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Covid-19 Lockdown: Homelessness and Rough Sleepers

Volume 683: debated on Wednesday 11 November 2020

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government if he will make a statement on his plans to prevent homelessness and protect rough sleepers during the second national lockdown.

As we look ahead to the winter months, it is vital that we work together to prevent increases in homelessness and rough sleeping. The Government have set out unprecedented support on this issue, dedicating over £700 million to tackling homelessness and rough sleeping this year alone. Our work on rough sleeping has been shown not only to be world-leading but to have saved hundreds of lives. We are dedicated to continuing to protect vulnerable people in this period of restrictions and through the winter months.

We used the summer to work with local authorities on individual local plans for the coming months. Last week, the Prime Minister announced the Protect programme —the next step in our ongoing, targeted support for rough sleepers. That will provide a further £15 million, ensuring that support is in place for areas that need it most, and addressing the housing and health challenges for rough sleepers during this period of national restrictions. That is on top of the £10 million cold weather fund, available to all councils to provide rough sleepers with safe accommodation over the coming months. That means that all local areas will be eligible for support this winter. It builds on the success of the ongoing Everyone In campaign in September. We have successfully supported over 29,000 people, with over 10,000 people in emergency accommodation. Nearly 19,000 people have been provided with settled accommodation or move-on support. We continue to help to move people on from emergency accommodation with the Next Steps accommodation programme.

On 17 September, we announced NSAP allocations to local authorities, to pay for immediate support and to ensure that people do not return to the streets, and £91.5 million was allocated to 274 councils across England. On 29 October, we announced allocations to local partners to deliver long-term move-on accommodation. More than 3,300 new long-term homes for rough sleepers across the country have been approved, subject to due diligence, backed by more than £150 million. We are committed to tackling homelessness, and firmly believe that no one should be without a roof over their head.

Throughout the pandemic, we have established an unprecedented package of support to protect renters, which remains in place. That includes legislating through the Coronavirus Act 2020 on delays as to when landlords can evict tenants and a six-month stay on possession proceedings in court. We have quickly and effectively introduced more than £9 billion of measures in 2020-21 that benefit those facing financial disruption during the current situation. The measures include increasing universal and working tax credit by £1,040 a year for 12 months and significant investment in local housing allowance of nearly £1 billion. As further support for renters this winter, we have asked bailiffs not to carry out evictions during national restrictions in England, except in the most serious of circumstances. As the pandemic evolves, we will continue working closely with local authorities, the sector and across Government to support the most vulnerable from this pandemic. These measures further demonstrate our commitment to assist the most vulnerable in society.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. The Minister’s words and the Prime Minister’s order last week to stay home will ring hollow for people with no home. In March, the Government told councils and charities that they should try to bring rough sleepers in, and the extraordinary effort prevented thousands of infections, more than 1,000 hospital admissions and 266 deaths. But now the Government’s rough sleeping tsar is no longer in post, and she has warned that we are facing a “perfect storm of awfulness”. Many of those brought off the streets have returned and thousands more are newly homeless, with a record high 50% increase in young people sleeping rough since last year in London alone.

What has changed since March? It is colder, and the cold weather fund is lower than it was last year. So can the Minister tell the House why the Government have lowered their ambition? Their plan provides neither the leadership nor the funding to ensure all rough sleepers have a covid-secure place; £15 million in funding will be given not to all councils, but only to the 10 with the highest rough sleeping rates. Seventeen health and homelessness organisations wrote to the Prime Minister to warn against the use of night shelters as not covid-safe. Why have the Government refused to publish the Public Health England advice on this decision? The plan makes no reference to people with no recourse to public funds. Instead there is a rule change so that rough sleeping will lead to deportation. Does the Minister agree that it is immoral for people to be deported for sleeping rough?

On Armistice Day, will the Minister ensure that the Government record whether homeless people have a service record, so that we can get an accurate picture of the scale and need of those who have served our country?

Finally, the homelessness crisis is the result of 10 years of Tory failure, so will the Minister now commit to abolishing section 21 evictions, as the Government said they would, to prevent a further rise in homelessness, and invest in the support and social housing we need so that we can genuinely end rough sleeping for good?

