I beg to move,
That this House has considered street homelessness.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I thought I had had the most interesting February recess, but in fact you were sailing through the south Atlantic to South Georgia in rather hazardous circumstances, so I will defer to you.
In the February recess, I wandered into Covent Garden, armed with some cardboard that I had taken from outside a store, and I bedded down for a night under the awning of St Paul’s church. I was there with a very friendly Italian man and a Romanian couple, who were busy checking their phones before going to sleep. My idea was to spend as many days as I could updating myself on the situation of the street homeless in London. I first did that 27 years ago as a much thinner and fitter ex-Army officer, who had only just left the Army and who was trying to become a television reporter. In February, 27 years later, I was doing the same thing as a much fatter Member of Parliament.
I wanted to understand what the Government strategies are to end street homelessness. The Government and the Prime Minister herself have said that they want to eliminate it within 10 years. I wondered how we will do that and whether it will really be possible. I also wanted to look at what effect the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 is likely to have.
I emphasise that, from my perspective, this debate is about street homelessness, which is the obvious problem. There is, however, also the much bigger problem of sofa surfing, which I am not covering at all, although I acknowledge that it is very much there.
Some things have changed, and some things are the same. Things that are the same are the kindness and compassion of members of the public and of the charities dealing with this problem.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. One of the most profoundly moving things I have heard—possibly he heard it too—was after the recent passing of the Rangers and Chelsea footballer Ray Wilkins. On the radio, a moving tribute was paid live on air by a homeless man, who said that, when he was outside a tube station in London, the person who came to him, took him for a hot drink, gave him some money and changed his life was Ray Wilkins. That man said in his tribute that the world might remember Ray Wilkins the footballer, but he will remember the man who saved his life.
Order. Interventions must be brief.
What a lovely story—I thank the hon. Gentleman.
The other thing that has changed is that the Mayor of London, Westminster City Council, councils across the country and indeed the Government—I do not speak for the Government; I wish I did, but I am just a passed-over Back Bencher—are taking this problem extremely seriously, and I genuinely believe that. The No Second Night Out programme is a good example.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. Earlier he mentioned voluntary organisations, and I am sure he agrees that we should pay tribute to those in Coventry, such as the Cyrenians. They are underfunded to a certain extent, which we could have a debate about, but the serious issue is what to do about the problem. We need go less than 100 yards from here, across the road, and every morning we can see someone sleeping rough just under cover where the bookshop is. It is a serious problem, so how do we tackle it? I understand that a private Member’s Bill became law last April—
Order. Interventions must be brief.
I have not come across the Cyrenians, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that across the road is an excellent sleep spot.
The No Second Night Out programme is a good example of an early intervention service. It was launched in 2011 by my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), now the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, and it aims to ensure that no one, once identified, spends a second night sleeping rough in central London. More recently, Sadiq Khan has gone further and set up the No Nights Sleeping Rough Taskforce, trying to come up with new solutions. The taskforce brings together boroughs, voluntary organisations and central Government.
Apart from the proactiveness of the agencies that are helping, I noticed some other differences. In February 2018 the majority of the people I came across living on the streets were foreign nationals. One evening, at a soup kitchen on the Strand, there were—I will not exaggerate this—certainly 200 people. Various church groups—from Maidenhead, I think—and some Ahmadiyya Muslims, a Sikh group and an evangelical group were helping out. I wandered about while shawls and brand-new trainers were handed out, and I honestly did not hear English being spoken by anyone. I heard east European languages, Arabic and Italian.
The statistics seem to bear out my anecdotal evidence. Information collected by the Combined Homelessness and Information Network—the joint agency of people working with rough sleepers that is run by the excellent charity St Mungo’s—records that, in 2016-17, of the rough sleepers in London for whom nationality information was available, 30% were from central and eastern Europe. The figure for non-UK nationals overall was 52.6%; that does not include those who do not wish to give a nationality, and other sources put the figure nearer 60%, which was certainly my experience.
I note that the hon. Gentleman mentioned that those figures relate to London. Does he accept that, UK-wide, only 4% of rough sleepers in England are non-European Union nationals and 16% are EU non-UK nationals? Will he join me in thanking those faith groups who go out to serve all communities, regardless of background, and to help people who are in the direst of straits if they are rough sleeping?
Well, of course—the hon. Lady need not even have bothered asking the latter question, because it is a no-brainer, isn’t it? As for the numbers for the rest of the country, I do not know—I have not looked at them—but they are very interesting. There are many different people with different sets of figures, and I am sure that hers are correct. With the example of the numbers of foreign nationals living homeless in London, we can take our pick, but the CHAIN figure is the most reliable—I do not think that the figure is much more than 60%, but nor do I think it is much less.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will in a minute, but I have only got to page 3 of my speech, and I have quite a few more pages, some of which will go on to cover voluntary organisations, for example, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned earlier.
I have another slant on this.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. One of the things that the figures mask is that some people are asylum seekers with no status, going from home to home. In fact, on Monday, I met a group of people who are concerned about this. The figure of 4%, or whatever it might be, belies the real figure. Does he agree?
Yes. As I said at the beginning of my speech, this debate is about street homelessness, and I totally accept that there is a much bigger and much less visible problem of people sofa surfing. Indeed, tomorrow morning I will be seeing an asylum seeker without recourse to public funds who is in exactly the position that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting.
Going on to the reasons for rough sleeping in 1991 and now, the demographic of the people I met on the streets recently is clearly different, because of the foreign nationals, but the reasons for people being there are as sad and complicated as they always were. Once again, I met that seemingly intractable group—the mentally ill, the drug addicted and, in particular, people suffering from mental health issues. Of the what one might describe as “genuinely” street homeless, the overriding majority had some sort of mental health issue, which is compounded by living on the streets and by drug or alcohol addiction.
My hon. Friend is being very generous with his time. At the last count in Cheltenham, there were nine rough sleepers, often with complex needs relating to substance misuse or poor mental health, as he indicated. Does he agree that, in those circumstances, there can be no substitute for qualified expert and intensive support, such as that provided by P3 in Cheltenham, and that we should continue to fund that generously?
I do not know P3, but I am sure that it does great work. I agree with my hon. Friend, and I will come on to that point. How we deal with the mentally ill and the drug addicted, how quickly they have access to support, and how the money goes to the teams on the ground is a very important part.
Some of the street homeless I spoke to were ex-soldiers. One guy had separated from his German wife, whom he had met during our time in the Rhine. She had taken the children back there, and he had been living in a forest in Germany for four months. He had come back to London before trying to head back down to the west country.
There are also ex-offenders, some of whom leave prison with £46 in their pocket, although I did not meet any of them. I am sure that there are also those who lost their homes as a result of benefits sanctions, financial problems or the breakdown of relationships, although despite speaking to many dozens of homeless people, I did not come across any of them. But, of course, there are many of them, and there will be many more in the sofa-surfer sector, which we discussed.
