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Short Prison Sentences: Homelessness

Volume 651: debated on Tuesday 18 December 2018

2. What estimate he has made of the number of people who become homeless immediately after being released from short prison sentences. (908246)

11. What estimate he has made of the number of people who become homeless immediately after being released from short prison sentences. (908255)

Far too many people on short sentences—almost 35%—struggle to find suitable accommodation. That is why we are now focusing on a pilot in Bristol, Pentonville and Leeds. We not only want to get ex-offenders into accommodation, but are putting £6.4 million into ensuring that they have right kind of support, with up to five hours a week on life skills and financial management skills, and access the right services.

I thank the Minister for his response. A study done by the charity Revolving Doors estimates that there was a 25-fold increase between October 2016 and June 2018 in the number of prisoners sleeping rough who have served less than six months. Does that information embarrass the Government and the Minister?

First, I pay tribute to Revolving Doors, which is a very impressive charity. I am afraid those are not the figures we have in the MOJ, but I am very happy to sit down with Revolving Doors and understand how it is arriving as such figures. Broadly speaking, sadly, the level of homelessness among people on short sentences has remained, in our terms, relatively static over the past decade, but I respect Revolving Doors, and I am very happy to look at that evidence with it.

When prisoners fall on that fine line between being criminals and actually being victims of crime themselves—I am particularly thinking of young people who are caught up in gangs and county lines-type drug dealing—what support is being given to them to make sure that if they are rehoused, they are rehoused away from the scene from their offending, so they are in a safe place and do not get dragged back into gang activity?

This is a very good challenge. We can use licence conditions to try to ensure that somebody does not return to the scene of their offending. The problem, as the hon. Lady will be aware, is that we of course have to balance that against the importance of family relationships for rehabilitation. We want to try to locate someone in a place where they will not be tempting into further reoffending, but we do not want to locate them in a place where they lose all contact with family and community.

Does the Minister agree that it is wrong for local authorities to discriminate against ex-offenders by putting them at the bottom of the queue, sometimes saying they have no local connections—through no fault of their own, if they have been in prison—and that ex-offenders should be treated fairly and equally, along with everyone else?

I agree 100%. That has now become easier to enforce through recent legislation, but we continue to work very closely with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. There are local councils that are doing fantastic work in housing ex-offenders, but it is true that ex-offenders can fall through the gaps. In particular, the pilot in Bristol, Pentonville and Leeds is an opportunity to demonstrate how we can work better with local authorities.

I am proud to have become a trustee of Nacro recently. Will the Minister continue to work with me and Nacro to reduce the number of prisoners who are released at the end of the week, which thereby reduces the number of services available to them?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work she has done with Nacro. Indeed, we had an excellent hour-long session with Nacro on the issue of Friday releases. We are looking at this, but it is worth bearing it in mind that we cannot simply solve this by releasing people on Thursday. That would mean dealing with everybody who will otherwise come out on Friday, Saturday and Sunday as well, so we would have four times the workload on a Thursday. We are, however, looking for solutions to this problem.

Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), does the Minister recognise that housing allocation policies often mean it is difficult to remove an offender from an area where they have criminal connections, because they do not have local connections in the area to which it would be sensible to move them? What discussions is his Department having with the MHCLG about housing allocation policies supporting the relocation of those offenders?

The answer is that we have two formal mechanisms: we have a taskforce focused on housing and we have a taskforce focused particularly on rough sleeping. In both those scenarios, we are pushing very hard with the MHCLG to resolve many issues, of which that is an important one.

Care after Combat’s mentoring scheme for 360 veterans has achieved a fivefold reduction in reoffending. Quite rightly, we are spending a small amount to save £20 million in the system. What are the Government doing further to support these sorts of mentoring initiatives to tackle both homelessness and reoffending?

I pay tribute to Care after Combat, which I have had the opportunity to meet, along with the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), who has responsibility for veterans. There is a great deal of support, particularly that provided by military charities, and I would like to pay tribute to SSAFA—the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association—the Royal British Legion and, of course, Help for Heroes, which has done incredible work on the issue of offenders who are also veterans. It is important to understand, however, that the issues faced by veterans are often a subset of the issues faced by many of our offenders, particularly in relation to mental health, addiction, housing and employment. We need to think about them, whether they are veterans or civilians, in a single act.