As my hon. Friends will know, reducing homelessness and ending rough sleeping is primarily the responsibility of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, but it is a key priority for the Government and the Prime Minister. I enjoy working closely with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government on the approach to delivering housing support to reduce homelessness, and I look forward to supporting his conversations with the Chancellor.
Last Friday, I visited Northfield Community Partnership and The Project, which are doing fantastic work on reducing homelessness, especially focusing on mental health, access to welfare and debt. Will the Minister continue to commit to working with voluntary organisations to reduce homelessness?
I commend my hon. Friend for the important work he does with the community partnership. Birmingham South West Jobcentre has an excellent relationship with the city council, delivering surgeries three times a week to help claimants with housing issues. My hon. Friend will be aware of the £6.5 million that the council received specifically to tackle the issue he raises. However, we will continue to work further with the organisations that he mentions, potentially through the new transformation challenge fund.
My local jobcentre in Yeovil is very proactive in assisting the smooth transition to universal credit, but I still encounter cases in which rent arrears are a problem. What more can we do to ensure that we can intervene in cases in which arrears threaten to make people homeless?
My hon. Friend will be aware of the money given to councils—including £359,000 for his own council—to help them to support homeless people. Issues such as this can often be addressed not only by discretionary housing payments but by the flexible support fund which provides hardship payments through local jobcentres.
I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s earlier response, but will she please tell us what is being done to help ex-forces personnel into work?
My hon. Friend—indeed, my hon. and gallant Friend—raises an important point. Last year we secured about £5 million in the spending review to bolster the role of our local armed forces champions, which means that in the forthcoming year we shall be able almost to triple the resources to support full-time champion posts so that we can try to ensure that veterans are given work that is fruitful and long-term.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for her responses so far. Thanks to the work of the Government, the west midlands Mayor Andy Street and local authorities in the region, the Housing First project has made great progress so far, enabling 137 people across the region to move into their own homes and get back on track, apply for work and rebuild their lives. Will the Secretary of State join me in supporting Andy Street’s mission to end homelessness in West Bromwich East and the wider west midlands, and will her Department work with the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government so that we can reach the Prime Minister’s target of ending homelessness and rough sleeping during the current Parliament?
My hon. Friend is right to praise the work that is being done in the west midlands through Andy Street, and I commend her support for it. I shall meet my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government later this week, and our officials are already working together on a programme to tackle homelessness.
The Scottish Government are spending £50 million to ensure that no one has to pay the bedroom tax, which is helping more than 70,000 households to sustain their tenancies. Will the Secretary of State make it her policy to abolish the bedroom tax so that we no longer have to mitigate this unfair policy in Scotland?
I actually think that the spare room subsidy was an important part of a change to deal with the challenges of homelessness, which we have just been discussing. I absolutely believe that we will continue that policy, but, as ever, when there are problems, part of the role of the discretionary housing payments is to deal with them. The hon. Gentleman will be aware—I think I am right in saying this—that the Scottish Government have not introduced that policy quite yet, but intend to do so later in the year.
Anyone who has visited a food bank or has met homeless people on their streets will know that welfare policy is the No.1 reason for the appalling rate of homelessness in our towns. As a simple starting point, if the housing element of universal credit were paid to landlords, we could make a start towards ending the appalling problem of homelessness that welfare policy is currently inflicting on our streets.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, it already can be.
One of the real concerns in my constituency is the inability of people who want to rent to do so privately with the money that is available. Will the Secretary of State look at local housing allowance rates to ensure that families who could be living in the private sector—because they cannot obtain social housing—are not living in single hostel rooms, as many of my constituents have been for many years?
I am sure that the hon. Lady will welcome the increase in the local housing allowance from April 2020. I am conscious of the fact that two thirds of the people who are homeless are in London, and I really wish that the Mayor of London and his devolved authorities would get on and help to sort this out.
Would the Minister consider using all the orphan funds swilling around in pension funds to create a new fund that could do something about this issue? On Wednesday night, I counted 15 people sleeping rough right outside our door in the tube station. Has she been to ask those men and women what brought them there? Could we not use orphan funds for that purpose and for fighting climate change?
On a broader point, we are considering aspects of liquid assets, and we have seen the example of Legal & General, which is starting to get into the housing sector. I reiterate that when the Prime Minister was Mayor of London he made it a personal priority to ensure that no one spent more than one night outside. We have not seen quite that emphasis under this Mayor, but I am sure that he will seek to do this before the elections in May.