The most common theme was mental illness of some kind. If hon. Members have walked along the road to Victoria station, they will have seen all the people zombified out of their heads on this horrible synthetic cannabis, Spice. I spent a night sleeping there, round the back of the “goods in” entrance to McDonalds. I was looking for a suitable place to sleep, and I found a guy sitting on his own. I wandered up to him and had a bit of chat. He was an alcoholic and was quite lonely, and he was quite nervous of all the Spice guys in the area. He said that I could bed down next to him, which I did. He was 30, from the north of England and quite anxious for company. As we lay there in our sleeping bags—him drinking beer—he told me that he had a flat outside London; in fact, he showed me the keys. But he said that when he is in the flat, he just sits there, getting wasted, and sees nobody. I found it terribly sad that he was so lonely that he preferred to be out on the street. That guy illustrates the complexity of rough sleeping and why the problem persists, even when money is being poured into the system and huge numbers of different services exist.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate and going on to the streets to find out the realities for himself. I have to respond to the point about pouring money into the system. That is absolutely not the case; money is being poured into the system to react to a crisis. The crisis is caused by the breakdown of our public realm—the decimation of frontline public services and the lack of mental health services and drugs and alcohol services. On the one hand, the Government are pouring in ring-fenced money to tackle the problem, but the breakdown of the social fabric of our society—like in the ’80s and ’90s—is the reason we have such a high level of rough sleeping.
As I said, I would like to be in the Government, but I am not. We will hear from the Minister, who I think will confirm that enormous amounts of money are being poured in. The hon. Gentleman may have a case in terms of sofa surfers, but for the hard-core rough sleepers, I cannot agree with him. I did not come across the sort of people that he characterised. I accept that, in terms of the other group, he may well be correct, but I think that the number of rough sleepers has much to do with the very high levels of eastern European immigration over the last few years. But he is absolutely right that we still have the intractable problem that, whether or not people think we are pouring in money, we are not getting to the people at the very bottom—I will come to them in a minute.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his initiative to put focus on this issue. Over the Easter recess, I did the 6 am shift with police community support officer Steve Hart, in Sheffield, where I met all the people sleeping in doorways and stairwells. None of them were foreign nationals—they were all British—and they all had the sort of complex problems that he describes. I talked to the agencies that worked with them; the reason why those numbers have gone up each year over the last few years is surely because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis) highlighted, starving money from local authorities has minimised not only their ability to deal with the issue, but a key source of funds for the charities in the third sector, which cannot provide the intensive support that people with complex problems need.
Again, I do not want to be a cop-out, but I will throw that to the Minister. If someone is fit and of sound mind, there are all sorts of services, although not quite 24 hours a day, that make it possible to sleep out. I am 52 years old and I was in the Army; to be honest, sleeping rough in central London is a lot more comfortable than going on exercise when I was in the Army. For those who are mentally ill, drug addicted, old or personality disordered, it is a very different thing.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Can I go on a little bit, unless the hon. Lady is desperate on this point?
I will hold on.
We have to accept that some people are able to sleep rough in our cities because there are the resources to do so.
Sorry, I cannot hold on. I have been out with homeless people in Crewe and Nantwich, and I do not relate to what the hon. Gentleman is saying at all. Does he agree that an area that needs to be looked at more closely is the high rate of benefit sanctions among homeless service users and the impact of those sanctions?
As I said at the beginning, this is a debate about street homelessness. I accept that is probably true in that other sector, but I did not come across it, and I am here to talk about my experience, so I do not know.
The hon. Lady said that she does not recognise what I was saying. I am not saying that even a large minority of the homeless are there because there are resources for them. I am trying to say, and I will develop this later, that we will get nowhere in solving the problem and getting to the people who are most needy if we just continue to talk about the homeless and feel sorry for everybody. We have to focus on the people in real need. Come out with me some time, and I will show you.
I go and help the homeless in my community; we have great volunteers who also help them all the time. Thank you, but we are interpreting the issue completely differently. It worries me that you are not recognising some of the real, ingrained problems. I do not think that anybody would choose to sleep rough—I do not buy that.
Order. Before the hon. Gentleman replies, I must make a couple of boring points. First, interventions are getting terribly long—Members must make short, one-sentence interventions. Secondly, any Member who says “you” means me. If Members refer to another Member, they must use the third person—“him” or “her”.
Thank you, Mr Gray. I can only go by my own experience. I am very keen that we should get to the people who are in real need and that we should start treating people as individuals rather than lumping them all together and suggesting that everyone has the same need. I am trying to be honest; I can only go with my experience of three months back in the ’90s.
I really should not allow another intervention, as I am on page four of 15 of my speech, but go on.
As you have just said—
No, I have not.
Sorry. As the hon. Gentleman just said, we should not lump all homeless people together; rather, we should look at them individually. Does he agree that, based on his own experience, he is taking a broad-brush approach to all homeless people, and that that is incorrect?
Well, I am not—actually, I have just turned the page, and I am now on page five of 14. I hope I do not give that impression, because I certainly do not think that. People are on the street for a reason. The problem is not homelessness—although of course that is a problem—but whatever reason someone is on the street. I do not think we disagree at all, but I will get to the hon. Lady’s point.
What was my experience with No Second Night Out? That initiative is based on the idea that once someone is identified, they will not spend a second night out. That happens in cities up and down the country. I reported myself to the StreetLink helpline, and I was woken up at about 2 o’clock in the morning by two outreach workers and asked whether I would like to get in an Addison Lee taxi to go to the No Second Night Out south hub in Hither Green. No Second Night Out has three hubs in London—one in the east, one in the north and one in the south. I had a 3 am interview with a charming, extremely competent and razor-sharp member of staff, and I was then taken into an L-shaped room about a third of the size of this Chamber where about 30 people were camped out on the floor with their own bedding. I squeezed into the one remaining space between a refrigerator and some French windows. I got up the next morning, had a Pret A Manger sandwich and some coffee, and later had an assessment interview. Not wanting to take a valuable place, I made my excuses and left.
To be honest, I was quite relieved when I left. The thought of spending days or weeks sleeping on the floor in a cramped room between the refrigerator and the French windows did not appeal to me much. I can completely see how, for someone able-bodied and of sound mind, it would be much more appealing to sleep under the awning of St Paul’s church in Covent Garden or at the “goods in” entrance round the back of McDonald’s in Victoria, because people have freedom in those places. Also, if I were a drug addict, I do not think I would want to abide by the rules that hostels must have to protect the other people there. But if I had been ill or elderly, I would of course have been grateful for that place on the floor and the plan that St Mungo’s, which operates the initiative, has for people eventually to go on and find housing.
Even if I were Alastair Campbell himself, I would find it hard to put in terms quite how extraordinary the staff of St Mungo’s are. Having made my excuses and left, I was walking down the street, and I had gone round the corner from the hostel when its manager ran down the road after me and said, “No, no, no—you don’t have to do this yourself. Come back and we will sort you out.” It was quite remarkable.
Prior to becoming an MP, I worked for YMCA Birmingham dealing with homeless young people. Will my hon. Friend join me in celebrating the £2.2 million it was recently granted by the Government to refurbish its 72-bed hostel in Northfield, creating facilities for organisations such as Mind to provide support to formerly homeless people?
Absolutely. Indeed, I experienced that. For another programme I made some years ago, I pretended to be a homeless mentally ill person in Birmingham. When I was discharged from Queen Elizabeth psychiatric hospital, I went to that very institution and the people there arranged to look after me. That was 30 years ago.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Yes, of course—I love the outrage.