I thank the hon. Lady for her questions. I hope she recognises, and I think she did at the beginning, that this Government have put £700 million into homelessness and rough sleeping support this year alone. That is unprecedented support, and it is decisive action that this Government took in dealing with the covid crisis. Although I strongly object to the fact that many have returned to the streets, we were working on this plan in the summer with local authorities in order to work out what the next steps would be after the Everyone In programme. As I outlined in my opening answer, more than £266 million is being provided to local authorities in order to provide move-on and Next Steps accommodation, with more than £150 million of that invested in long-term support and accommodation for rough sleepers.

To pick up on the point about the winter allowance being lower than last year, this must be taken in the context of the unprecedented amount of funding that the Government have provided in this area, in order to protect those individuals who were at threat of homelessness and rough sleeping throughout the pandemic. Indeed, a £10 million winter fund is available to all local authorities throughout the country, but it is right that the £15 million fund that was announced last year—the Protect programme—is focused on the areas in which there is the most need. We are working intensively, not only with those first-wave initial boroughs with the highest level of rough sleeping but in collaboration with all local authorities throughout the United Kingdom, in order to understand the challenges they face and the needs they have.

On the point about no recourse to public funds, I would like to make the hon. Lady aware that the rules of eligibility for immigration status, including for those with no recourse to public funds, have not changed. Local authorities are able to use their judgment when assessing the support that can lawfully be provided in relation to those individuals and their individual needs: this is already happening, as it does with extreme weather and where there is a potential risk to life. Local authorities provide basic support for care needs that do not solely arise from destitution, whether for migrants who have severe health problems or for families where the wellbeing of children is involved. Also, it is just not true that we are deporting individuals who are rough sleeping.

I will also pick up on the point about veterans. I am very pleased to be standing here on Armistice Day, and am pleased that the hon. Lady has highlighted the plight of veterans. Our veterans play a vital role in keeping our country safe, and we are committed to ensuring that we are able to provide them with the support they need to adjust back into civilian life. The duty to refer in the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 states that public authorities are required to, with individual consent, refer

“former members of the regular armed forces”

to their local housing associations. There are a number of support services available, including Veterans’ Gateway and online, web and telephone resources for veterans, through which they can access a housing specialist who has up-to-date information on any vacancies that are available. In June this year, we announced new measures to ensure that access to social housing is improved for members of our armed forces.

Mr Speaker, our Protect programme will protect vulnerable individuals from the threat of rough sleeping during the restriction process and into the winter, and tackle some of the health issues they are experiencing.

The Everyone In programme ensured that homeless people and rough sleepers had a roof over their head during the pandemic, and I welcome the Protect programme initiative. However, it is vital that our solutions are also long-term and sustainable. I welcomed the roll-out of the three-year Housing First pilot in Greater Manchester, and the recent announcement of 3,300 units of move-on accommodation for rough sleepers. Would my hon. Friend also consider bringing forward future funding allocations so that local authorities, mental health charities and agencies that are able to offer wraparound support can have the certainty they need to ensure the success of these initiatives?

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the wraparound services that organisations within local authorities provide to some of those individuals who are experiencing complex issues, such as substance misuse and mental health concerns. I am grateful that she highlighted the Housing First pilot projects, and we are encouraging and working with local authorities to get individuals who need such support into that programme.

I will also work hard to make sure that we are able to develop and work with local authorities to assist them to provide the local services and wraparound support that those individuals need. It is not just a home they need; they need the support services around them, and I am determined to be able to do that.

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) on securing this urgent question. This feels like groundhog day, with the Government yet again in the spotlight for their decision to withdraw prematurely the protections and support for the most vulnerable people during a second wave of covid. In recent weeks, they have had to U-turn on providing free school meals and on extending furlough. I rather suspect that, quite soon, they will have to U-turn on providing more support for people who have been left homeless.

Thankfully, in Scotland we have a Government with a bit more foresight than this bungling British Government, who reek of incompetence and chaos every single day. The SNP Government in Scotland have extended the ban on evictions until March, and we have committed to looking to extend that further to September if the evidence shows a clear need. Will the Minister do likewise?

