[Christina Rees in the Chair]
I remind hon. Members to wear masks when they are not speaking. This is in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. Please also give each other and members of staff space when seated and when entering and leaving the room. Members should send their speaking notes by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Similarly, officials should communicate electronically with Ministers.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered ending rough sleeping.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. It is a joy to be back in Westminster Hall with colleagues after what has felt like a very long time. While it looks a bit sparse, and I appreciate that there is a lot going on in the Chamber, I know that ending rough sleeping is important to many Members across the House. I am grateful to have been granted this debate to bring it up the agenda.
Here we go again: we are debating how we end the blight of rough sleeping. The pandemic has shown us that the will and capacity to radically change policy is there, albeit in an emergency. “Everyone In” was without doubt a success. It was a phenomenal response to an international health crisis, but it is not a sustainable response to a national rough sleeping crisis. That is what I want to focus on. The pandemic has shown that there are systemic problems preventing us from grasping the nettle and getting to the root causes of rough sleeping and homelessness.
I do not dispute that “Everyone In” was remarkable, and I applaud the Minister and the Government for their efforts. During the pandemic, 355 people in Oxford were brought off the streets and out of hostels into safe accommodation. Now, 215 people are in settled housing. It is becoming clear that we need to turn our minds to a long-term, permanent solution. Insight from the CHAIN database tells us that in 2021, at the height of the pandemic and the “Everyone In” campaign, London saw more people returning to rough sleeping than it had in the last four years. That is about one third of the rough sleepers that were on the streets. Why, when we had the successful programme, was that happening?
We have to ask those who were affected. There is a gentleman called Mr T, who spoke to the Mayday Trust last year as part of their “Wisdom from the Pandemic” work. From Westminster tube station, just metres from where we are now, he said:
“They gave me a room in a hotel. It was miles away. I was lonely, everyone I know is here. I didn’t know what was going on, how long I was going to be there, so I came back here.”
The “Everyone In” campaign may have worked, but it did not work for everyone. We need to learn from these experiences.
Councillor Ben Martin, cabinet member for housing at Swale Borough Council, told me that his experience is that rough sleeping must be about the individual, not the symptoms, and about their hopes and dreams, not their problems. To fundamentally end rough sleeping, we need to treat rough sleepers and the homeless as humans with individual needs, not as statistics. Take substance abuse. Councillor Fran Oborski, who is the treasurer of a homelessness charity, emailed me about how many rough sleepers have substance abuse issues—something that is often not helped in hostels or temporary accommodation—and said that we need to improve access to rehabilitation services for those who want or need them.
Someone who used to be homeless and who now works with rough sleepers emailed me to say that the speed with which services want people to make progress only adds to their problems instead of solving them. Given the pressure the services are already under, they cannot address the traumas rough sleepers have faced. That point is echoed by the Salvation Army, which points out that we need more funding for support services to tackle the root causes.
“Everyone In” brought people off the streets, but it did nothing to repair trust between many rough sleepers and authorities—councils, services and Government. Someone who simply goes by the name London Homeless Info emailed me to say that they are sceptical about the aims of councils, charities and services. We will not solve the rough sleeping crisis without addressing that issue of trust. How do we do that? That is what we all want. How do we break the negative cycle of people returning to the streets and failing in those services—and, more to the point, those services failing them?
The liberal approach would be to empower those forced to sleep rough, not to dictate—as is often unfortunately the case currently—narrow pathways designed by others. People going through tough times should be able to decide for themselves what support they want, and the state should then be ready to respond. I appreciate that that is no easy task and actually flips the entire system on its head, but if we actually listen to rough sleepers we know what they want.
Gemma, who was sleeping outside Joe & The Juice on Oxford Street last year, told the Mayday Trust:
“Living in a hostel is no life. It doesn’t help me with my depression. The atmosphere feels like a graveyard in there.”