I find it unbelievable that the hon. Gentleman would pretend to be a homeless mentally ill person. That just shows how detached he is from the situation. I find that insulting.
All I can do is suggest that the hon. Lady watches that “World in Action” series from 27 years ago and draws her own conclusions about whether that was a good thing. Let us have a chat about it when she has done that.
Let us carry on with some realities. It is very depressing, after 27 years, to look at streets with the same cohorts of mentally ill and drug-addicted people on them—the people who fall through the cracks in the system. Although the police are more able to intervene when a mentally ill person is on the streets and local authorities have particular duties to those who are vulnerable due to mental illness, the reality is that someone who has had serious psychiatric problems is extremely unlikely to maintain a tenancy or stay off the streets for some time. Indeed, I had not appreciated the churn of people—even when people are engaged, the system does not seem able to keep them for the time that it needs to.
Let us be honest about the correlation between immigration and the rising number of street homeless. It is no surprise to me that, in 2016-17, 1,950 rough sleepers were migrants from Romania, Poland and Lithuania. Obviously, homelessness is a much greater risk when people are far from home and from familial support structures. It became clear to me that some migrants sleep on the streets by choice, preferring to sleep rough than to pay for accommodation. It is a no-brainer that years of high immigration and of successive Governments not building enough houses will have a knock-on effect for people at the bottom of society. Of course that will make rents unaffordable.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Scottish National party Scottish Government have presided over a decade-long slump in Scottish house building? We went from almost 26,000 new builds in 2007 to almost 17,000 in 2016. That is totally unacceptable, and it has fuelled homelessness in Scotland.
The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), will attest to the fact that I am not well enough versed on what is happening in the rest of the country, so I cannot answer that question, but if my hon. Friend says that, I imagine it must be true.
On people from eastern Europe, perhaps it is time to ask ourselves whether it is exploitative to build an economy on cheap labour provided by those who can barely afford to accommodate themselves in our country. We could of course argue that those people are not strictly homeless, because they might have a home back home, but that is their reality when they are here.
My hon. Friend the Member for Angus (Kirstene Hair) alluded to the housing crisis. We must face up to the inevitable impact of that crisis, and of the related issues of lack of supply and affordability, on homelessness. It is estimated that between 2010 and 2016, population growth, including net international migration, was around 1.58 million. The number of rough sleepers has increased by 169% since 2010. In 2016-17, the housing stock in the UK increased by around 217,000 residential dwellings—an increase of 15% from the previous year, but short of the estimated quarter of a million-odd new homes required to keep up with household formation.
It is not difficult to see that the sums just do not add up, including under this Government. Although the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 strengthens the duties of local authorities to provide advisory services to people threatened with homelessness and encourages pre-emptive action where house building has not kept up with population increases, it is absurd to think that that will not impact the people at the bottom of society who are often the most unseen—not those on the streets but those on sofas.
We must address the fact that homelessness impacts men and women in different ways. Rough sleepers are overwhelmingly men. During my recent stint on the streets, I saw only a handful of women whom I unscientifically judged to be street homeless—the big giveaway is people carrying bags and suitcases. CHAIN data for 2016-17 shows that only 15% of rough sleepers in London were women. Part of the issue must be that those who care for young children—typically women—are rightly prioritised in the allocation of social housing. However, somewhere along the line we seem to have forgotten that men who live on the streets were once part of a family unit.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I would love to give way again; the hon. Lady is so informed.
Again, I am astounded by the misogynistic comment that it should be women who look after the children. I know that is a different issue to the debate, but I cannot let it go by.
I will read what I said again: part of the issue must be that the allocation of housing priorities goes to those who care for young children, who are typically women, and rightly so.
And rightly so!
Yes, absolutely. It is right for housing priority to go to people who look after children, and typically they are women. Again, I am just stating the reality. If it is different, the hon. Lady should tell us.
Let us move on. We must recognise the particular challenge of mental health issues that affect men, and the way that men who battle for many years with the perceived stigma of mental health problems can be particularly susceptible to a sudden crisis that can lead to homelessness. I also learned about the ways homelessness affects women. Some women in London ride the bus for 24 hours a day to stay off the streets, and some go from place to place in return for a bed to sleep in.
We must also address the issue of how people’s generosity can sometimes be as much part of the problem as the solution. The man I met near Victoria station spent the night drinking beer bought with £30 that kind members of the public had come up and given him that evening. St Mungo’s staff told me of a client who had abused drugs for many years and had a leg amputated as a result, but who finally managed to get clean. This man told them that if he had not been given money by the public for so long he would have sought help much sooner. Begging is part of the problem—an able-bodied person can make quite a lot of money from begging on the streets of London. Generosity by members of the public is a factor in this; generosity can be enabling and mask those in real need.
Will the hon. Gentleman please clarify whether he seeks to assert that people would rather be homeless and hope for public generosity than in a place where they can have their own income?
No, and rather like the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Laura Smith), the hon. Lady is not listening. I am not saying that; I am saying that if someone is a drug addict, the generosity of members of the public can enable their addiction. I just gave the example of a guy who was on the streets for years and had a leg amputated, and who now believes that if the public had not been so generous, he might have sought help much sooner.
I recall the hon. Gentleman said that people can make money from being on the street—I am paraphrasing, but will he please clarify that point?
I will change that sentence. A person can make money in order to buy drugs to feed their addiction—that point was pretty clear in what I said.
An added complexity is that there seems to be a perception among some of those involved in helping the homeless that in order to access services someone needs to sleep on the streets. Surely we should be helping people earlier. The endless churn of people entering the system—many of whom could and should have been helped earlier—makes the job of organisations who are trying to care for those vulnerable, and trapped, people even more difficult.
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point about the trapped nature of many homeless people. I recently visited a homeless shelter in Glasgow and I discovered a vicious cycle for people who might get a job, but they cannot then secure it because they do not have a bank account, and they cannot get a bank account because they do not have a job or permanent address. That puts people into a spiral of despair, which may well lead to them having addiction problems—no wonder they have addiction problems given the cycle of despair they are in.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s overall point. I think the business of not having an address has been dealt with by quite a lot of charities, but it is clearly much harder to hold down a job for someone who also has the complexity of sorting themselves out every night and living on the streets. I definitely agree with that.
How should we tackle the problem? From my experience of sleeping rough in 2018, I would say that our priority must be to ensure that we do not make the mistake of lumping all rough sleepers together. That stops us recognising people’s problems, and often means that we not go far enough to tackle the underlying reasons for rough sleeping. We also need urgently to address how mental health problems experienced by rough sleepers are identified and treated. Since my recent experience on the streets, a link has been made between the scaling back of mental health services and a rise in homelessness. An outreach worker, and former rough sleeper, told me only yesterday how he literally begged a doctor to get him some sort of treatment when no mental health services were available to help him.
