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Rough Sleeping

Volume 689: debated on Thursday 25 February 2021

I would like to update the House on the Government’s progress towards ending rough sleeping. I know that many colleagues on both sides of the House share my interest and commitment to this issue so today I am pleased to report that the rough sleeping annual statistics for 2020 have been published, and that the number of people sleeping rough across England has fallen for the third year in a row. In fact, we have seen the largest fall in rough sleeping since the annual snapshot began.

Across England, the number of people sleeping rough has fallen by 37% over the past year and almost halved since this Administration took office in 2019. I am heartened that this fantastic result has been mirrored in London, where there are particular challenges in tackling rough sleeping, but where none the less there has also been a 37% fall in the number of people sleeping rough.

Some of our largest cities have seen exceptional reductions. In Birmingham, for example, the snapshot records just 17 individuals, down from 52 last year. A number of places recorded no rough sleepers at all in the statistics, including Ashford and Basingstoke. These independently verified statistics are our most robust measure of rough sleeping. They enable us to estimate the number of people sleeping rough on a single night and to compare change over many years. As colleagues know, these numbers represent lives rebuilt, families reconnected and communities strengthened.

These encouraging figures highlight the success of our ongoing Everyone In programme. We launched Everyone In almost a year ago, at the start of the pandemic, with the simple aim of bringing in as many people as possible off the streets—reducing the transmission of covid-19, protecting the NHS and saving people’s lives. By January, Everyone In had successfully helped over 26,000 people who were either sleeping rough or in very precarious accommodation and at risk of sleeping rough to move into longer-term accommodation. Through the programme, we continue to support an additional 11,000 people in emergency accommodation while longer-term solutions are found. In total, at least 37,000 people are in safe and secure accommodation today as a result of this exceptional effort.

Local authorities have each drawn up their own plans to support those accommodated during the pandemic, with our support and guidance. Those plans have been backed by £91.5 million through our Next Steps accommodation programme. Our ongoing Everyone In initiative is widely regarded as one of the most successful of its kind, and I am pleased that the United Kingdom has avoided some of the scenes that we have seen in other great cities and communities around the world, which bring shame on those places that could have done more. Research published in The Lancet showed that the measures we took in the first phase of the pandemic alone may have avoided 21,000 infections, 266 deaths, 1,100 hospital admissions and 330 intensive care admissions of homeless people.

Our priority now is to ensure that we maintain this momentum and end rough sleeping altogether. To that end, we will bring forward 6,000 homes for rough sleepers, backed by over £400 million of funding, over the course of this Parliament. That is the largest investment in accommodation of this kind, and I am proud that it will leave a national legacy of support for those helped by Everyone In.

Meanwhile, we will continue to invest in the initiatives that were already in place before Everyone In and that are helping to drive down the numbers of people sleeping rough. Those initiatives were created before my tenure, and I pay particular tribute to my two immediate predecessors, my right hon. Friends the Members for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire) and for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), who put in place and reinvigorated the rough sleeping initiative created in the early 1990s by another of my predecessors, the now noble Lord Young.

The £112 million of funding from our rough sleeping initiative this year has helped 291 local authorities, and further funding next year will continue to boost outreach teams, establish first-stage accommodation and introduce targeted support for mental health, employment and life skills, and wider support. We also continue to learn from and build on our Housing First pilots. The first three pilots, in Greater Manchester, Liverpool and the west midlands, are currently supporting over 800 people into safe and secure homes. Today, we are strengthening our commitment to Housing First through the publication of the “Mobilising Housing First” toolkit, which sets out examples of best practice and recommendations for areas keen to implement Housing First at a local level, using the funding that we have made available.

Over the course of the year, we planned and prepared for further targeted interventions to support areas with higher numbers of rough sleepers. This included the Protect programme to provide extra support to high-need areas, and the cold weather fund to bring forward additional covid-secure accommodation over the winter. Latterly, we have had the Protect Plus programme, which helped councils to redouble their efforts and, in particular, to ensure that rough sleepers are registered with a GP, are woven into the vaccination programme in their area and receive the vaccination when their time comes.

Westminster, a borough that faces unusual pressures—not least because of the very high numbers of non-UK nationals—has consistently had the highest number of people sleeping rough since the snapshot approach was introduced. As a result of this targeted approach and the exceptional efforts of the council there, we have seen very significant progress. The number of people sleeping rough in Westminster has fallen by 27% since 2019 and is believed to be at the lowest level in recent memory.

In recognition of how instrumental the community, charity and faith sectors have been to our national effort, I am today announcing further funding for the voluntary sector to support their work. That will help local community night shelters to provide accommodation that is covid-secure in time for this autumn, in case that is needed, and is dignified and focused on sensible, sustainable housing solutions for rough sleepers. It will also support Homeless Link, Housing Justice, StreetLink, St Basils and the National Homelessness Advice Service delivered by Shelter. I pay particular tribute to all those and many other community and charitable organisations.