Richard, who was begging on Victoria Street, said:
“I’m being told I have to go to a hostel; I really don’t want to go. I know I will relapse. Everyone there takes drugs. I’m trying to stay sober but they are forcing me to go.”
Talk about a rock and a hard place—someone gets themselves on their feet and is told that they have to put themselves in a position that will send them backwards.
The answer to rough sleeping is not just more money, more emergency accommodation or more housing, especially social housing. We have to look beyond the statistics. All of that is important, but when we are commissioning the services, we need to change our mindset. We are commissioning with, not just for, people. We need to provide them with unconditional and personalised support.
We also need to appreciate, Ms Rees, that a rough sleeper could be us. They could be our friends or our family members. Their stories highlight that often what causes someone to become a rough sleeper is a series of events that compound—family breakdown, job loss, ill health. We cannot think of rough sleepers as an other. They are us. We need to give them the autonomy and respect that any one of us in this room would want.
Aspire and Oxfordshire Homeless Movement do something like that. They treat the person as an individual, with coaching, and catch them just before the point of rough sleeping. After Adeline reached out to them, she says, she has
“now found a part-time live-in role, complemented by my freelance graphic design work, and sleep well and safe. This experience made me realise that anyone can become vulnerable at some point in their life”.
I dare say that, after the pandemic, more and more people of a background that most of us here might recognise—perhaps even more than before—are ending up in this situation.
The Mayday Trust has done lots of work to develop a new approach called the person-led, transitional and strength-based response, or PTS. That gives people the ability to choose the support that they want at a time that works for them, working with someone who coaches them through and helps them find the right pathway. Upcoming research from the New Economics Foundation shows a correlation between being treated with dignity and respect and a person taking positive actions. We all want those positive actions to happen, because that is how we end the rough sleeping crisis. That kind of approach—trusting people with their own decisions—helps to build trust between the individual and the state.
As the Local Government Association, Crisis, Shelter and others have said, we urgently need a renewed, detailed, cross-departmental strategy for how the Government plan to meet their commitment to end rough sleeping by 2027. I say that knowing, of course, that the Minister takes a particular interest in this matter. However, we are very concerned that, to end rough sleeping, we need all Government Departments to join up in their thinking. Without a new strategic approach, the Government will not meet this manifesto commitment. The Government have broken three of those so far. Will this one be next?
The Government are not short of expert recommendations from local government, the sector and elsewhere to draw on. Crisis, which has an event after the debate that I want to plug to all Members, is absolutely right to urge the Government to adopt the Housing First approach to permanently end homelessness for those with the most serious needs. Should the Treasury be listening, if the priority is to rebuild our finances after the pandemic, then it should prioritise the analysis published by Crisis today, which shows that Housing First is cost-effective. For every £1 we put in, we get £1.24 back because we are reducing dependencies on services. It is win-win. Can the Minister tell us if there have been any discussions with the Treasury and the Chancellor ahead of the spending review about rolling out Housing First across England?
The Government are making things harder by cutting the universal credit uplift and freezing the local housing allowance. Shelter has suggested a model of “protect, prevent and build” for this strategy, which I hope the Minister is considering. Shelter, the LGA and individual councillors have told me about the need to fix local authority funding in this area. There should be ongoing, dedicated funding for councils to tackle rough sleeping and prevent homelessness in the first place.
Councils need to be given sufficient time to bid for money, and then to spend it. Giving them two to four weeks to bid for the rough sleeping accommodation programme, which requires that properties are purchased and occupied within the same financial year, makes it almost impossible for local authorities in the south-east to be successful. Surely some common-sense tweaks to that bidding process could achieve better value for the money that is coming in.
There are more lessons that we need to learn, but at the heart of a renewed strategy must be that the rough sleeper is an individual. They should be part of the process, not have policies imposed on them. I have heard too many stories of the bad experiences some people have had with councils, rogue landlords and service providers. I fundamentally believe—I genuinely do, which I do not often say—that this Government want to improve the situation, but I urge them to put it high up on their priority list because 2027 is not that far away. The pandemic has been challenging, but it has also provided an opportunity to see what can work. I say grasp this nettle and use this opportunity.
