of sleeping rough should not make someone a criminal. The legislation’s provisions regarding those who beg, and some who beg when they do not need to, do not reflect the modern era and leave the police and others without useful tools. Yes, it is possible to use public spaces protection orders and more modern legislation, but the 1824 Act has long since had its day and urgently needs reform.

    There has been significant debate about the “fake homeless” campaign, but there have been other examples. Police in Ely recently said that all beggars there were fake, and last year Middlesbrough Council identified nine fake beggars. Before people think that the campaign was launched by people who do not care about this issue or are particularly heartless, I should say that an organisation called Humanity Torbay launched it—a homelessness charity that has helped hundreds of people. The campaign was born of a frustration at the fact that the legal tools to deal with those who seek to defraud the public are so out of date as to be nearly useless.

    The issue, of course, needs to be considered carefully; I accept that any change in the law must only be made in a way that protects the genuinely vulnerable out on the streets. But from what I have seen in the Bay, and having been out on patrol with Torquay’s neighbourhood policing team on Saturday night, I can say that people do not have the tools they need. That is why the legislation needs reform.

    I welcome the work that has been done. I certainly welcome the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which is due to come into force on 1 April. However, the issue is not just about support but about a legislative framework that gives organisations the right tools.

  • Madam Deputy Speaker, it is unusual and noteworthy for the three Front Benchers all to be female in a House of Commons debate. Not only that, but so are the Chair and the hon. Members for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) and for Chichester (Gillian Keegan), who secured the debate. That is unusual and I am pleased that it has occurred as we approach International Women’s Day.

    The right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey) made an excellent speech about the fact that we are debating the estimates without the information from the Government that we should have if we are to properly scrutinise budgets and departmental spending. If we look at either the supplementary or main estimates, we cannot coherently read across how much money is being spent on homelessness or how much of the money committed in any of the estimates is relevant for Barnett consequentials. That information could be made much clearer in the estimates booklet.

    I welcome the changes to the estimates procedure, with the Backbench Business Committee rather than the Liaison Committee being the one to choose the subjects for debate. It was nice of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) to mention the work that I and my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) and for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) have done on this, and I am pleased that the House is moving forward. However, I am clear that much more change needs to occur in order for proper budgetary scrutiny to take place.

    This has been an incredibly wide-ranging debate that I hope has given the Minister a lot to think about, particularly on the causes of homelessness and the ways to reduce it. One point that has not been mentioned at much length is the lack of recourse to public funds. That is a major issue in my constituency. Homelessness charities such as Aberdeen Cyrenians and Shelter are bringing up the issue of people who have no recourse to public funds and therefore find themselves homeless.

    That is a specific issue for those who are fleeing domestic violence, and I would be grateful if the Minister could have a look at it. Women’s refuges do not get housing support payments for women who are fleeing domestic violence if they have no recourse to public funds. We should not be making women and families who are fleeing domestic violence homeless simply because they have no recourse to public funds. I do not think that that is the Government’s intention, but I would very much appreciate it if the Government looked at that. It is particularly the case for EU nationals. It has previously been an issue for those from outside the EU, who have had a bit of a grace period, but for EU nationals there is no grace period, and an increasing number of them are being given “no recourse to public funds” status.

    Right to buy has been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East and a number of other Members. In Scotland we no longer have right to buy. That is incredibly important and has made a huge difference. I was a local authority councillor from 2007 to 2015, and the vast majority of my casework involved people who were on the waiting list and struggling to get a council house.

    One thing that has not been discussed very much in relation to right to buy is the fact that 40% of the properties that have been sold off by councils are now in the private rented sector. Because a number of those involve housing benefit, the Government are having to pay more money for the same properties than if they had not allowed right to buy. It is a ridiculous situation and not one that the Government should continue with. Far be it from me to tell another country what to do with its policies, but if the Government want to tackle homelessness, looking at right to buy would be a really good way to go.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East mentioned some of the things we have done in Scotland. We are building a huge number of affordable houses, and importantly, we are spending three times more per head of population on our affordable housing supply programme than the UK Government are spending on their affordable homes programme. That is why we are managing to increase the number of social houses we have and why we are managing to improve the situation in Scotland, to ensure that more people have a secure roof over their head.