Taken together, these interventions have led to a dramatic reduction in rough sleeping of a kind not seen in many years. The additional data my Department has published today shows that the number of people sleeping rough on a single night has continued to fall since the annual snapshot. Over the winter period, numbers have fallen to 1,743 in December and to just 1,461 in January. Many of the individuals will have been offered accommodation, but will not have chosen to accept it for a wide range of reasons.

While those are not official statistics of the kind of the November count that is also published today, they demonstrate the incredible achievements of council officers and outreach staff, who have been at the frontline of tackling rough sleeping in the past few months, operating under extraordinary circumstances to meet the demands of the extremely cold weather that we have seen recently. Their work is often unglamorous and unnoticed, and I pay huge tribute to them for what they have achieved.

We have made great strides over the past 12 months, but we do not view that as an end in itself; it is only a beginning. In the next financial year, we will be spending more than £750 million to continue tackling homelessness and rough sleeping so that everyone who has been extended a helping hand off the streets during the pandemic has no need to return to them again.

Our ambition is that no one should need to sleep rough. To achieve that, we must raise the safety net from the street and address the causes of rough sleeping. We believe rough sleeping is a symptom of family breakdown, of domestic abuse, of the treatment of ex-offenders, of the historical inadequacies of our immigration system and, above all, of poor health, substance misuse and mental health.

At the heart of the strategy that we will be laying out in the weeks and months to come will be the marriage of health and housing. The partnership between those is surely one of the central lessons of this pandemic. We will fortify those partnerships between local homelessness and health services, and between central and local government and the NHS, all of which have been strengthened enormously over the course of this year. I will work closely with the Department of Health and Social Care to tackle drug and alcohol addiction and mental health, and with the Ministry of Justice to ensure that prison leavers have access to housing upon release. We will seize this opportunity to build back better—not merely mending or returning to a status quo, but building a better country post-covid-19, in which no one needs to sleep rough. I commend this statement to the House.

The Government promised to bring everyone in, but these figures show that at least 2,688 people spent the pandemic on the streets, and every person on the streets is a policy failure. That figure is likely to be a major underestimation. Figures for London put the true number at more than four times today’s estimate. First, will the Housing Secretary commit to providing a richer and more frequent picture of homelessness and rough sleeping across the country?

Even before the crisis, rough sleeping was a shameful sign of Government failure, and we went into last year with more than twice as many rough sleepers as in 2010. The picture on wider homelessness is even worse. There are a quarter of a million homeless people in England, of whom almost 130,000 are children, and the situation is even worse in SNP-run Scotland, where the number of people in temporary accommodation has reached an all-time high.

Nobody should be sleeping rough, especially during a pandemic, so can the Secretary of State tell the House why he thinks that 2,500 people fell through the gaps and had their health and wellbeing exposed at the height of the pandemic? Is it because the Government refused to suspend “no recourse to public funds”, as Labour has called for? The UK Government have continued to leave local authorities in the impossible situation of having unclear guidance and no funding to help those most at risk. Could it be because the initial commitment to provide councils with “whatever it takes” was abandoned, and they are now being asked to raise council tax to pay for essential services? Could it be because the Government have failed to prevent people from becoming homeless and arriving on the streets during a pandemic?

Councils and local authorities should be rightly congratulated on their hard work—and I do congratulate them—in these extremely challenging circumstances, often despite unclear Government guidance, but there is a real risk that gains made last year will be lost. None of the funding mentioned by the Secretary of State today appears to be new. Meanwhile, the Government have quietly scaled back support for Everyone In, which brought down rough sleeping numbers. There are currently 11,000 people in emergency accommodation. However, the Government have promised only 6,000 new housing units for rough sleepers. What will happen to the other 5,000 people in emergency accommodation right now, or the 26,000 people in move-on accommodation or precarious private rented sector homes where they have no security and face homelessness again when their contracts run out in as little as six or 12 months? The Housing Secretary mentioned his commitment to Housing First, so why did the Government extend the pilots to 2023, rather than just rolling out the approach now?

We cannot return to business as usual. The Government pledged to end rough sleeping for good, but their consistent refusal to address the root causes means that more people will continue to arrive on the streets every day. The Government said this morning that the increase in rough sleepers is likely to be down to people losing their jobs and being unable to pay rent. Unemployment is predicted to soar, with 190,000 private renters set to lose their jobs by the summer, so why have the Government once again frozen local housing allowance, given that 700,000 universal credit claimants already cannot cover their rent?