In conclusion, I have a few simple questions. The Minister will be surprised that I have not mentioned this yet, but when will we scrap the Vagrancy Act 1824? I have been banging on about this for over four years. Six months ago, the Secretary of State said that it is happening. Please can we have an update on some timelines? When will we give councils certainty and long-term funding for rough sleeping programmes? Will the Minister come back to the House with a renewed, detailed and thought-through strategy for how we are going to end rough sleeping for good, recognising the changing circumstances that we are in?
We need to give rough sleepers support, but I urge the Minister to consider that the plan must also give them control. What we are doing is not working, particularly for the last few, who will be the most difficult to win round. We need to start building a strategy that reaches out to them now if we are to be successful in just over five years’ time. With a combination of intervention through programmes like Housing First, prevention through better mental health and financial support and through social house building, and empowerment through a system that works with the individual, we can do this. I believe there is cross-party support to do it. I thank all those who are here today and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship this afternoon, Ms Rees. I congratulate the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) on securing the debate on this crucial issue.
I was elected in December 2019 with a pledge to end rough sleeping on the streets of Hastings and Rye, which is a pledge I intend to keep. As constituency MPs, we will all have had experiences of meeting and hearing from those who have unfortunately fallen into homelessness and rough sleeping. The distress and desperation that individuals in that position experience is hard to hear and challenging to overcome.
The Government have committed vast amounts of investment since the last general election to support work to eradicate rough sleeping, and to support those who find themselves homeless. In the 2021 Budget, the Chancellor pledged a further £676 million, which included a rough sleepers’ support scheme of £221 million. Hastings has benefited from that investment in eradicating rough sleeping, and I thank the Government for that.
As welcome as the funding is, I have discovered something that is equally important in tackling the issue, and that is collaboration. When I was first elected and made tackling rough sleeping one of my top priorities, I was struck by how many organisations were already working on this: councils, churches, faith groups, large national charities and individuals doing their bit here and there. What was evident, though, was the disjointed approach to providing support to those who most needed it. It was clear to me that there needed to be more collaboration and joined-up thinking.
Thanks to the fantastic work of Homeless Link, in east Sussex we now have more of a joined-up approach. Following a meeting last year, we have set up a forum aimed at preventing homelessness and mitigating the risk factors of rough sleeping. It includes local charities, churches, organisations, local authority officers and homelessness support representatives from all over, particularly those who are involved in housing and health support. The forum meets on a regular basis, which means that all those concerned with tackling the issue can meet to discuss progress and next steps. By working together, they are beginning to end the pandemic of rough sleeping in our area. The Government have played a crucial role, in providing funding and impetus to eradicate rough sleeping. Combined with the collaboration of those on the ground, that is now delivering results.
I agree with the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon that another crucial aspect in tackling rough sleeping is the Housing First policy. Piloted in 2017, the policy has supported and helped countless people, and was the foundation for the Government’s approach to those sleeping on our streets during the covid-19 pandemic. It is the principle of helping those with the most complex needs not just with housing and support for long-term accommodation needs, but to tackle the causes of their rough sleeping, whether they be mental health issues, drug or alcohol misuse, unemployment or family and relationship breakdown. Providing that wraparound care and support, rather than just a roof over someone’s head, is the best way to tackle rough sleeping and ensure that people do not end up back on our streets.
That is why collaboration is so important in our approach to this issue. We need individuals and organisations from all areas to provide that wraparound support and work together to tackle the issue. That includes volunteers, local authorities and other organisations. I conclude by asking the Government to ensure that we focus not only on funding, but on policies such as Housing First and the collaboration they instil in those working on the ground. Funding and collaboration are the two crucial ingredients we need to make a success of our pledge to eradicate rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. I congratulate the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) on calling a debate on this very important issue.