I am appalled by the reports that the British Government plan to deport non-UK nationals who are sleeping rough. That is a totally inhumane policy, devoid of any compassion and fairness, even by this Conservative Government’s standards. Will they now urgently reinstate the pause on asylum evictions so that communities and individuals who we know are at greater risk of covid-19 are not put at increased risk?

Finally, has the Minister’s Department ever received any advice from Public Health England or, indeed, health directors about the risks to black and minority ethnic people being left homeless? If so, will she publish it? If not, why has she not commissioned it?

I respect the hon. Gentleman’s comments, but he is completely incorrect in relation to this Government’s ongoing support for rough sleepers during the pandemic. We carried out an unprecedented and world-leading programme in Everyone In, we worked with local authorities constructively and intensively to develop programmes for the continuation of that support through Next Steps and Move On, and we secured accommodation. This Protect programme is the next step within that, and it is the Government taking quick action for what is now required within the restricted period and into the winter.

We announced the winter fund only a couple of weeks ago, and now we are on the Protect programme, so it is absolutely incorrect and completely wrong to suggest that this Government have not been taking the issue seriously and have not put the resources where they are needed. I have been determined over recent weeks, as the Minister, to make sure we have local authority by local authority checks on what is happening, looking at the local interactions on the ground.

The hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) is categorically incorrect to say that we are deporting EU nationals who are sleeping rough. That is not what is happening, as he knows. In actual fact, we have been working with local authorities on the support and offer they can give to immigrants with no recourse to public funds at local level. Quite rightly, my colleagues in the Home Office and I are working through many issues that affect a number of different people.

I must also point out that all these individuals are different. Every individual has specific needs, and it is right that we work intensively with local authorities to make sure those individual needs are considered.

Order. We have a lot of people who need to get in, and we have spent 15 minutes on the first three questions. We need to pick it up.

I welcome the measures and the very significant funding that the Minister has announced today. Does she agree that it is important to take the same kind of approach as that taken by Rugby Borough Council through its preventing homelessness and improving lives programme? That has made a tremendous difference to local families at risk of homelessness through early intervention by a dedicated support team, working with those who are vulnerable to prepare a plan to avoid a crisis situation later.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: it is through the good practice of councils such as Rugby Borough Council and programmes of that nature that they are able to work with those families and individuals before there is a need for them to sleep rough or become homeless—it is prevention. We know that since we implemented the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, that has had a significant impact in many parts of the country. I am pleased that we are determined and committed to make sure we implement that even further and work with local authorities to get better results.

First, congratulations are due on the efforts that were made to get rough sleepers off the streets from March onwards. Great work was done by councils with voluntary organisations and with good support financially from the Government as well. The real pressure on councils now, I am told by my own city of Sheffield, is from people presenting as homeless from the private rented sector. An increase has led Sheffield City Council, which is very good at dealing with these matters, to have 80 families now in hotels and another 200 in temporary accommodation. That will cost the council around £500,000 extra in this financial year. If dealing with homelessness has to be a priority for councils, which certainly it should be, will the Minister make it a priority for Government to make sure that councils have the extra resources they need directly to continue delivering the services that people in the private rented sector will need in the coming, very trying months?

I thank the hon. Member for his comments and articulation of the work that has been done by the Government and many local authorities and the voluntary and charitable sector in the covid-19 pandemic. He is absolutely right that we need to monitor and make sure we are working intensively with local authorities to understand the needs and the challenges. That is why we are working with local authorities to provide plans, and that is why we have put in the Next Steps funding, to provide that Move On and Next Steps accommodation support. We will continue that work through the winter and evaluate any impacts that we are seeing through the covid pandemic. We need to bear in mind that we have also provided councils with over £6 billion in funding to deal with some of the issues that are coming out of the covid pandemic.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her appointment and on attending the all-party parliamentary group for ending homelessness within days and answering our questions. I also congratulate the Government on a brilliant job in pulling rough sleepers off the streets and putting them into secure accommodation. As my hon. Friend rightly says, the problem now is that every case of homelessness is a unique one. Many people who have been rough sleeping have physical and mental health problems, and they are also probably addicted to drink, drugs or other substances, so it is vital that we roll out the Housing First initiative from the pilot sites throughout the country and also fully fund my Homelessness Reduction Act when the funding for it comes to an end. Will she therefore commit to rolling out Housing First across the country and to ensuring that local authorities are fully funded for their duties under my Act?