Will the Minister close the loopholes in the so-called eviction ban, which have resulted in at least 500 people being evicted from their homes over winter? Will he commit to ending section 21, to give people security in their homes and prevent the leading cause of homelessness, as he said he would? Will he commit to providing the additional truly affordable housing that will be essential to finding permanent homes for people in temporary accommodation? Finally, the Government’s former rough sleeping tsar, Louise Casey, has criticised the Government for failing to grasp the scale of the crisis, the consequences for lives and life chances, the urgency of the need and the scope for solving it. The public want this. Will he heed her words?

I will try to answer as many of the hon. Lady’s questions as I can. I was sad that she could not be more fulsome in welcoming the achievements that have been made over the past year, because they are not just the achievements of this Government; they are the shared achievements of charities, local councils, volunteers and faith groups across the country. We have worked very productively across party lines with local government. In the remarks I have made and those I will no doubt make in answer to other questions today, I praise the councils that have made tremendous efforts—councils such as Birmingham City Council, which has gone to huge lengths to reduce the number of people sleeping rough. This is and should be an issue that cuts across party lines.

The hon. Lady says that the statistics published today are not her chosen method of measuring rough sleeping. She and others have made that point in the past, but this methodology has existed for well over 10 years. It is the most trusted measure of rough sleeping. It is independently verified by Homeless Link, and it uses a very similar methodology to that used by other developed countries such as Canada and France. I think she refers to the CHAIN—Combined Homelessness and Information Network—which is a different methodology and is not easily comparable. That takes an estimate of the number of individuals sleeping rough over a quarter, rather than on an individual night. I am confident that ours is the best way forward, although I am always open to suggestions on different ways one might choose to measure it. By any account, an enormous step forward has been made over the past year; I have not heard anyone who truly understands this issue dispute that.

The hon. Lady says that Everyone In came to an end and that we have not brought forward further support, but that is not correct. Everyone In is ongoing. As I have said, we now have 37,000 people who would otherwise have been sleeping rough on the streets of this country either already moved into good quality sustainable accommodation, be it in the private rented sector, in move-on accommodation or in social housing, or awaiting that move, with councils working closely on it. All those people also have wraparound care, looking after their mental health and other health issues they might face, to ensure that they can begin to rebuild their lives and become more productive members of society.

The hon. Lady also says that councils have not got the funding they need for the future, but again that is not correct. We have provided at the spending review a 60% increase in the amount of Government spending on rough sleeping and homelessness services, bringing it to more than £750 million in the next financial year. This is not primarily now an issue about funding; it is an issue about delivery and commitment, and there are wide variances across the country between councils that are grasping that and those that still have more work to do.

The hon. Lady has also in the past argued that we should not take the targeted approach that we did this winter and that we should have more of a scattergun approach across the country. We rejected that advice and decided to focus resources and effort on the places where it was really required. The statistics I am publishing today—both the snapshot and the statistics for December and January—validate that approach, because they show that in some parts of the country, such as Westminster, that extra effort has made all the difference. I praise the individual council leaders we have worked with, again on a cross-party basis, be it Rachael Robathan in Westminster or Georgia Gould in Camden, whose support has been much appreciated. I hope that we can work across party lines over the course of this year. I hope I can work with the hon. Lady, and I see opposite me her predecessor, the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), who made a great contribution on this issue when he was the shadow Housing Minister. We want now to move forward to capitalise on the immense efforts and achievements of the past year, and to end rough sleeping once and for all.

I wonder whether the Secretary of State shares my frustration at the constant attempts to weaponise rough sleepers as an example of wider ills in our society. He knows very well that the rough sleepers are primarily—99% of them—people who are mentally ill, people who have addiction problems or, normally, both. I would love to hear some examples of how his new initiatives will work on the ground to build on the success of Everyone In. Finally, it is great to see a Secretary of State who actually realises that in a civilised society the only people who should be on the streets are those who choose to be.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his very long-standing commitment to this issue. On one of my first nights in this position, he and I went out on to the streets in the west end, and it was one of the most interesting and important visits I have done over the past 18 months. He is right to say that our ambition should be that as a civilised society nobody should feel the need to sleep rough on the streets and that we should be addressing the causes of rough sleeping, which I think are primarily related to health; this is about drugs, alcohol misuse and mental health. We need to be tackling those causes, which is what we intend to do over the course of this year, bringing together the relevant parts of government to have the most coherent, holistic strategy we have ever had. The statistics speak for themselves: 60% of those sleeping rough have serious substance misuse issues; 49% need drugs support; 23% need alcohol support; and 82% have mental health vulnerabilities. So that has to be our focus going forward: the marriage of health and housing, for the first time.