In one of the richest nations, in 2021, we are still debating the issue of people who are left with no home and no choice but, night after night, to sleep in shop doorways and, day after day, to sit in them, pained with loneliness. The deal that the Government have talked about around homelessness should not be transactional but relational. This is the reality of people’s lives. They are not numbers—they are people who need attention and focus.
We see homelessness services rush around, but when they go away somebody’s life can feel very isolated. That is why we have to talk about people and the stories that they hold. We look at our constituents in this situation. I talk to my homeless constituents very regularly and I know that they are looking to live out a fulfilled life. We need to move the language on and talk about people in our community. These are people who—let us face it—have been failed by a society that has not protected them and failed by a system that has not provided for them. They are homeless not only because they have complex lives, but because they have no home. It is not rocket science. There is a simple solution: just provide somewhere safe, somewhere personal and somewhere to make a new beginning—somewhere not to be isolated, but to be connected.
The evidence on Housing First, as hon. Members have already said, shows that if we give somebody their own place and give them the help they need and the hope they need, there is no cause for rough sleeping. Nicholas Pleace, an academic in my city, at the University of York, has evidenced the impact, and today we are hearing about a crisis furthering that evidence. There is no need for delay, more pilots or more time to be spent on this; we know that Housing First works.
What the Government did during the pandemic was right. There was the fear that covid would sweep through the homeless communities and so people were given a safe place. In York, that meant staying at an aparthotel, in hotel rooms with en suites and kitchenettes—microflats. For the first time, somebody could be fully independent. They had a resettlement opportunity, an opportunity to be on their own, to be in a stable place, to cook their own meals, to live their own lives and—yes, while restricted and locked down—to start rebuilding their lives with the services that were provided. Some had been on the streets for years. Others had been in and out of hostels—going through that rotating door. Suddenly they had the start they needed. Of course, behind that, we have seen charities step in, and I have to say that the charities in York are utterly outstanding in the work that they do.
I met with a homeless person just a few months ago. It is somebody I know really well and have talked to often since I have been an MP. He told me how he now has a job and now has pride. Others, because they have done so well, are placed in their own accommodation. The initiative taught our services something really important: if people have the right spaces, the right opportunity and the right chance, which so many of us take for granted, they can break the cycle—they can break through.
However, the funding has ended. Of course, the funding did not just go on housing; it also brought in a new collaboration around the services that could be making people’s lives so different. For the first time, these people saw a dentist. They saw a GP. They had their needs addressed. They had people to talk to. They had services to help them to address some of their financial challenges and to show them how to navigate through the very complex world in which we live. I thank those organisations that have been working in that area and, in particular, organisations such as Kitchen for Everyone York. They go out week by week, providing food and friendship to our homeless community.
However, with the funding ended, people are yet again on our streets. Let us just imagine if the initiative were a permanent offer. People would be moving into independent living instead of enduring years going in and out of hostels. How much that would save the state! The step process of hostels to shared housing just does not work. It does not work for the people involved, it does not work for the communities, and it does not work—let us face it—for Government.
The answer must be Housing First. I speak regularly with the Salvation Army and Changing Lives in York and I thank them, too, for what they do. They also understand that they need a Housing First model and are desperate to see it. They believe it will save money, and not only save lives but rebuild them.
Tragically, however, we have not got the accommodation we need. This is where I want to support the Minister to make these arguments because once again, in my city, the wrong housing is being built. The obscenity of luxury apartments shooting up everywhere—not lived in, but sold as assets and second homes—when York is full of inadequately housed families and individuals, sofa surfers and rough sleepers, screams of a failed system. We have a planning Bill before us, and we need the right homes to be built to meet the needs of my community.