Outreach workers also speak about their frustration at the lack of emergency mental health assessments, and the desperate need for help at the right time and in the right place. A supervisor at the No Second Night Out hub in London said that sometimes when someone arrives who is obviously suffering from a mental illness, the charity has to hold that severely mentally ill person in the hostel for up to three weeks before they get a mental health assessment. During that time the support workers, who are not psychiatric nurses, have to try to contain the situation, which is hugely challenging. If the person is accepted into an NHS mental health unit—that does not always happen, particularly if the person is a drug addict—more often than not, as has been said, they are simply released on to the streets a few weeks later.
Clearly there is an urgent need for mental health teams to be embedded with outreach teams so that they can look at the needs of an individual and refer them without any delay for the treatment they require. Homelessness charities say that there is no point putting enormous amounts of money into general mental health budgets, where it just disappears. The money has to go to the tip of the spear and stay with those people as they go through the system, so that we do not get the churn I have spoken about.
Thankfully, the problem of homelessness seems to be higher up the political agenda than ever before, and the Government’s 2015 Budget increased central Government funding for homelessness programmes to £140-odd million over the following four years. However, it is important that that money is used correctly, at the tip of the spear, focusing on the immediate needs of those on the streets and getting them the help they require, rather than being wasted on intervention that comes too late or does not tackle the root cause of someone’s homelessness.
If we are serious about this issue—I think the Government’s target is potentially over-ambitious—we must see people as individuals not just as homeless people. We must differentiate between different groups and have the courage to look at whether the provision of service is enabling some people to live on the streets, but obscuring others from the help that they need. We must think carefully about whether public kindness is enabling some addiction, and whether by lumping everyone together we are masking those in real need. In this country where we spend gazillions of pounds on a welfare state, we must try to rescue the people at the very bottom of our society from roaming the streets of our cities.
Order. I will call the Front-Bench speakers in 20 minutes, and seven Members wish to speak. My rough arithmetic makes that three minutes each. I do not intend to impose a formal limit, but as a matter of courtesy to each other please speak for three minutes if at all possible.
It is always a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate the hon. Member for Gravesham (Adam Holloway) on securing the debate and on his extraordinary account of what he learned.
I care passionately about this issue, as do other Opposition Members, because homelessness is the ultimate symbol of the gross inequality that scars our country and, in my case, the city region of Greater Manchester. We are proud of the renaissance of Manchester, but we cannot celebrate the cranes in the sky, which represent growth and development, while so many people are sleeping in shop doorways before our eyes. This issue also matters to me because in the 1960s, a middle-aged woman was found sleeping in a Manchester park with her young twins. The police officer who found her said, “You can sleep here, madam, but the children can’t,” and they were whisked into care. That middle-aged woman was my grandmother, who was a war widow battling mental health problems, and the twins were my uncle and aunt. The point that I want to make is it that can happen to anyone, and anyone’s family.
Why do we face such a shocking situation—one that in my view is a repeat of the “no such thing as society” ’80s and ’90s? The hon. Member for Gravesham listed the range of people who could be rough sleepers. It is important to underline the need to look at things on an individual-by-individual basis, as there are many causes. Two points I want to make are that, first, many foreign nationals are of course not eligible for public funding, which creates a range of problems for the system and, secondly, that I do not think that the hon. Gentleman meant to say that someone is better off sleeping on the streets than being in the military. That would, I think, be a great indictment.
I just said that sleeping in central London, if someone is able-bodied, is no worse than being on exercises in the military. It certainly would not be the case for someone who was mentally ill or drug-addicted.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that clarification.
I want to talk about the consequences of the slash-and-burn approach that has decimated public services as a consequence of the Government’s policies. The rhetoric is about a shift to prevention and early intervention, but the reality is that slashing and burning local authorities’ budgets has reduced them to providing their minimum legal responsibilities. Prevention and early intervention go out of the window. As for voluntary organisations, we no longer hear the term “the big society”. The reason that that was killed—that it was dropped and never mentioned—was that at the same time as the Government were talking about the growth in the importance of voluntary organisations, they were slashing the funding that they depended on. It is nonsense to talk about the big society. The alleged commitment to localism has proved to be complete nonsense. If you were running a business, Mr Gray, and you had a 50% cut in your budget over four years, you would go bankrupt or would be likely to go out of business. That is what is happening to local authorities under all political direction throughout the country. We are paying a heavy price for that.
I welcome the ring-fenced money that the Government have made available to tackle the issues, especially in Greater Manchester, but the irony is that the money, which is not adequate, is necessary only because of the impact of their social policy failures and cuts. It is right, therefore, that in a debate of this kind we do not say, “Take the politics out of it.” There is a rough sleeping epidemic as a direct consequence of political decisions. However, it is incumbent on an Opposition to offer creative and positive solutions, and Greater Manchester deserves tremendous credit for the innovative approach it is taking under the leadership of its Mayor, Andy Burnham, working with the 10 local authorities, the voluntary sector, faith groups and the private sector. The Mayor’s ambitious and morally right commitment is to end rough sleeping by 2020—seven years ahead of the Government commitment. They are committed only to ensuring that no one has to sleep on the streets of this country by 2027. I argue that that is a massive lack of ambition, in view of the humanitarian crisis.
Mayors across the country have a role to play. We have heard about Sadiq Khan, and the hon. Gentleman has talked about Andy Burnham. Andy Street, in the West Midlands Combined Authority, chose homelessness as the first thing to address in his time as Mayor.
I congratulate Andy Street on making it a priority, but if the hon. Gentleman were to meet all the Mayors they would say the problems are the consequence of the breakdown of frontline services that many of the people we are talking about have traditionally depended on. I agree that Mayors have an important role to play, and I am proud of the groundbreaking approach that Andy Burnham is taking, which everyone acknowledges.
The first key element of a successful approach is high-level political leadership. It is of absolute importance that the people at the top should care about rough sleeping and homelessness and make that a priority. Another is that solutions should be co-produced with people who have lived experience of rough sleeping, and frontline organisations. The issue should never be about top-down solutions. There should be a clear strategy and plan, focused on reduction, respite, recovery and reconnection. As the hon. Member for Gravesham said, there should be a personalised approach across organisational boundaries, with key workers, support plans and personal budgets. Also, we need innovative, imaginative public services. I am really proud of the innovative work being done by the NHS and the fire service in Greater Manchester. Expanded housing provision will sometimes need to involve specialist provision. The hon. Gentleman said that the issue is mainly about men, but what about specialist provision for women, who, often, are fleeing domestic abuse, and for young people? There is a dearth of that provision.
There is also a key role for business. The corporate sector in most communities wants to help, and it is important that the statutory authorities find a vehicle to enable businesses to make a positive contribution, through their expertise and skills, and their willingness to make financial resources available. In Greater Manchester the Mayor’s fund and Big Change have been successful in putting together resources from a variety of sectors on a ring-fenced basis.
I agree with the hon. Member for Gravesham about the importance, in addition to support services and a rebuilt infrastructure, of tackling Spice. That is another epidemic, and I do not think that society is yet clear about how to tackle it. I also agree with him that it is of course appropriate, when we have succeeded in minimising the number of people on the streets, to take on the issue of begging on the streets by people who are not actually homeless and who have addresses. However, that is not the place to start. Public support should start with minimising the number of people who are sleeping rough.
Our society reached a post-war consensus that every citizen in this country should have access to free healthcare and universal education, and it is about time that in the same way we offered every citizen the right to a decent, affordable home.