My hon. Friend also makes a point, which was alluded to by the shadow spokesperson, as to why we had not managed to get every individual off the streets even during the height of our efforts with Everyone In. There are some people who, for a range of reasons, are exceptionally difficult to persuade to come in off the streets. Sadly, we will never live in a country where there is not a single person sleeping rough on the streets, but the litmus test for a civilised society must be that nobody has the need to do so and that everybody is offered support swiftly—this is about not so much no second night out, but no first night out.

Any progress on tackling rough sleeping is to be welcomed. Indeed, rough sleeping in Scotland is at a record low, thanks to the concerted efforts of frontline homelessness services, local authorities and the Scottish Government to move people off the streets since the start of the pandemic, having invested £32.5 million—more than half—of their £50 million Ending Homelessness Together action plan to support local authorities to prioritise settled accommodation for all, provided £60 million to fully mitigate the unjust Tory bedroom tax for over 70,000 Scottish households, and delivered almost 97,000 affordable homes since 2007, in contrast to Scotland’s previous Labour-Lib Dem Administration, who built only six council houses in seven years. With the limited powers at their disposal, the Scottish Government are doing all they can to tackle rough sleeping and homelessness with increased urgency during this health pandemic.

In reality, however, the fact is that poverty often leads to debt and debt is a genuine factor in homelessness. If the Secretary of State really wants to prioritise rough sleeping and homelessness and raise the safety net, as he has said, he could use his reserved powers to at least maintain the local housing allowance increase beyond March 2021, instead of freezing it next year. He could suspend the shared accommodation rate for under-35s. He could make permanent the £20 uplift to universal credit and the working tax credit and extend an equivalent uplift to people claiming legacy benefits who have unjustly been denied this lifeline. We know that this is important since the removal of this uplift will push a further 60,000 people into poverty. He could also cover the average cost of rents to ensure that people are supported to stay in their homes. If the Secretary of State is really serious about raising the safety net, will he at least work to implement these measures as quickly as possible?

I am interested to hear the hon. Lady’s comments and, of course, we are committed to working with anybody who takes an interest in this issue and shares our commitment to it across the United Kingdom. We have put in place unprecedented amounts of money to support this issue and to care for the most vulnerable people in our society. The Scottish Government, through Barnett consequentials, will receive their share of the funding that I have set out: £750 million in England for homelessness and rough sleeping—a 60% increase on the previous spending period, so it is a very substantial increase. A year ago, we uplifted the local housing allowance to the 30th percentile, providing further support equivalent to around £600 a year for a household, which will have ensured that many households have found it much easier to survive the challenges of the last year.

The other questions that the hon. Lady refers to, in respect of universal credit, are no doubt ones that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will consider as he prepares for his Budget.

I am proud of this Government’s commitment to end rough sleeping for good and the multimillion-pound investment in Exeter, which has helped 85% of rough sleepers in the city to move into more permanent housing. This Conservative Government’s Everyone In programme has supported tens of thousands of people without a home through this pandemic. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we must build on this success and ensure that those helped are now able to secure a place that they can really call home?

I praise the local councils in my hon. Friend’s area, such as Exeter, for the good work that they have done, and East Devon District Council; we have seen the snapshot fall to a decrease there as well. Significant progress is being made in all parts of the country. He is absolutely right that we now need to ensure that those individuals we have helped off the streets can be moved into better accommodation. We have made very good progress in that respect, despite all the challenges of the year. Over 26,000 people who were brought in off the streets into emergency accommodation are already in more secure accommodation. That is quite an achievement, considering the constraints on capacity in local authorities. There are now a further group of individuals—currently around 11,000—that we have to ensure make the same transition, and that is the focus for my Department and those local councils in the months ahead.

I thank the Secretary of State for the statement. Looking back to last March, it is undeniable that the Everyone In initiative was a success, and I congratulate the councils, the charities, the Government and of course Dame Louise Casey. It was successful because it did precisely what it said: everyone, without exception, was taken off the streets and found accommodation. Does “Everyone In” still mean that while there is a public health emergency, councils have the right and the responsibility to house everyone, including those with no recourse to public funds? Recently, local authorities have told the Select Committee that there is a great deal of confusion about their legal position. Does the Secretary of State accept that if those with no recourse to public funds are not housed, “Everyone In” will have to be renamed, “Some people in, and others left outside”? Surely that cannot be acceptable.

I am grateful to the Chair of the Select Committee. In the light of the health emergency we were in, and that in many respects we remain in today, we took the decision to advise local councils that although the law remains unchanged with respect to “no recourse to public funds”, they should take into account the health emergency, and more recently the winter weather we have been experiencing, and they should offer a compassionate response to people regardless of their circumstances or their country of origin. That is what local councils have done. Thousands of individuals who do not have recourse to public funds have been supported through the Everyone In programme. I have met some of them—just a week ago, I was with Westminster City Council in Bayswater, where I met members of the public who had been supported into safe accommodation, some of whom did not have recourse to public funds.