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and it was a pleasure to attend the APPG. I also thank him for his work in this area, for which he is a passionate advocate. Housing First is a great pilot, and we have continued to make sure that we can get individuals through those schemes, even during the pandemic. We are working with those sites to make sure that we can maximise that funding and that pilot to get the data and information. I am very supportive of the Housing First programme, and I would very much like to extend it. That is something that we will be working on in Government. I am committed to making sure that the Homelessness Reduction Act is implemented fully, and we will have further discussions about the funding to be able to deliver on that.

A street homelessness reduction programme is not world leading if the numbers sleeping rough on our streets are rising. It is shocking that the number of young people sleeping rough on our streets is now at a record high. What will the Minister do to ensure that homelessness prevention services offer appropriate support to young people with particular needs, such as young prison leavers?

I refute the assumption that rough sleeping numbers are increasing because of the action taken during the pandemic. If we look at the snapshot, we see that in actual fact at September there was a significant reduction in rough sleeping compared with last year. We have been working hard with local authorities in order that everyone who had been brought on to the Everyone In scheme has stayed in emergency accommodation or moved on to Next Steps accommodation. We are working hard to make sure that those numbers are reducing.

The hon. Lady makes an incredibly important point about young people, their particular needs and the threat of becoming homeless. I am working with colleagues in the Ministry of Justice on how we can further support offenders. I have a particular interest in young people and care leavers, and we are investigating what other measures we can put in place to support them when they are at threat of homelessness.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to £311,000 for the borough of Gedling for local secure-accommodation schemes for people at risk of sleeping on the street. Does my hon. Friend agree that this funding is a significant step towards fulfilling our manifesto commitment to end rough sleeping by 2024? Will she join me in thanking all those in Gedling who have worked so hard to get vulnerable people into safe, secure accommodation?

I thank my hon. Friend for his comment and pay tribute to those not only in his constituency but throughout the country who are working and have worked incredibly hard over the summer and through the pandemic to make sure that those individuals have had the help and support they require. He is absolutely right that this funding is part of our next steps to reach our target and make sure that we tackle some of the issues and develop the accommodation to house some of the most vulnerable in our society.

I am sure the Minister would agree that a number of homelessness charities have warned that tens of thousands of young people have been made homeless since the start of the pandemic. Many of these young people work in hospitality, so they have not had a job for many months. They are struggling to support themselves financially and make up the bulk of people in insecure accommodation. The Government’s decision to bring forward the eviction ban was welcome, but it is not working, so will the Minister outline what steps the Government will take to ensure that the ban is properly enforced? The Minister said she would work with bailiffs to stop the evictions, but the reality on the ground is that that is not happening. What concrete steps will be taken to protect people from enforcement?

The hon. Lady highlights the plight of young people and the particular challenges that they face during the pandemic because of the types of work and sectors they are involved in. It is true that we have placed a ban on evictions and, before the announcement of the restrictions for this month, evictions were not taking place in areas in tier 3. That is obviously the case for this month, and we are also saying that no evictions should be taking place from 11 December into January. We are working with our colleagues in the MOJ, but I must highlight the fact that we have given a six-month stay on those proceedings and only the most egregious cases will be taken forward. We will keep that under review, as the House would imagine, and make sure that we monitor it. If the hon. Lady is referring to particular circumstances, I would be interested to see the detail and I will happily communicate with her directly in respect of any individual circumstances.

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on her appointment? The Rochester by-election feels like a lifetime ago.

The Government have a golden opportunity, having supported 29,000 people this year, to achieve their ambition of ending rough sleeping by the end of the Parliament. Will my hon. Friend commit to ensuring not only that those who have been helped will continue to get support, but that anyone at risk in the coming months will have the support that they need?

I thank my hon. Friend for what he has said, and it is a pleasure to be answering his question. He is absolutely right. Throughout the pandemic, we have been working with local authorities on an individual basis to understand the needs and challenges that are driving homelessness within those areas. I am committed to doing exactly that to make sure that we understand all those individual circumstances that are creating demands in different parts of the country. We are developing practices and policies to ensure that we can reach our commitment of ending rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament and of significantly reducing it.