That was nearly nine minutes, squeezing out two colleagues.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Adam Holloway) for securing the debate.
In Penzance we have a problem, and across Cornwall two years ago we had the third highest level of rough sleeping in the country. When I ask people why, they say because it is the end of the line. People get on the train and get off when it stops in Penzance. There are rumours that local authorities buy people tickets to Penzance, but they are yet to be proved. I also know from personal experience about family breakdown, including instances when a new member of the family moves in and younger members feel they can no longer stay. Eviction for debt and so on has recently been a factor.
The problem is not new. In a previous job, many years ago, I worked for a local charity, and we supported homeless people. Long before food banks existed we set up help for them, providing food given by local people and tents and sleeping bags, as well as trying to get them better accommodation and support. Many years ago, under the Labour Government, there was a significant problem in Penzance, while I was on the district council. It was right that the council tried to address it, but unfortunately it caused extreme problems. The approach caused a lot of anxiety for those concerned and for the local communities, and cost several million pounds. The local authority just did not handle it correctly. I was concerned at the time for those who were homeless. It was right to help them, but things were poorly and ineffectively handled. That is why I am so encouraged by the efforts being made now; but we must proceed with caution.
Before I was married I invited a homeless man called Stan to come and live with me. It was quite funny as other people who came to the house were curious as to why there were two toothbrushes in the bathroom, and it started all sorts of rumours. What I learned was that more is needed than a roof over someone’s head, which I think is the point that has been made. In Penzance we have great services. Various meals are available throughout the day and there is support. All sorts of charities and other groups provide support, assistance and therapies.
Members on both sides of the House recognise that homelessness is a complex issue and can be solved only by everyone working together—including the police, local authority, voluntary sector, health and social care providers and landlords. It is true that house building must take place. We have not seen a significant amount of house building, and I am not yet aware of any scheme that is deliberately looking at how we can provide suitable housing for people who, as I have said, need more than just a roof over their head.
I will give three recent examples that have come into my casework folder of people who, as we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham, could have been helped earlier. There was one family whose business went bust; their house was tied to their business and they lost their business and their home. The council knew well in advance, but the day they left their business they had nowhere to go. More recently, there was the eviction of a tenant where there had been lots of work previously to pursue and achieve the eviction, but very little support, and she had nowhere to go on the day. There was also a young man I met recently who wanted to be close to his family and his children, but the only option available to him was at the other end of the county.
Those are examples of people who become homeless, rough sleepers or sofa surfers, yet none of those cases were a surprise. There was plenty of warning for all those concerned to have helped them. Excuses and reasons given to me included that the property had a section 106 agreement and it was not available for their situation. Another public sector organisation said, “This is not our responsibility.” Another said, “We offered him temporary accommodation,” but, as I have described, it was miles from home. An email I received yesterday described a hostel in Cornwall—it is a hostel for ex-service personnel, with eight beds in the room, mixed sex and miles from home. The individual is “terrified and cannot sleep”. There is no doubt in my mind that more can and should be done.
I am encouraged by the fact that we recognise the issue and that significant money and effort are being put into it. Cornwall Council is receiving £648,000 this year and £846,000 next year to address the issue. My colleagues and I will be asking how it intends to ensure the money goes where it is needed. I welcome the opportunity to debate this big and complex issue, which will not easily be resolved.
I will be brief. It is clear that everyone has a backstory; it is certainly clear, from spending time with the homeless in York, that if decisions had been taken elsewhere in the system we would not be in the situation we are in. We have multi-agency failure due to the austerity measures and the harsh decisions of the council, which has resulted in homelessness exploding on the streets of York. In 2010, just two people were recorded as sleeping rough, but today the picture is completely changed.
The chief executive of Changing Lives, which provides one of the services in York, said that rough sleeping is now,
“highly visible and we believe the numbers that will be counted later on in the year will be alarming.”
Even though he runs a service himself, he was “visibly shocked” at the levels of street homelessness in York and, of course, homelessness across the board is in an even more desperate situation.
The reasons for that are complex, but it is clear that some decisions can be made to change the situation, not least looking at the housing situation in York itself. It is absolutely hopeless for the council to say, “Go to the private rented sector,” because people cannot afford to live there. The broad rental market area for York does not match the true cost of housing in the city, due to the broad area it covers. Therefore, the private rented sector is not an option, yet people are still sent there by our service. I would like the Minister to look at that.
I would also like the Minister to look at the term “intentionally homeless”. I do not believe anybody makes themselves intentionally homeless. It is the council that intentionally makes people homeless. While we know that people have complex needs, there need to be alternative strategies for missed rental payments or antisocial behaviour, rather than people ending up intentionally homeless.
I also ask the Minister to look at what is happening with York’s local plan. The council is resubmitting it, seriously under-marking a number of housing types, particularly social housing. We need to disaggregate the terms affordable housing and social housing, but we need to put housing first for homeless people, as Nicholas Pleace at the University of York has more than adequately described. We need to look at what happens, because there is currently a punitive system in place around much of housing. We need to get it right, because people are really struggling in my city—local people, I stress.
The words of Sheila McKechnie will always stay with me. As a teenager, she fiercely held politicians to account to ensure they did not bypass the issues of homelessness. We need to ensure that no politician sits comfortably, even if strategies have been put in place, because it is a matter of such urgency. Different solutions are needed in different areas, and I ask the Minister to work with all of us to make sure that we find them.
I have scribbled out a lot of my speech, so I will try to crack on, with your best wishes, Mr Gray.
Homelessness is one of my key local campaigns, and something I have worked on consistently since being elected last year. I have visited most of the relevant services in Mansfield and brought both the previous Minister for homelessness, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), and the Home Secretary to meet the public sector charitable organisations and businesses to look at various aspects of things we might do better locally.
It is fair to acknowledge that the Government has taken some important steps to tackle homelessness. The recently introduced Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 is an important move in the right direction and can potentially help to reduce the number of people becoming homeless in the first place. Through my investigations over this year, I know that that prevention aspect of support was previously lacking. The flexible homelessness support grant is also welcome, providing £250,000 to Mansfield over three years.
In Mansfield, we have some brilliant supported housing associations, not least Framework Housing Association, the Nottingham Community Housing Association and others, that help to get people back on their feet after times of crisis. They would love to be able to offer ongoing support to the people who rely on them, but they struggle to access the funding to do so. Those providers are experienced in the issues surrounding homelessness and are often best placed to offer local support and tailored services.
In my constituency it is not the housing itself that is the real challenge, but the complexity of need, including mental health difficulties or addiction. Providing support in managing those things, with financial management, can make all the difference. Too often the way is blocked by bureaucracy or protectionism over different organisations’ priorities and budgets. People cannot get support for a mental health problem if they are on drugs, but they cannot get support for their addiction if they have an obvious mental health problem. The problems are clearly interrelated, but the services are not.
Addressing mental health issues, providing tailored local support and a joined-up approach between housing, health and local social services is key to addressing the issue of homelessness. Most local stakeholders would agree that in Mansfield, our acute services are pretty good. If someone finds themselves homeless, they have a good chance of getting accommodation and support fairly quickly. The numbers of street homeless in Mansfield have fallen over recent years.