As we leave the health emergency, thanks to the success we are making of the vaccine programme, the law will remain unchanged. It is important that we have a robust immigration policy, as other countries have. I am working closely with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to establish how we can use our newfound powers as we leave the European Union to create an immigration policy that does not attract individuals to this country, but that, if people do come here and find themselves in the precarious position of living on the streets, helps them in a compassionate way to return to their home country and to rebuild their lives there.

We recently announced that across my constituency of Watford, for a period of time we had no rough sleepers on our streets. I thank my right hon. Friend and his team for their support in helping to secure more than £4 million, for which I lobbied, to be received by charities and our local council to tackle homelessness in Watford. Will he join me in thanking our incredible local charities, including New Hope and One YMCA, for their tireless efforts over many years, and continuing today, to end homelessness and to transform lives for the better?

I am only too happy to praise the local organisations in my hon. Friend’s constituency, such as New Hope and One YMCA. As I said earlier, those who work on the frontline of tackling rough sleeping—support workers, volunteers in soup kitchens, local council staff and those working in many other spheres—are incredibly brave, courageous people who are doing great and noble work, which often goes unnoticed. They deserve our respect and recognition today, as we see the fruits of their hard work in the statistics that have been published.

My hon. Friend’s constituency is one of a number that have recently reported zero rough sleepers. I named some others in my statement, such as Ashford and Basingstoke, where people had been sleeping rough but the latest count recorded none at all. That is an incredible step forward. I praise those parts of the country and I expect more to follow suit in the years ahead.

2020 saw the deaths of 976 rough sleepers on the streets of this country. That is a scandal, as indeed is any rough sleeping. Will the Minister look with more care at the reasons why people are sleeping rough, including unfair evictions in the private sector and inappropriate use of the “intentionally homeless” rules? Regarding those who are temporarily housed in hostels, does he understand the stress they feel from not knowing what the future will bring? A hostel is a roof over their head on a temporary basis; what we need is investment—big investment now—in council housing, so that move-on accommodation can give people a secure, permanent roof over their head. The best way of achieving that is through the construction of lifetime tenancy council housing at social rents. Will the Secretary of State commit this Government to building the council houses that are necessary all across this country?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. We are very committed to building more homes. We want to build more homes than any Government before—homes of all types and tenures and in all parts of the country, including in inner-city areas such as Islington, which he represents. That is why we have taken steps such as enabling councils to borrow, and we are supporting them through our record affordable homes programme worth £11.5 billion to build more social homes, affordable homes and homes for shared ownership.

The right hon. Gentleman rightly makes the point that we need more move-on accommodation. That is why I persuaded my right hon. Friend the Chancellor last year to bring forward the £430 million that we needed to invest in 6,000 new units of move-on accommodation. They will be in all parts of the country and every council, including his own, has been able to participate in that programme. Those homes will be built or acquired over the next few years. He is right to say that more work needs to be done, but I politely point out to him that enormous progress is being made in his own local council, Islington. The count a year ago was 59 individuals. The count for November, which we are releasing today, was 20—so a huge reduction in rough sleeping in his constituency, which I am sure he will praise.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the success of the Everyone In programme, which has taken 37,000 people off the streets. I also congratulate him on making sure that all public services honour their legal obligations under my Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 to ensure that homelessness is prevented. He will know that every single case of homelessness and rough sleeping is an individual case that has to be assessed. Will he therefore commit to a national roll-out of Housing First so that the network of support is built around those people who have been forced to sleep rough, not just with a home, but with the support they need?

I praise my hon. Friend for the work that he has done. It is important that we do not attribute the whole of the success that we are seeing this year to the Everyone In initiative. As I said earlier, its roots lie much deeper than that, in the work that has been done over the last couple of years. His Homelessness Reduction Act played an important part in that. The statistics that we have published today show that the average person sleeping rough is a 26 year-old male, exactly the sort of individual that the Act set out to ensure was given support and that might not have been supported previously by local authorities. He is also right to praise Housing First. The pilots continue with £28 million of Government support, and the £430 million that we are investing in move-on accommodation is very much in the spirit of Housing First that we need to get individuals into a home and then give them wraparound care.

The Secretary of State promised that no one would lose their home due to the pandemic. The moratorium on evictions has helped to keep people off the streets, but it covers only those people with rental debt up to six months, and of course the pandemic has been going on now for something like 12 months. There are 1,500 people in South Lakeland who are both private renters and members of workforce groups that have been excluded from Government support, with no income to pay the rent. How will he keep his promise to them?