Simply asking bailiffs not to physically remove desperate people who cannot afford to pay their rent until 11 January will not allow the Secretary of State to keep his promise that no one will lose their home due to a drop in income because of covid. How he could keep that promise would be, for example, to raise local housing allowance so that nobody finds that it is less than the rent they owe. Given that a third of those who are excluded are also private renters, he could also make sure that those people who have been excluded from financial support since March are no longer excluded and are given the support they need. Finally, given that the Government are in the mood for rushing through legislation, why do they not keep their manifesto promise and scrap section 21 evictions, and do it now?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, but, as I have outlined, we have asked bailiffs to pause evictions over the Christmas period and that is something that we will monitor and keep under review. It is absolutely right that we have taken this action, and the Secretary of State took it quickly and swiftly. We are still committed to abolishing section 21, but legislation must be balanced and considered to achieve the right outcomes for the sector, and we will keep those under review. The Government will continue to take decisive action, as they have done at all stages of the pandemic, and as I have done today in outlining our Protect programme.

Our veterans have given so much in the service of this country and it is vital that we ensure that not a single one ends up on the streets. Will the Minister therefore reassure me and my constituents who care deeply about this that veterans continue to have priority need to keep them off the streets and that the funding provided by this Government means that if someone finds themselves in hard times this winter, local authorities will have not only the duty, but the resources to give them the home that they deserve?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight again the vital role that our veterans have played in keeping this country safe. I am sure that everyone across this House feels, as I do, a great sadness and deep concern for those veterans who face hard times and are in very difficult circumstances. They have priority when it comes to the reduction of homelessness and will continue to do so. We will continue to work with our colleagues in the Ministry of Defence to ensure that those veterans can get access to the support and services that they need to continue with their lives.

The Children’s Commissioner has raised concern about the almost 130,000 children in England who spent the first lockdown in temporary accommodation, where poor conditions made it difficult to study, play and self-isolate. Why does the Minister think that there has been a 78% increase in the number of homeless children since 2010?

The hon. Lady asks about families and children in temporary accommodation.  I, too, have concerns about any families and young people having to live their lives in temporary accommodation. That is why this Government are investing in the Move On programme and the Next Steps accommodation programme. We are also committed to investing long-term in our housebuilding programme, and in affordable and social rented homes. I totally understand the pressures and challenges for young people in insecure homes, and it is something that this Government and I are determined to resolve.

On a recent visit to YMCA Lincolnshire in Gainsborough, I was briefed on the excellent work done for homeless people in Lincoln at the charity’s Nomad Centre. But when I talked to the chief executive this morning, she told me that her main worry is not so much the level of Government support, but whether it is trickling down from local government to charities quickly enough. That leads me to a wider point, which I suppose is also a Conservative one: in a pandemic we always think that the state can do everything, but we should really be empowering and supporting charities.

We are working with local authorities to ensure that the support is trickling down to exactly where it is needed. We are working intensively with local authorities on plans for how that money will be spent, and on the impact on the ground. If my right hon. Friend has any further details, I will happily take up this issue. Indeed, if any Member across the House has any particular local issues, I will take them up and investigate further. It is true that this Government have taken unprecedented action to tackle rough sleeping and homelessness during the pandemic, and I remain committed to continuing that work.

After speaking with ACORN Liverpool and local volunteers such as Councillor Sarah Morton who are out on the ground every night in Liverpool helping the homeless, I would like to ask about one of their many concerns right now. The enforced evictions guidance has no basis in law. It does not protect against bailiffs, despite the Government saying that they have asked bailiffs to hold fire, and people are living in fear of eviction during this lockdown. The only way to ban evictions is through legislation, as with the ban between March and September. Will the Minister commit to such legislation and consider increasing funding for local authority discretionary housing payments, which are a vital resource in supporting early intervention and preventing homelessness?

The Government have invested heavily in support for the homeless particularly through the rough sleeping initiative. Liverpool is part of Housing First, which is one of the pilot projects to help rough sleepers, who have multiple complex needs. I hope that the numbers of people moving into that pilot will soon increase in Liverpool. The hon. Gentleman mentions an important point about evictions. It is true that there is a six-month stay on possession proceedings in court to 30 September, and that only the most egregious cases will be taken forward, such as those involving antisocial behaviour and crime. We are committed to that and have made it clear that we do not expect any evictions to take place. If we need to take further action, I am sure that we will find the tools to do so.