We have some amazing local groups and charities such as The Hall, the Beacon Project and the Soup Kitchen that provide excellent care and support, and most importantly link in with key services. What we do not have is a low-level ongoing support or prevention service, to help people to manage their money and maintain a tenancy as they move on, and to stop them ending up back on the streets. For an entrenched population of long-term homeless, that is key.
It is important to note that a significant number of people, as has been mentioned, might not feature in the rough sleeping statistics because they have hostel accommodation or another form of temporary accommodation. While as a first step hostels can provide useful accommodation for homeless people and help to provide shelter, they are not a long-term solution. The use of drugs and alcohol, threats of violence, theft, bullying and other issues can mean they are not the safe space that people deserve.
It is frequently acknowledged that bed-blocking is a significant problem in the NHS. There is also an increasingly problematic form of hostel bed-blocking, where former rough sleepers in hostels are ready to move on but there is no move-on accommodation or support to help them do so. A joined-up effort to look at the ways in which we can continue to make progress in reducing homelessness will need to involve all levels of Government, the NHS and social care, charities and voluntary groups. There is no one-size-fits-all approach; we must take a range of different approaches to deal with the problem.
I have argued over the last year that tackling homelessness must remain a priority and that the funding should reflect its importance. That funding should not just be based on numbers. London obviously gets a lot of cash because the numbers are incredibly high, but I will argue for Mansfield, where the numbers are comparatively small but we have a deeply entrenched population of long-term homeless, who simply will not be able to get back on their feet without some intense long-term support.
Finally, can the Minister tell us when we are likely to have an assessment of the impact of the Act and the success of the various trials of different services, such as Housing First in Manchester, that have been brought forward by Government? Are more proposals are likely to be brought forward to look at those prevention services that I mentioned, with a view to meeting the target of eradicating homelessness by 2027?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. Like others before me, I thank the hon. Member for Gravesham (Adam Holloway) for securing this vital debate.
Homelessness affects probably every Member, not only of this Parliament but of the devolved Administrations and their respective Parliaments, who work side by side with local authority councillors and officers to help to resolve this huge issue. In my constituency of Falkirk, I work with a variety of other local organisations that willingly give their utmost to resolve this terrible situation, which too many of our constituents find themselves in.
Many interesting points have already been made. I have to praise the hon. Member for Gravesham for again getting out of his comfort zone and going to live with the homeless, some 27 years later. I read his report in The Daily Telegraph and thought it was extremely interesting on how different things are—or not—after such a long time. He asked why the problem still persists. It is a great question, and I would like some answers. He made some interesting observations in his report on that point, many of which have been mentioned. The two I noted were the No Second Night Out initiative, which I thought was excellent, and how all people cannot just be lumped together. That is extremely important.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that in rural areas such as the one I represent, the difficulty is that, while we have always had hidden homelessness—people have slept in the woods and so on or have sofa-surfed—it is now street homelessness. We have to look at the dilemma of whether we provide a shelter or whether we try to find other ways of coping with these people. I would obviously prefer the latter. That shows the difference.
Hear, hear. I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman.
I come back to a point made earlier by the hon. Member for Angus (Kirstene Hair), who is not in her place. She mentioned the Scottish National party Government. I will quote Shelter Scotland to her, which warned, in evidence submitted to the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government and Communities Committee, that the combination of universal credit and the UK Government’s benefit cap reduction and the cap on housing benefit, all
“directly threaten tenancies and risk pushing more people into homelessness.”
None of us should tolerate that situation.
The hon. Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis) impressed me with his points on the new mayor’s ambitions. That is an extremely important development for these new powerhouses; taking decisions locally is vital for all areas. The hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) described the effect of austerity measures on increasing homelessness in her own area.
There has been a 32% increase in homelessness in Northern Ireland. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, contrary to popular belief, homelessness is not restricted to people who sleep rough? It encompasses a much wider range of individuals in a variety of circumstances—particularly those with mental health issues.
I absolutely agree. I will come on later to describe some things I have already managed to do this year. I will first make other Members aware of what the Scottish Government are doing in relation to our own homelessness problems, and I will end my speech by taking the opportunity to mention two initiatives I recently had the honour of being asked to visit, to witness the innovative work being undertaken there to reduce homelessness in a very practical manner.
In Scotland, the SNP Government are taking action to end rough sleeping for good. Scotland has some of the strongest rights for homeless people in the world. A major change was made in the Homelessness etc. (Scotland) Act 2003: from 31 January December 2012, the priority needs criteria were abolished. This was described by Shelter as providing
“the best homelessness law in Europe”.
That is praise indeed. It was also described as very ambitious, and required 10 years of preparation between receiving Royal Assent in 2003 and coming into force at the end of 2012.
Everyone found to be homeless in Scotland is entitled to housing. Most people are provided with settled, permanent accommodation. Last winter—I hope it is now finished—the Scottish Government increased the capacity and capability of homelessness services in three Scottish cities, to meet the challenge of the harsh winter. As part of that strategy, the SNP Scottish Government set up the homelessness and rough sleeping action group to bring forward recommendations on how to eradicate rough sleeping, and also announced £150,000 of funding to extend some projects that had already been assisted in the winter.
Another great example of the Scottish Government’s commitment is the creation of the ending homelessness together fund of £50 million over five years from this year. Importantly, this focus on prevention has already contributed toward a significant fall in homelessness applications—a 38% reduction when compared with the number of applications between April and September 2007 and April and September 2017.
New recommendations to ensure the eradication of rough sleeping have been set out by the Scottish Government’s homelessness and rough sleeping action group. Some of the measures include a national system of rehousing, involving integrated support from frontline outreach services and, importantly, our own local authorities. For example, that includes moving to a housing first model for those with the most complex needs, whereby people move straight into a permanent, settled home, rather than temporary accommodation. The Scottish Government invested £320,000 to support additional capacity for night shelters and extra staff, to help more people into accommodation over the winter. More money—some £150,000—will be committed this summer to continue some services going forward.
Jon Sparkes, chair of the homelessness and rough sleeping action group and chief executive officer of Crisis, said he was very pleased that the Scottish Government have
“given in principle support to all of the recommendations on ending rough sleeping from the Homelessness & Rough Sleeping Action Group”.
That group has to be praised for the manner in which it has dedicated itself to bringing the right recommendations that will have the biggest impact on the way people sleeping rough can access and receive services. The new recommendations have also been welcomed by Annette Finnan and John Mills of the Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers, who said:
“ALACHO members will welcome these new recommendations, they reflect much of the good work that is already going on in local councils across Scotland.”
That is praise indeed, and it is a good example of how Government and partners can work together.
As has been mentioned by many MPs when discussing Tory policy, welfare cuts are causing major hardship and housing insecurity for far too many people.
Between 2010 and 2015, funding to homeless services was cut by 45%. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that could be one of the main reasons for street homelessness?
I absolutely and totally agree. That figure is in your face and unavoidable. The impact those cuts are having on our streets is unavoidable; how could anybody not see it?