I am proud of the action that we have taken to support renters throughout the pandemic. The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the moratorium on evictions that I introduced early on with my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor. We have chosen to extend that on at least one more occasion to the end of March. That enables people to be safe and secure in the knowledge that they will not be forced out of their homes. There are exceptions to it, but they are the right exceptions. There are exceptions for domestic abuse perpetrators, for those who have committed serious antisocial behaviour which is damaging the lives of their neighbours, and for those who are in egregious rent arrears of six months or more. We have to strike a balance between the interests of the tenant and those of smaller landlords as well, some of whom are in very difficult circumstances. We have also created a six-month notice period for evictions, which means that people have a very long period to adjust to changing circumstances.

I declare my interest as a member of Kettering Borough Council. Rough sleeping is the most extreme form of homelessness, and the Secretary of State is quite right to prioritise tackling it. The really good news from north Northamptonshire is that the number of recorded rough sleepers has fallen from 62 in 2018 to 22 on the latest count, and in Kettering the number has fallen from 17 to one. Will the Secretary of State join me in praising John Conway and the housing team at Kettering Borough Council for the tremendous work they are doing to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping?

I would be delighted to extend my praise to John Conway and his officers at the council. The statistics that my hon. Friend has just read out are a real tribute to the hard work that they have put in over the course of the year, in very difficult circumstances during the pandemic. To see Kettering Borough Council having a count of only one individual sleeping rough is an enormous tribute to what they have achieved.

The Secretary of State was right to praise councils for their role. Here in Chesterfield, we have seen a big reduction in the amount of rough sleeping during the pandemic as the council has utilised the money provided by Government well. I agree with many of the issues that he raised about the causes of rough sleeping and homelessness, but I was alarmed that the role of welfare policy was missing from that list. I am concerned that in Chesterfield many of the rough sleepers I have spoken to tell me that, while they are aware that council flats are available for them, the amount of benefit they receive means that the rent would be unaffordable and they would end up being evicted again. I fear that once the eviction ban ends, we will see a big increase in the number of rough sleepers again. Can the Secretary of State say a little bit about the role of welfare policy and whether, by looking at issues such as the bedroom tax and the levels of rent being paid, we can take steps to ensure that this welcome progress is not lost when the eviction ban is ended?

Order. We must have brief questions if I am to get everybody in, because we have two big debates and a Select Committee statement after this. So, brief questions and fairly succinct answers please.

I shall be brief, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise some of the other causes of homelessness and rough sleeping. That is why we increased the local housing allowance to the 30th percentile, and why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor uplifted universal credit during the height of the pandemic, and of course we brought forward the furlough scheme and others to support vulnerable people over the course of the year.

Carshalton and Wallington is proud to be the home of the amazing local charity Sutton Night Watch, which brings together multiple local agencies, not just to put a roof over people’s heads but to provide them with support for addiction, benefits, job hunting, mental health and much more. I have seen it completely transform people’s lives. The Government have done amazing work to support charities and councils with help for rough sleeping, so can my right hon. Friend outline how we are going to build on that support to help charities such as Sutton Night Watch to bring this to an end?

My hon. Friend represents one of the parts of the country where the snapshot showed that only a single individual was sleeping rough on that night in November, so I pay huge tribute to everybody involved in that in Carshalton and Wallington. Like him, I praise the Sutton Night Watch charity. We will be supporting charities and local councils over the course of next year, not least with £750 million of Government funding.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as a sitting Luton councillor. We heard earlier that almost 130,000 children were homeless and living in temporary accommodation before the pandemic, and that is almost double what it was a decade ago. Very urban councils such as Luton have no space left to build on, and the so-called duty to co-operate policy has failed to ensure that housing demand was met by neighbouring councils. What does the Secretary of State propose to do to tackle this issue and help councils such as Luton to ensure that good-quality, genuinely affordable social houses can be built for homeless families, which will maintain their community ties?

Luton Borough Council’s area has seen a 65% reduction in rough sleeping, according to the numbers that were published today, so I hope that the hon. Lady will welcome the considerable steps forward by her local council and community. She is right to raise the need to build more social and affordable housing. That is why we have the £11.5 billion affordable homes programme, which I hope that the council and housing associations in her vicinity will participate in. I do not accept that Luton cannot build more homes. There are plenty of imaginative ways in which a community such as Luton could be building more, through urban regeneration, through building upwards and through gentle density.

Over the past 20 months we have had a reduction of 49% in the number of rough sleepers in Milton Keynes. That is incredibly welcome and it is down to the hard work of the Everyone In programme, and the millions of pounds of Government funding allocated to the local authority and local charities, but most important—I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will agree—it is down to the team effort of charities such as The Bus Shelter MK, the Winter Night Shelter Milton Keynes, the YMCA, the Salvation Army and the national charities such as Shelter and Crisis.

My hon. Friend is right. This is a collective effort across the whole country and in every community. I join him in praising everyone in Milton Keynes for their hard work. To have achieved almost a 50% reduction in rough sleeping over the year is a huge achievement.

