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Homelessness and Rough Sleeping

Volume 664: debated on Tuesday 1 October 2019

Today’s publication by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) on homelessness deaths in England and Wales in 2018 makes for sobering reading. The Government will continue to take strong action to address this vitally important issue.

This important report from ONS draws attention to the tragic deaths of those who are homeless. A 22% increase in deaths of homeless people from last year is simply unacceptable. One death on our streets is one too many. This is an issue we all find deeply concerning and this Government are working tirelessly to stop these needless deaths for good.

That is why we are investing £1.2 billion to tackle homelessness and have bold plans, backed by £100 million, to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and end it by 2027. This funding was further bolstered as part of the recent spending round announcements. This Government have committed a further £422 million in 2020/21 to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. This marks a £54 million increase in funding from the previous year. I look forward to detailing precisely how we will allocate this funding in due course.

Much of this funding is already having an impact: the rough sleeping initiative (RSI)—a cornerstone of our ambitious rough sleeping strategy—has provided £76 million to 246 councils across the country to date. Councils are using this funding to support rough sleepers off the streets and into secure accommodation where they can get the help and the support they need. The RSI impact evaluation published last month, shows that the RSI has reduced the number of vulnerable people sleeping rough by 32%, compared to the number it would have been had the initiative not been in place. As a result, hundreds more people are in warm, safe housing tonight.

However, there is much more to be done; especially as the cold weather period is a particularly difficult time. That is why, in periods of severe weather, severe weather emergency provision (SWEP) is triggered. Local authorities work closely with charities to provide basic emergency accommodation during these weather conditions to minimise the risk of harm to individuals who are sleeping rough when the temperature drops.

To supplement this, the Government launched an additional £10 million cold weather fund last month. The fund will enable us to build on the successes of last year’s fund by increasing outreach work further and extending winter shelter provision.

The Government will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that we are providing advice and support so that people can escape the streets and get the comprehensive support they need to stay off the streets. That is why we introduced the landmark Homelessness Reduction Act and published a rough sleeping strategy last year. These efforts will put in place the structures that will prevent and relieve homelessness in all its forms.

I know that many people who sleep rough have significant health and care needs, including substance misuse needs. Indeed, as both data sets from this year and the previous year have shown, substance misuse is the leading cause of deaths amongst people who sleep rough.

That is why MHCLG is working closely with the Department for Health and Social Care, NHS England and Public Health England to further support these vulnerable individuals. This includes steps such as:

Securing £30 million funding from NHS England over the next five years to meet the needs of rough sleepers by providing better access to specialist homelessness NHS mental health support, integrated with existing outreach services;

a rapid audit of health service provision to rough sleepers, including mental health and substance misuse treatment;

launching a £2 million fund through Public Health England to test community-based models of access to health services for rough sleepers, including mental health and substance misuse services;

working with safeguarding adult boards to ensure that safeguarding adult reviews are conducted when a person who sleeps rough dies or is seriously harmed as a result of abuse or neglect, whether known or suspected, and there is a concern that partner agencies could have worked more effectively to protect the adult. Lessons learned from these reviews will inform improvements in local systems and services;

and new training for frontline workers to help them support rough sleepers under the influence of new psychoactive substances such as spice.

The NHS long-term plan sets out new funded action the NHS will take to strengthen its contribution to prevention and health inequalities; this includes action that will improve outcomes for people experiencing rough sleeping, for example through specialist mental health services.

The recently published prevention Green Paper “Advancing our health: prevention in the 2020s”, recognises that: people experiencing rough sleeping, and those at risk, experience poorer health outcomes than the wider population, that living in a safe and secure home is a protective factor in good mental health, and that drug misuse and dependency is associated with a range of harms including homelessness. The Government will set out their plans to tackle these issues following the close of consultation in October 2019.

One death on our streets is one too many. I hope that what has been set out provides assurances of our commitment to tackling rough sleeping and protecting some of the most vulnerable people in society.