Is it not just so sad when we see homelessness and rough sleeping on our streets? One reason I was so proud to stand as a Conservative party candidate at the last general election was our commitment to eradicate rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament. Homelessness is often seen as an urban issue, but it is very much a rural one as well. Conservative-led Dorset Council has reduced rough sleeping, though, by 39% up until 2019. I suggest to the shadow Secretary of State that maybe she asks the same questions of her own Labour-run Bristol City Council, where homelessness has increased by 20%—

Order. First, the question is too long. Secondly, it is not for the Opposition to answer the questions; it is for the Minister. Don’t take the Minister’s job away—it is not fair to her.

You will have to excuse me, Mr Speaker; I fell down the stairs yesterday, so I am struggling to do the bobbing up and down.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I would like to praise the work of Dorset Council, which has been able to continue to reduce rough sleeping. We hope that we will be able to share information with colleagues in other areas to ensure that, where there is great practice and local authorities are taking great steps to reduce rough sleeping and homelessness, the lessons are learned throughout the country. We learnt a lot through the Everyone In programme, and I hope that those lessons will help us to develop policies.

As chair of the all-party parliamentary dog advisory welfare group, I have been contacted by Dogs on the Streets, an excellent charity that cares for homeless people who have dogs and are sleeping on the streets. The charity tells me that it is often very difficult for homeless people who are sleeping rough to be admitted into accommodation if they have a pet, particularly a dog. Will the Minister meet me and Dogs on the Streets to talk about the available options? Pets are often a lifeline for people, and we must be extremely compassionate and ensure that those who are compassionate to pets are not left behind on the streets.

I will happily meet the hon. Lady to discuss that. She has highlighted an issue that affects not only people sleeping rough but those who are at threat of being made homeless. It transcends the two categories, so I would be happy to discuss it further.

In December 2019, a report outlined that 216 individuals were being housed in short-term shelters in the Wakefield district. Prior to covid, homelessness and rough sleeping in the district had risen sharply, raising concerns about the safety and wellbeing of those who suffer this plight. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to increase the number of homes available for people who are currently homeless as part of the Government’s ambition to end rough sleeping by 2024?

The Government are investing more than £150 million in permanent accommodation, delivering 3,300 units, to give an asset to the country that will provide properties for individuals who are sleeping rough and who are then able to come into the system. That is an amazing step forward. It is the biggest investment in this kind of housing since the early ’90s, and I thank my hon. Friend for allowing me to make that point.

The Home Office immigration rules published on 22 October make it crystal clear that among the reasons that would normally lead to a refusal of leave to remain in the United Kingdom is failure by the person to accommodate themselves or their dependants without recourse to public funds. Any provision of accommodation for the homeless would be recourse to public funds. My question for the Minister is very simple: what is the advice—be kicked out by the Home Office or freeze on the streets?

As I have already outlined, those who have no recourse to public funds do work with local authorities. Local authorities already assess those individuals who are in need and make decisions on whether they can lawfully provide support within that area and for those individuals’ needs. It is simply not true to say that we will be removing individuals on the grounds that they are sleeping rough. It is absolutely right that we continue to work with that cohort, as well as with the charities and voluntary organisations across the country that are working with those individuals to establish pathways and provide help with regard to the EU settlement scheme. That work will continue, and I am happy to have further conversations with the hon. Gentleman about that.

I commend my hon. Friend for the work she has done in tackling homelessness and rough sleeping, but it has been the west midlands that has led the way in this fight, under the leadership of our Mayor, Andy Street, and his homelessness taskforce, which has seen year-on-year decreases in the number of people rough sleeping. Can she reaffirm that she will indeed work with the West Midlands Combined Authority and our Mayor, Andy Street, to ensure that the lessons they have learned during this process can be carried through to Government, so that we can finally, once and for all, fulfil that manifesto commitment and end rough sleeping?

I thank my hon. Friend and, yes, I totally will. I have already met Andy Street to discuss the issues within the area. I am very grateful for the work that he and others have been leading, such as Jean Templeton from Saint Basils, who has been doing a tremendous job up there, and for the leadership of young people in that area. I look forward to continuing to work with all parts of the country to achieve this ambition.