Official statistics estimate that 4,266 people were sleeping rough at the start of the pandemic, but the Government claim to have helped 33,000 rough sleepers into emergency accommodation. How does the Secretary of State square that circle, and will he commit to provide a richer and more frequent picture of homelessness and rough sleeping across the country to ensure that everyone’s basic human rights with regard to shelter can be met both as we come through the pandemic and in the longer term?

The numbers that we publish today are a snapshot of a single night in November. Those are the most robust data sources that we have. They are the ones that we are able to measure ourselves on because they have been in place for more than 10 years now. I think that that is the right way forward.

The Everyone In programme did not help just those individuals who were actually sleeping rough on the streets. It also helped many people who were sofa surfing or in other forms of precarious accommodation who were at risk of ending up on the streets. So the success of the programme has been not just to get people off the streets but to help many thousands of other people who were otherwise in difficult circumstances to begin to move forward with their lives.

I was pleased once again to support my local charity Guildford Action and raise funds to help train volunteers on how to use the life-saving drug naloxone by sleeping out at the end of November last year. The Government, working with local authorities and charities, have supported a huge number of rough sleepers during the last year and kept the vulnerable safe during the pandemic. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that those individuals are still able to access services such as drug and alcohol rehabilitation so that they can recover and get back on their feet?

Yes, they certainly are. In each of the interventions that we have made over the course of the pandemic and will take in the future, we have taken this housing and health approach, in which we try to ensure that individuals are not merely brought off the streets and helped to live in better quality accommodation but given wraparound care so that we can begin to address substance misuse, mental health and other issues and reintegrate them into society. That is very much the strategy that I and my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary will be taking forward.

I welcome these figures as they stand, although I worry that they have been precipitated only by the pandemic crisis and we could have had this action at any time in the past 10 years. I agree with the Secretary of State that we have to bring together mental health services, drug and alcohol addiction services and local authorities, all of which have had their budgets slashed in the past decade. What certainty can the right hon. Gentleman give to those bodies beyond the current funding period that there will be a long-term funding process on which they can rely to take this programme forward?

The Health Secretary and I secured funding at the spending review for the programme of support for mental health and substance abuse. We also made a joint bid with the Minister of Justice to help those people who are currently in prison to receive offers of accommodation when they leave jail. More than 50% of those people sleeping rough on our streets are ex-offenders, and that is a very important angle that we need to address.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s remarks about the success of the programmes that we have run over the course of the year. I praise Chester because I see that its numbers have reduced from 14 last year to just four in November’s count.

It is great news that the Everyone In programme and the hard work of my right hon. Friend, councils and charities across the country helped to prevent 21,000 extremely vulnerable people becoming infected with coronavirus this year. Can he confirm that the £10 million announced last March by the Government to support councils and their ongoing efforts to prevent rough sleeping can be used to ensure that people who are sleeping rough or at risk of sleeping rough can access a covid vaccine in line with the priority groups outlined by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation?

Yes, I can. It was very important to us that those sleeping rough were not left out of the vaccination programme, by oversight or omission, so we launched the Protect Plus programme to provide extra support to local councils so that they can work with the NHS, weave those individuals into the local vaccination programmes or get them GP registered, which is a good in itself. That will ensure that when their time comes, they are vaccinated so that even if they return to the streets, which of course we hope they do not, they do so protected by the vaccination.

During the recent cold spell, it was heartbreaking to see rough sleepers in the heart of Newcastle in the snow. Newcastle City Council has a bed for every rough sleeper, but hostel accommodation is not suitable for everyone. Does the Secretary of State agree that annual short-term programmes, however successful, will not end rough sleeping, and will he provide the long-term funding needed to support real change at a local level, as well as greater access to social housing?

I pay tribute to Newcastle City Council, which has made great progress over the course of the year. Its snapshot shows that the numbers have almost halved compared with the prior year. The hon. Lady is right that we need a long-term strategy. That is why we have the rough sleeping initiative, which is now in its third year, and we are really starting to see the fruits of that work. I want to see that continue for many years. That is also why we have created the multi-year Move On accommodation programme, backed by £400 million, and of course I hope that there is a multi-year settlement across Government later this year and that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will be able to continue that level of investment well into the future.

Brian and Stella Jones are two of the most incredible, compassionate, inspiring people you will ever meet. They set up the Moses Project in Stockton, which helps people who find themselves homeless as a result of addiction. Every day they are saving lives and giving people another chance. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the charity sector has a massive role to play in helping us to tackle rough sleeping once and for all?

Charities across the country, including in Stockton, should be proud of the work they have done in that respect. This could have been one of the most challenging and difficult issues facing this country. In fact, as a result of their work and that of local councils—I would like to think that the Government played a significant part as well—we have a very different story to tell today. We have protected some of the most vulnerable people in society and we have something that is now looked upon across the world as a great achievement.