The Westminster Government must scrap the punitive cuts that have pushed people into destitution. Other charities and organisations are left firefighting these decisions. I will mention some action that has been taken by way of education into employment—life-changing measures for the vulnerably housed and homeless.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the hair industry, I was honoured and privileged to attend a wonderful example of a community working together, in Exeter in Devon. Hair@theAcademy provides professional barbering courses for the homeless and vulnerably housed. A truly remarkable project, the academy has successfully piloted a level 2 certificate in barbering qualifications for six homeless adults. Those adults, who have issues, are all moving into full-time or part-time employment or self-employment. Before starting, all participants must complete a two-week citizenship course with Learn Devon, to ensure that they are clean and ready to begin learning.
The barbering course has the built-in flexibility to run over six months, recognising that there will be difficulties and issues. I would call it a magna vitae. It shows great, creative thinking from Learn Devon and from Mary Pugsley from Hair@theAcademy, who put the project together. What a great vision she has to help others who are more needy. The course is delivered with one-to-one tutoring, and as the learners become more confident, they are encouraged to become more independent in their learning journey. The courage of the businesses that support the course needs to be recognised. They have allowed these people to enter into life and have changed their lives and their way of living and their own communities are all the better for it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I thank the hon. Member for Gravesham (Adam Holloway) for securing this very important debate. The turnout of colleagues goes some way to demonstrating how important this issue is to so many representatives throughout the country. I am only sorry that more colleagues have not had more time in which to share their views and discuss issues affecting their constituents.
Street homelessness is just one part of the ever increasing problem of homelessness, but it is one that shames the country, so we must welcome the Government strategies to tackle it. I am referring to piloting the Housing First schemes in mayoral areas and bringing in the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. However, I must enter a small caveat. Housing First has worked incredibly well in Finland and areas of Canada, and St Mungo’s, which the hon. Gentleman has spoken to and worked with closely, has also been undertaking this work for quite some time outside the pilots, so we should take this opportunity to congratulate those organisations that have already been undertaking this good work for some time. I also need to raise my concerns about local authorities’ ability fully to implement the range of facilities in the Homelessness Reduction Act without the funding properly to support the requirements of that Act.
I, too, feel that those are exactly the problems, so does my hon. Friend agree that local authorities up and down the country face these difficulties? In my own city of Manchester in 2010, we had only seven people in this situation, but in 2017 the number was 94. Manchester City Council is giving £3 million to tackle homelessness, but it is also fighting the tide of crippling cuts to local authority budgets, an historical housing crisis and punitive welfare reform—
Order. Interventions must be brief.
So the Government need to do more.
I call Melanie Onn.
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) is absolutely right, and I could not support him more. I congratulate Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, on the action that he has taken to ensure that homelessness is at the top of his agenda and to tackle this issue for his city, including by putting some of his own funds into the task group. The rise in homelessness in Manchester and other areas has not simply happened by chance; it is a result of Government choices.
The figures show that almost 5,000 individuals are now sleeping rough on our streets. That is a 15% increase on 2017 and a 169% increase since 2010—a massive increase. Does my hon. Friend agree that we cannot help the homeless if we do not provide the homes that they require?
Absolutely, and I will come on to that issue shortly. This problem is not insurmountable. When Labour was in government, there was an unprecedented drop in homelessness, but since 2010 it has worsened by every measure. As the hon. Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis) made clear, the doubling of rough sleepers since 2010 is a problem of the Government’s own making. Home ownership is at a 30-year low. The average home costs eight times the average salary. Today in England there are 120,000 homeless children. The building of social rent homes has plummeted, with fewer than 1,000 last year—the lowest level on record.
The Minister, who has responsibility for homelessness, recently said that she did not know why homelessness had risen. I find it very hard to believe that anyone in this place cannot immediately see some of the main reasons for homelessness increasing. My hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) rightly recognised some of them: a lack of social and council homes; disproportionately high rental increases making homes unaffordable for those on lower incomes; reductions in council funding meaning less for drug and alcohol services; crippling welfare reforms that have cut too fast and too far for those who were genuinely just about managing; and difficulty in accessing mental health services as the thresholds for those services get ever higher.
I shall take the opportunity to highlight some of the innovative work that NAViGO mental health services is undertaking in my constituency. It has worked closely with the local housing association to purchase properties and then uses them as step-down accommodation to support the service users who come to it for help, to ensure that they have wraparound care. That is the principle of Housing First in action in measures being taken by innovative organisations around the country.
My hon. Friend gives very good examples of people who are homeless being given assistance. I wonder whether she will share my dismay at a letter that I received from Eleanor Wilson, a medical student in Glasgow, last night. She said that she witnessed, in a branch of Starbucks in Glasgow, a homeless man who was just queuing for a cup of coffee being told to get out of the premises. That is one of a litany of issues with Starbucks in the city of Glasgow. Starbucks cannot pay its taxes—does not contribute to helping the public realm—and is also ostracising homeless people on our streets who need help. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is totally unacceptable for a corporate citizen of the UK?
Absolutely. I think that we all have a responsibility. The hon. Member for Gravesham talked about a society that is enabling homelessness, but I think that there is room for compassion when dealing with people who have myriad social, economic and personal issues driving them to be in this situation.
A sensible welfare state provides security to those in society who need it. That has been eroded over the last eight years, creating an underclass to the extent that the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has stepped into the Government’s shoes with its report published yesterday in the New Statesman and identified 78 homeless people who have died this winter. That is 78 human lives lost, 78 people without a place that they could call home, 78 lost people. Why do I call them “lost people”? Because the Government do not collect those figures centrally. Because in response to my written questions and those from colleagues about deaths associated with rough sleeping, the Minister has repeatedly brushed that question off. There was no acknowledgement that the central collection of data would prove to be of discernible use—that it would better inform the Government of the scale of the issue at hand and provide some evidence and a means by which Government initiatives could be measured.
The Minister’s Department seems similarly unaware of which local authorities have commissioned adult safeguarding reviews in the event of homelessness-related deaths in their area, so we cannot know which local authorities have good practices and which need improvement. Will she agree today to start collecting centrally data in relation to deaths from homelessness? For everyone’s information, at least 59 men and 16 women have died. Their ages ranged from 19 to 68, and 14 of those who died were under the age of 35.
I congratulate them on their assiduousness, but it should not take investigative journalists calling round councils, charities, coroners’ offices and police forces to establish a full picture of how many people are dying on the streets of our country. And it is not just those figures that matter. The Government should be doing better in collating general information about people who are rough sleeping, because the accuracy of those figures is wholly insufficient. In the official figures, the estimated figure for rough sleepers in my constituency sits at around 22, but the list that I get every single month from my local outreach services shows more than double that number.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent contribution to the debate. Does she agree that there is a case for reviewing the nonsensical, arbitrary headcount that takes place once a year, in November, and leads to completely misleading statistics? We actually need a personal profile of each individual so that we know what their needs are and how to address them. The headcount once a year is completely misleading and unhelpful.
The hon. Gentleman makes an incredibly valid point, and I hope that the Minister is listening. I see that the hon. Member for Gravesham, who initiated the debate, is nodding: he thinks that what has been referred to would be of great use.