    We have also taken significant action on homelessness and rough sleeping. Our programme for government in Scotland specifically mentioned a £50 million fund over five years. In terms of the estimates, the more money the Government give to devolved matters, the more we receive in Barnett consequentials. It would be incredibly positive if the Government were to properly tackle this issue and put funding into it.

    A number of Members have talked about the causes of homelessness. People are falling through the cracks, and that is partly because of the benefits system set up by the Government. We have a system which means that people need to get back into work very quickly, but some people with the most complex needs and addiction problems who do not have a roof over their head are not going to get back into work in six months, 12 months or even two years, because they need intensive support over a very long period.

    Last time I was in a debate such as this, a number of Members said, “There but for the grace of God go I,” and that is absolutely the case. People have not necessarily made any more bad choices than I have in my lifetime, but because of their circumstances, their bad choices have resulted in them being homeless. More needs to be done to recognise that they are just the same as us and have not made any more bad choices; it is just that they have had more bad luck than we have.

  • I congratulate the hon. Members for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) and for Chichester (Gillian Keegan) on securing this really important debate. It is incredibly important, as has been brought home to us this week, more than most others, because of the terrible weather we are having.

    We all know that visible forms of homelessness have increased. We cannot walk around any town or city centre without seeing people bedding down for the night in doorways and makeshift shelters. In fact, when I walked down St Matthew Street in London this morning, I passed two rough sleepers who had all their belongings in a doorway. Given that I had been talking about affordable housing at an agency that is coming up with housing policies, I thought how perverse it was then to be walking past people sleeping rough in the street.

    We know that on any given night last year about 4,500 people were sleeping rough on the streets of England—a 170% rise since 2010. I say “about 4,500” because we still do not have any method of accurately recording the numbers of people sleeping rough on our streets up and down the country. Until we get such a method, we cannot accurately address the scale of this problem.

    As has already been said, the fact that people are dying on the streets of Britain in 2018 is entirely unacceptable. On Friday morning, however, a man named Rob O’Connor was found dead in Chelmsford, as temperatures dipped below freezing, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) mentioned, just the other week a man died outside Westminster tube station. In this bitterly cold weather, most of us are able to wrap up warm and return to our houses, but rough sleepers do not have the most basic options. It is absolutely clear that we must find genuine solutions to this 21st-century scandal.

    There are now over 120,000 children living in temporary accommodation. The four-year freeze of the local housing allowance that started in 2016 has, according to Shelter’s research, the potential to put over 1 million households at risk of homelessness by 2020, so are the Government seriously planning against all eventualities that may arise? As was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) and, very eloquently, by my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), the supplementary estimates have revealed that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has surrendered £72 million of funding for affordable homes. That money could have built 1,000 social rented homes.

    There are a range of reasons why people become homeless. The most common are a breakdown of relationships with family, friends or spouse; mental or physical health problems, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill) said; alcohol and drug addiction; and being unable to find anywhere to live on leaving care, hospital, prison and the armed forces. The Harbour Place homelessness charity has been operating the SWEP—severe weather emergency protocol—process every night since 28 January in my constituency. It tells me that many of its service users say they became homeless after having their benefits sanctioned or withdrawn. That issue was highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Fiona Onasanya).

    The assessment that there is a clear link between welfare cuts and homelessness is supported by the National Audit Office. It has said:

    “The ending of private sector tenancies has overtaken all other causes to become the biggest single driver of statutory homelessness in England.”

    The number of households made homeless by the ending of an assured shorthold tenancy trebled between 2009-10 and 2016-17—from 11% to 32%.

    Labour has a plan to solve the scourge of homelessness. We would make 8,000 homes available for those with a history of rough sleeping. We would increase security for private renters with new three-year tenancies and controls on rent. We would have a Prime Minister-led taskforce on ending rough sleeping and tackling homelessness, and we would build thousands more affordable homes to rent.

    We have got a plan, but what have the Government given us? They inherited from the previous Labour Government a trend of falling homelessness, with what was described by the independent Crisis and Joseph Rowntree Foundation homelessness monitor as an

    “unprecedented decline in statutory homelessness”.

    They have squandered that, with a 48% increase in the number of statutory homeless households; a 59% increase in the number of households in temporary accommodation, such as bed and breakfasts, hostels and refuges; and—at under 1,000 last year, compared with nearly 40,000 in 2009-10—a record low number of Government-funded homes for social rent.