In 2019, one in 46 people in Redbridge, which Ilford South is part of, were homeless. That is a shocking statistic. While recent funding is obviously very welcome, I wonder if we can have a situation where I do not have to walk outside Ilford Exchange or outside my constituency office and see once again the many cardboard cities, which so miraculously disappeared, literally in a week, once the Government decided to act and house those homeless people and rough sleepers. Could the Minister ensure that, once lockdown ends, they will uphold their commitment to permanently ending rough sleeping?

Actually, I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue in his constituency. It is true, and I am sure I speak for everyone across the House, that every one of us feels sadness and regret when we see any individual sleeping rough in a tent, a box or whatever. It is just not satisfactory. That is why this Government have committed to ending rough sleeping, and why we have put in this unprecedented level of support to achieve that goal. My challenge is to keep working with local authorities to deliver on that promise.

I welcome the funding that my hon. Friend has outlined for councils, including over £1.6 million for Buckinghamshire Council to provide accommodation for people at risk of rough sleeping. Can she confirm how many additional such homes the Government intend to fund by the end of this Parliament?

I thank my hon. Friend, and I am glad that we were able to allocate funding to Buckinghamshire to deliver on those programmes. At the moment—this is our first tranche, obviously—we are delivering 3,300 homes by the end of March 2021 and that is within our commitment to deliver over 6,000. We will continue to work, as I keep repeating—I am sorry, Mr Speaker—with local authorities, because we have to be very clear that each individual area is very different. The drivers, challenges and needs in those areas are so different, as are the needs of the individuals. It is so important that, when we are announcing these measures and making policy, we are making sure we are delivering policy that does actually achieve the ambitions we want to achieve.

No one could accuse this Minister of being heartless or uncaring. I know her to be a woman of great integrity. However, I would put it to her that her Government have been in power for a long time now and we still have this real problem of poverty—family poverty—stalking our land. The report by Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner, this morning shows the link between homelessness, rough sleeping and the dreadful way we treat children in care in this country. It is all joined up and there are some common reasons, and I think her Government and her Department should look at that too.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind comments about me. I always find him to be very compassionate as well. He makes a valid point about the impact that homelessness and poverty can have on young children and particularly children who are leaving care. This is an area that I personally am very passionate about—young people and care leavers. It is true to say that this Government are working across Government. I am working with colleagues across Departments in order to find solutions and develop policies to tackle that and deliver on our ambition.

I commend the Minister for the outstanding work she is doing in her new portfolio. The Passage, a charity based in my constituency working with her Department on the Home for Good model, has seen many people being paired with a mentor in the community where they have been resettled. That has had great success in sustaining tenancies and preventing a return to the streets. Does she agree that it is investment in these types of programmes for preventive work that makes lasting change in the lives of people coming off the streets and that it should continue to be supported?

I thank my hon. Friend for the work that she has done in this area and the passion that she has for working with me and the Department to tackle this issue. She is absolutely right. It is so important that we are working with local authorities and that money is going to organisations to develop programmes to help with prevention, to deliver support and to provide the mentoring that is so valuable. It is all very well for me as a Minister to stand here today and say what we are doing, but people who have had real-life experience and understand what the reality is are able to impart that and then hold the hand of those individuals who are affected as they navigate the system. That is invaluable.

In a letter to the Secretary of State in June about rough sleepers during covid-19, community organisations, faith leaders and Ealing Council wrote:

“Without question, the hardest group to support under the current framework is those with no recourse to public funds.”

The Secretary of State’s announcement last week made it clear that the new Protect programme funding was there to ensure that

“everyone sleeping rough on our streets”


“somewhere safe to go”.

Could the Minister therefore confirm whether this funding can be used to help those sleeping rough who have no recourse to public funds?

The rules on eligibility and immigration status have not changed, including those on no recourse to public funds. It is down to local authorities to use their judgment in assessing the support that they can lawfully give to the individuals. This does already happen. We made it very clear to local authorities in May that, under Next Steps, they were to carry out individual assessments of people who were rough sleeping and take decisions on who they would provide support for. Part of that was providing accommodation to vulnerable people.