It is shameful that in 2018 we have experienced such a rise in homelessness in all its guises, from families left in supposedly temporary accommodation for up to two years, to those without even a roof over their heads. There must be action. Now is not soon enough, let alone 2027, especially for those who have lost their lives without the security of their own home.
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Adam Holloway) on securing a debate on this extremely important issue. Tackling homelessness in all its forms is a priority not only me for me, but for this Government. I understand his interest in this subject. As he mentioned, he has seen what it is like to sleep rough.
I am also thankful for the other experiences and expertise shared here today, whether it comes from a constituency or wider perspective. I am grateful to hon. Members for their speeches and questions and will, I hope, answer them as I work through my speech.
It should never be the case that someone finds themselves without a roof over their head. That is why, as hon. Members will be aware, the Government have committed to halving rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament and to eliminating it altogether by 2027.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
No, I will not. There is not enough time, because I have to give time to my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham at the end.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham for his kind comments about the ambitions of this Government. Hon. Members will be aware that at the beginning of this month we implemented the most ambitious legislative reform in decades, the Homelessness Reduction Act, which transforms the culture of homelessness service delivery. For the first time, local authorities, public services and the third sector will work together to actively prevent homelessness for any people at risk, irrespective of whether they are a family or a single person, of what has put them at risk or of whether they have a local connection to the area. To deliver the new duties under the Act, we know how important it is to provide local authorities with the requisite support to build the homelessness workforce. To help this, we have funded the London Training Academy, which will provide current frontline staff and apprentices. I am exceptionally proud of the work that has gone into delivering these changes and the work the Department has done. As ever, I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) for all his endeavours in bringing this Act to pass.
On rough sleeping, hon. Members will be aware that we are publishing our strategy in July, setting out the measures that we will take in order to achieve our manifesto commitments. Overseeing the development and delivery of the strategy will be the ministerial taskforce, chaired by the First Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington), and comprises Ministers from key Departments with responsibilities in relation to homelessness and rough sleeping. It is supported by the rough sleeping advisory panel, which I chair, with Mayors Andy Burnham and Andy Street sitting on it. The panel brings together key figures from local government, central Government and homelessness charities. We have met three times so far. Sub-groups of the panel have also been established to look at a range of themes, such as prevention, intervention, recovery, data and long-term social change for the strategy. Good progress has been made on the development of the strategy and I look forward to sharing our plans with hon. Members this summer.
We are, however, determined to take action to tackle rough sleeping right now. I am sure hon. Members will have seen the recent announcement on what we have called the “rough sleeping initiative”, which lays the foundations for the strategy. The measures contained in the initiative are based on tried and tested measures, which have previously had significant and immediate impact on bringing down rough sleeping. The measures include setting up a rough sleeping team, made up of rough sleeping and homelessness experts, drawn from and funded by Government Departments and agencies, with specialist knowledge across a wide range of areas, including housing, mental health and addiction. There is a £30 million fund for 2018-19, with further funding agreed for 2019-20. This funding will be targeted at local authorities with high numbers of people sleeping rough. The rough sleeping team will work with local areas with higher pressure to support them and deliver bespoke local interventions to immediately reduce the number of people sleeping rough on the streets. A further £100,000 will be made available to support the frontline rough sleeping workers across the country, to ensure they have the right skills and knowledge to work with vulnerable rough sleepers.
In addition, the Department is working with the National Housing Federation to look at providing additional co-ordinated move-on accommodation for rough sleepers across the nation, to ensure that they can stand on their own two feet once they have received help. As well as the support provided by other Government Departments in developing the strategy, this new package of measures will be supported by a range of Departments across Whitehall. For example—this will answer many colleagues’ questions—the Department of Health and Social Care will make available experts in mental health and drug treatment services to help support the new outreach teams, including those in hostels, and the Ministry of Justice will focus on prison and probation work with local authorities and outreach teams, in particular to identify short sentence prisoners and offenders serving community sentences who are at risk of sleeping rough. These measures build on existing action we have already taken to tackle rough sleeping. For example, as announced in the 2017 Budget, we are piloting the Housing First approach to support some of the most entrenched rough sleepers in our society. I have personally seen the good that Housing First can do, especially for those struggling with addiction, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham mentioned. I saw that when I visited the Housing First projects in Glasgow last month. The Government are keen to see the results of how it will work in England and robust evaluations will inform wider roll-out, which my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) asked about.
Charities and volunteers carry out vital work across the country. Their work is key to ensuring that rough sleepers get the help that they need and they help us in meeting our manifesto commitment, particularly charities such as St Mungo’s and Homeless Link.
I understand the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham that people sleeping rough might be migrants. To be clear, we have always worked closely with councils and homelessness outreach services to ensure that the genuinely vulnerable receive the care they need. The Government also provide funding for local authorities for specific projects to tackle rough sleeping by non-UK nationals. This fund helps projects to secure regular employment and accommodation for non-UK nationals, or facilitate voluntary return to their country of origin.
The Government have allocated more than £1.2 billion to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping over the spending review period. This includes––this is by no means exhaustive––£617 million in flexible housing support grants, £316 million of local authority prevention funding and £100 million to deliver low-cost move-on accommodation places to enable people leaving hostels and refugees to make a sustainable recovery from the homelessness crisis. There is a further £215 million for a central Government programme, which funds a range of innovative projects across the country and a £20 million fund for schemes that will enable better access in the private rented sector for those who are, or are at risk of, becoming homeless, which the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) asked about.
I thank the Minister for her contribution to the debate. I ask her to look at a report published today by the organisation Justlife, which shows that there are ten times more people in temporary accommodation than Government figures suggest and that there is a direct correlation between unsupported temporary accommodation, welfare reform and rough sleeping. These people are living in appalling conditions in bed-and-breakfast hotels and guest houses. Will she study that report and will she be prepared to visit one or two of the Justlife projects in Greater Manchester with me, to see for herself the realities on the frontline?
I heard about that report yesterday. It is devastating to see the quality of the property that certain people are being asked to stay in. That is not acceptable in this country. I had a meeting arranged in Manchester. Unfortunately, it was cancelled by the people in Manchester, but I am sure there will be another time when I will come up.
In conclusion, I thank all hon. Members for their contributions to this important debate, which has been truly worthwhile. I reiterate that this Government are truly committed to achieving our manifesto targets and we will have further updates in the near future on what we will do to ensure that we meet them. Rough sleeping and homelessness is a scourge on our society. We will do everything in our power to sort it out.
I thank the Minister and the shadow Minister for their speeches, and the hon. Member for Stroud (Dr Drew) for his excellent intervention. It was fascinating to hear about the grandmother of the hon. Member for Bury South (Mr Lewis). Thank God we have moved on some way from that. I would love to hear more about Stan at some point.
We need to think about the realities of homelessness and see it for what it is, rather than how we would like to characterise it. Homelessness is of course a problem, but it is only a symptom. We will get nowhere if we do not get to the underlying problems these people face. As we have seen from this debate, if we cannot discuss this honestly, without the degree of ignorance and prejudice that we saw from a couple of hon. Members, we will get nowhere. We have to treat homeless people as individuals. We have to segment people to some extent, so that we do not mask the problems of the people at the very bottom of our society, who—at the moment and for generations—we have not managed to reach.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered street homelessness.