    I would like to use the few moments remaining to me to ask the Minister a few questions. First, how can the Government say that they are tackling the housing crisis when they have handed back £742 million to the Treasury—all related to housing schemes? Why has that not been spent? Why was it allocated in the first place? As has been highlighted, £560 million of that was for private ownership schemes; does that really address the issue of homelessness?

    I have made a list. Rough sleeping, as my hon. Friends the Members for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) and for Birmingham, Edgbaston both highlighted, was reduced significantly under the Labour Government. On temporary accommodation, my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) talked about the excellent work being undertaken in Wales by the Labour-led Government under Carwyn Jones. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) talked about the issues of funding for supported accommodation. Other issues include Housing First; public health; mental health; social housing; affordable housing; healthcare and the life expectancy of people living on the streets; minority group issues, particularly LGBT support run by charities such as the Albert Kennedy Trust; housing benefit, with about £10 billion of housing benefit going directly into the private sector and not being invested in social housing; skills in the building industry—

  • Will the hon. Lady give way?

  • I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not put his name down to speak at the appropriate time, but he should plan his time better.

    My list also includes the number of planners in local government, property as a commodity rather than a home in the community and empty homes. All these issues have been raised by Members across the House, and it strikes me that much more should be done cross-departmentally between the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Department of Health and Social Care, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Work and Pensions. Are there any plans to undertake cross-departmental work to address the issue in the round? Is the Minister satisfied that local government has been provided with sufficient resources properly and fully to deliver the Homelessness Reduction Act? Finally, if she is so committed to the homelessness agenda why has the homelessness reduction taskforce not yet met?

  • I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to wind up this important debate this afternoon. As the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey) noticed, an estimates day motion has not been voted against since 1919, so I am sure that we will continue that fantastic tradition today.

    I congratulate the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) and my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan) on opening this afternoon’s debate, as well as the 33 Members who have contributed. This topic is one of supreme importance and I know that it is close to all our hearts. I am appreciative of the experiences and expertise shared today, whether from a constituency or a wider perspective. I also remind Members of my entry in the Ministers’ register of interests. I shall try to answer many of the questions I have been asked.

    My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have repeatedly been clear that one person without a home is one too many. That is why the Government have set an ambitious target to halve rough sleeping over this Parliament and eliminate it altogether by 2027. Now, given many of the recent stories and the personal experiences shared today, I am aware that that is no small feat. The scale and the nature of the problem is large, but I want to ensure the House today that this ambition is about more than just words. The Government are taking groundbreaking steps through spending programmes, legislative reform and cross-Government working to ensure that we are funding solutions to create long-term change while backing key programmes that are working.

    We have allocated more than £1 billion to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping over the spending review period. This includes—the list is by no means exhaustive— £316 million of local authority prevention funding agreed as part of the local government finance statement, and £402 million in flexible homelessness support grant funding for local authorities over 2017-18 and 2018-19, with further spending for 2019-20 to be announced shortly. I reiterate: more money will be announced shortly. This up-front grant funding is giving local authorities the flexibility to tackle homelessness strategically in their local area. There was the £100 million agreed at Budget 2016 to deliver low-cost “move on” accommodation for rough sleepers leaving hostel accommodation and people leaving refuges, and a further £215 million for central Government programmes.

  • Does the Minister not think it a no-brainer that if successive Governments continue with very high levels of immigration and fail to build houses, we are going to have a problem? I lived homeless in London for three months for a television programme. Nearly 50% of homeless in London are from eastern Europe and there are horrendous hostels which are totally unsuitable for mentally ill and drug-addicted people. Unless we deal with the underlying causes of street homelessness we will get nowhere near to solving the problem.

  • I thank my hon. Friend for sharing his life with us. It is very interesting how we all have different experiences and bring them to bear in this House. I thank him for those comments.

    The £215 million for central Government programmes features a range of innovative programmes and funding mechanisms designed to hit the problems square on. For example, we have allocated £28 million to fund three Housing First pilots for the most entrenched rough sleepers. Housing First is an internationally established approach to ending homelessness for people with complex needs. It works on the principle that, first and foremost, an individual is found a home and then provided services to tackle the cause. It is a not a new approach for the Finnish, who are the only country in Europe to see homelessness fall in recent years.