I welcome the Everyone In plan and last week’s announcement of the £15 million Protect programme. This morning, I had the opportunity to speak to the new chief executive of Dacorum Borough Council, Claire Hamilton, and she too welcomes the additional funding provided by this Government. However, the concern she wants me to raise with the Minister is that, in two-tier areas like mine, South West Hertfordshire, the money is given to Hertfordshire County Council. Could she use her good offices to ensure that the money is given to the frontline as quickly as possible?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I will use my position to make sure that that money is being targeted at and provided in the areas where it is actually needed. This package is all about being able to target work intensively with local authorities. This is an offer to all Members who have a particular issue at a local level: I am always happy to take that up with local authorities and to have further discussions on their behalf.

I welcome the Minister to her post. I think she is the 12th Minister in this position in the past decade. Her enthusiasm for the efficacy of Government policy would be infectious but for the detailed work on the Government’s housing policies we have been doing on the Public Accounts Committee, which I commend to her. We are talking a lot about rough sleeping today, but I have far more families who are hidden homeless, or two households in one. They are struggling through the pandemic. It is a public health issue and it is damaging our children. Will she consider talking to me and my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) and me about a housing market package to buy up hard-to-sell properties in the private sector and provide these people and rough sleepers with the Move On accommodation they so desperately need?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, and I am always happy to meet her to discuss particular issues affecting her area and to listen to ideas that Members think may or may not work in their local setting, but I have to reiterate that London has had significant support with the Next Steps accommodation. The exact focus of that is to move those individuals out of temporary emergency accommodation and into longer-term stability and pathways, delivering that security that those individuals and families need. I will happily meet her to discuss that further.

I start by thanking this Government, who have supported 29,000 people who have been rough sleeping this year alone. I have only a handful of rough sleepers in my constituency—a handful too many—but I thank the Government for finding secure accommodation for them during the pandemic, helping to protect lives and prevent the spread of the virus. Will my hon. Friend join me in thanking local charities in my Stourbridge constituency such as Leslie’s Care Packages, which works tirelessly to ensure that rough sleepers have the support they need?

I thank my hon. Friend, and I happily pass on my thanks to the charities and the organisation in her constituency, Leslie’s Care Packages, for the work they have been doing throughout the pandemic. Again, I extend my thanks to all in the charitable sector and the voluntary sector, who have done such a lot of work in this area, working constructively with the Government and local authorities to ensure that we are targeting support to those individuals who need the help the most.

In the spring, the Everyone In programme showed that where there is the political will, it is possible to take action to provide shelter for people who need it, but that should not be done only in emergencies; it should be done all year round, guaranteeing safe and warm shelter to everyone who needs it, including those with no recourse to public funds. Rather than wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on covid contracts for friends and family of the Conservative party, will the Government instead provide permanent funding to end homelessness for good?

The hon. Lady will know that part of our follow-on from the Everyone In programme—it is still ongoing and has not stopped—is the Next Steps funding, which delivers exactly what she is asking. It is providing not only funding for local authorities to deliver that next stage, move-on accommodation, but £150 million of investment in permanent accommodation —the largest investment in delivering homes in this area since the ’90s.

In Cornwall, homelessness and rough sleeping has historically been an issue. In recent years, some excellent work has been done in Cornwall to combat the issue by St Petrocs and by the local authority, particularly with the success of the recent Pydar Pop UP project in Truro. Of course more needs to be done, and I welcome the £5.5 million that the Government have provided to Cornwall Council since September to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. It is a substantial amount of money that creates a real opportunity to end rough sleeping in Cornwall. However, does my hon. Friend agree that that money needs to be spent on long-term solutions to find homes for those who are homeless and rough sleeping, not just on the short term and quick fixes?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The investment we are making as a Government in long-term secure homes is so important. That is what the Secretary of State and I are driving to achieve, within the realms of the funding, and we are seeing delivery across the country. We are committed to working with local authorities, including Cornwall, to understand the specific challenges. As I have said, every area is slightly different and sometimes there is a different solution for every area. We have to understand those things so that we can work effectively with the local authorities so that they can deliver that change and we can achieve our objectives.

Virtual participation in proceedings concluded (Order, 4 June).