Councils have duties to the homeless but are underfunded by £2 billion by this Government. Hull City Council, which did an amazing job during the pandemic with rough sleepers, is today setting its council tax. Like many other councils, it will be forced to ask the just managing working families to pay more tax to fund these essential council services. Is this not again a case of going back to the days of the poor keeping the poor, because of deliberate political decisions taken by Government since 2010?

I do not like to disagree with the right hon. Lady, because she is right on many issues, but she is wrong on this one, I am afraid. Local councils have self-reported to my Department that they have spent around £1 billion less on covid-19 issues than we have given them, so we have overfunded local councils at the moment. We will do everything we can to make good on our promise to support them through the pandemic. We have increased the amount of funding for homelessness and rough sleeping, as I said earlier, by 60% year on year to £750 million.

I do not think that this issue is one of money today; it is about commitment, and it is about delivery. The right hon. Lady’s local council in Hull is actually one of the small number of local authorities that have seen an increase in rough sleepers, from six in the last count to 19 in this one, compared with the many good examples in the other direction that I have been able to report today on a cross-party basis. I think that further effort between my Department and her local council, perhaps with her support, is needed in the months ahead.

Last autumn, I very much welcomed the Government’s allocation of more than £1.4 million to Bradford Council for local schemes that provide accommodation for people at risk of sleeping on our streets. It is great to hear that further funding is on its way. Of course, wraparound care to tackle issues to do with drug addiction and alcohol addiction, as well as health and wellbeing issues, is incredibly important. Therefore, would the Secretary of State commend the work done by Project 6 and Homeless Not Hopeless in my constituency, which are also working across the Bradford district?

I would be happy to praise those local organisations for the good work they have done, and I join my hon. Friend in praising Bradford Council for its good work. It has seen an almost 60% reduction in the number of people sleeping rough in its area over the course of a year.

Far too many homeless people end up in poor-quality supported housing where they do not actually get any of the support they need to help them to deal with the underlying issues, and too often they end up back on the streets as a result. Can the Minister give an update on what is happening with the supported housing pilots? When will he be able to bring in regulation or better oversight of the sector, so that we do not see homeless people ending up in that situation?

The hon. Lady raises an important point. She has worked on that with the Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall), who is a parliamentary near neighbour of hers, in the Bristol area. We have taken forward research to see whether tighter regulation of supported housing is required, and we recently decided to extend those pilots and provide further funding for them, so that we can learn more before coming to a judgment as to whether we need to put in place legislative or other measures to protect people from poor-quality outcomes. I would be happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss that further, if she would benefit from that.

I declare an interest, in that I remain a Westminster City councillor. I pay tribute to Westminster City Council for a 27% decrease in the number of rough sleepers on the streets of our capital today. Obviously we have more work to do, and part of the issue is the legislation that we are dealing with. The Vagrancy Act is 200 years out of date, and I am campaigning with Crisis, The Passage and St Mungo’s for repeal of the Act and to introduce legislation that will respond to the 21st-century reasons why people are still on the streets. Will my right hon. Friend agree to meet me and those organisations, to discuss how we can work together to repeal that legislation?

I join my hon. Friend in praising Westminster City Council, its officers, its brilliant leader Rachael Robathan, and its very good previous leader, both of whom have been extremely committed to that issue. I have spoken to her and to Rachael Robathan almost weekly about it and, as she says, Westminster has now experienced a 27% decrease in rough sleeping, which is a phenomenal achievement for all involved. I look forward to working with her and Rachael Robathan in the future.

We have reviewed the Vagrancy Act and will be saying more in the weeks ahead. I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend. It is my opinion that the Vagrancy Act should be repealed. It is an antiquated piece of legislation whose time has been and gone. We should consider carefully whether better, more modern legislation could be introduced to preserve some aspects of it, but the Act itself, I think, should be consigned to history.

I congratulate the Secretary of State but, further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), in Birmingham it has just been announced that Prospect Housing’s exempt accommodation is to close, following serious safeguarding issues. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that it is not out of the frying pan into the fire for those 1,600 vulnerable people, and that they do not end up on the streets?

I will look into the case that the hon. Gentleman raises. I have seen concerning evidence about some providers of supported housing. That is why we are doing the work at the moment to see what the true situation is, whether a tighter regulatory environment is required, and, if so, how we deliver that. I would be happy to take his advice as to how we move forward. I take the opportunity to praise his council in Birmingham for its hard work. Birmingham is one of the shining examples of success over the course of the last year, and its rough sleeping count, announced today, of just 17 individuals for a large city—England’s largest local authority—is a huge achievement.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, and am suspending the House for two minutes to allow for the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.

Sitting suspended.