    The funding also includes our £50 million homelessness prevention programme to provide innovative approaches to reducing homelessness, with prevention at its heart. This is comprised of a £20 million rough sleeping fund to help new rough sleepers, or people at imminent risk of sleeping rough, to get the rapid support they need to recover and move on from a rough sleeping crisis; a £10 million fund for social impact bonds to provide targeted support, over a different eight local authorities, for entrenched rough sleepers; and £20 million for local authorities to trial new initiatives to help people who are at risk of homelessness long before they reach crisis point. Across all three funds we are supporting 84 projects, encompassing 205 district and unitary authorities up and down the country, to ensure that more people have tailored support to avoid becoming homeless in the first place and have the rapid support they need to make a sustainable recovery from homelessness.

    We know that a challenge for those who are homeless is access to tenancies in the private rented sector. That is why we announced at Budget funding of £20 million for schemes that will enable better access to new private rented sector tenancies or support in sustaining tenancies for those who are, or are at risk of becoming, homeless or rough sleeping.

    On some of the specifics of the Department’s estimates for the 2017-18 financial year, our re-profiling of £9.1 million of the flexible homelessness support grant will enable us to support increased collaboration between London boroughs on the procurement of accommodation for homeless households, in particular with regard to temporary accommodation. The work required to set up a new procurement strategy and vehicle means that the funding cannot be spent this year, but will be required in 2018-19. A further £15.6 billion has been re-profiled for future years and preserved, so there is no reduction of the £25 million. There is also, specifically, £2 billion for housing associations to build social housing.

  • Will the Minister give way on that point?

  • No, I won’t.

    It is important that in allocating this funding we measure the effectiveness of our investment. To do that the Department, with the support of external partners, will be undertaking and publishing a range of evaluations of the different schemes we fund. More broadly, the Department, along with the DWP, will be undertaking new research into the drivers that cause homelessness and rough sleeping. That will enable us to better assess the impacts of Government intervention and inform future policymaking in this area.

    We all know that money alone is not the answer. We need to be searching for new solutions to entrenched problems. This is why just last week I was proud to sign The Homelessness (Review Procedure etc.) Regulations 2018, which enact key provisions in the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 from 3 April 2018. I am sure Members will agree that the Act is a transformative piece of legislation that significantly reforms England’s homelessness legislation. Placing duties on local authorities to intervene at earlier stages is a key preventive step to reduce homelessness in local areas.

    We are keen to ensure local housing authorities are equipped to deliver these changes. Last week, we launched our new “Homelessness Code of Guidance”, a comprehensive guide for local authorities on how to exercise new functions introduced by the Act, alongside existing statutory responsibilities. Of course, we have already agreed £72.7 million of new burdens funding, payable to all councils over the spending review period, and a commitment to review this going forward. I am exceptionally proud of the work that has gone into delivering these changes—the work of the Department and of my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) before me—and as ever, I remain grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) for all his endeavours.

    However, there is clearly more to do. As we prepare for the Act to come into force in spring, I am now chairing regular meetings of the new rough sleeping advisory panel that will feed into the Government taskforce on rough sleeping and homelessness, which is meeting next week. The advisory panel, which includes the Finnish Government adviser, Peter Fredriksson, is made up of leading experts in the field, who will share knowledge, expertise and experience to support me in the production of a rough sleeping strategy, which I can confirm, will be reported in July this year.

    I look forward to the months of work ahead and with pleasure to the opportunities to update the House. I therefore commend the estimates in the name of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to be supported in the votes.

  • I thank every single Member who contributed to this excellent debate this afternoon. In particular, I thank the hon. Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan) for co-sponsoring it and the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), who made some incredibly good points about the sorts of things that we need moving forward. I also mention my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey), who gave the geekiest speech of the day. Exactly the point of these estimates day debates is to follow the money. If I have learned anything on the Public Accounts Committee, it is that by following the money, we can get to the heart of the difference between words and action.

    I thank the Minister for replying to many of the questions that were asked and for the clarifications that she provided. I found it disappointing, however, that there was still not a clear strategy on how we will build the new social homes that we need for the future. [Interruption.] The report was clear. I am also happy that she will come back to the House to update us in future. Let us keep talking about the money; in the end, in some ways it is the most important thing.

    Question deferred (Standing Order No. 54).