However, it is going to get worse in York. The cost of living has shot up through this pandemic. The cost of housing—eye-watering sums—has gone up at the fastest rate in the country. It is already a lower broad rental market area, and therefore has a lower local housing allowance, because of the broader area with which it is associated; it does not even meet the cost of housing in the city. So many homes and council homes are still being sold but we are not seeing a replenishment, and therefore we do not have the housing that our city needs. It is completely out of joint. It is impacting our economy too: we cannot recruit people with the skills that are needed because they cannot afford to live in our city; we cannot recruit social care workers who cannot afford the accommodation in York either.
We need to talk about a new generation of resettlement housing in the social housing mix—one that comes with a price tag that talks about the support services that are required too. There are so many communities across our constituencies that need resettlement, whether that is people coming out of the criminal justice system, refugees coming right now from Afghanistan—incredibly vulnerable people—or perhaps those people about to lose £20 a week from their universal credit, who will lose their home as a consequence.
We need to ensure that the right stock is being built. We do not have enough of it. I want to encourage the Minister in all he does to seize this moment; to see this as the time, after such a successful programme, to drive forward resettlement housing, to give people that chance. I know that the leaders in York’s voluntary sector who oversee the homelessness project recognise the failure of the system in which they have to work. They want to work and see the outcomes that all of us in this debate long to see.
Winter is coming. We have a chance to end rough sleeping once and for all. We know what has worked in this pandemic, and we can do it again. It saves money and it saves lives. I trust that the Minister will have the ammunition he needs to make this happen.
Diolch yn fawr, Ms Rees. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, and I am delighted that the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) has secured this debate. This is actually the third time I have taken part in such a debate: I called the first two, so I am hoping it is third time lucky when it comes to what I hear from the Minister.
Before I talk about the wider issue of ending rough sleeping, it is really important that we consider what the Government have done so far. This year alone, £750 million has already been put in to tackle rough sleeping and homelessness, in particular the £203 million investment through the rough sleeping initiative—double what it was last year. None of us can be in any doubt that the Government are determined to end rough sleeping.
We saw that with the “Everyone In” initiative during the pandemic, when national Government, local government and charities came together to collaborate, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart) pointed out. But even when probably 90% of rough sleepers were housed during “Everyone In”, the remaining 10%—the most entrenched rough sleepers—were still on the streets in the city.
As the MP for the Cities of London and Westminster, I know full well the impact of rough sleeping on our streets. My constituency has the largest number of rough sleepers in the country—more than the next three boroughs in London combined. That shows how acute the issue is in Westminster. However, it is equally important to point out that only 3% of those on our streets have a connection to Westminster, which shows that this is a national and international problem on the streets of Westminster.
Having been responsible for rough sleeping strategy and services in Westminster for 10 years or so until I came to this place, I know about the brilliant work that the rough sleeping team at Westminster City Council do day in, day out and night in, night out. They work with partners such as St Mungo’s, which provides the outreach service. Again, the outreach workers are out every single night of the year—on the coldest and hottest nights, including Christmas. I pay tribute to those brilliant outreach workers, with whom I have been out so many times over the last decade.
Why were 10% of rough sleepers left on the street? It was not a case of not having somewhere to go, because there was a room for every rough sleeper on the streets of Westminster, as there is tonight. Tonight there will be 500 beds available in this one borough alone, which is incredible. However, why are we still seeing people on the streets? It is because the vast number of people on our streets have mental health and addiction problems.
From my experience, and as I am told by St Mungo’s and Westminster City Council’s outreach teams, these people are some of the most damaged and vulnerable people in our society, and they need and deserve our help. When they have such entrenched problems, however, it can take years to build up trust with them. They will often refuse help, as I have seen. I have lived in the Cities of London and Westminster for 25 years, and in Westminster for more than 20. During the “Everyone In” programme, we saw the 10% on our streets. I live in Pimlico, and they were there when we would come out to go shopping every day. They were so ill, and it is because of drugs and drink and the mental health issues that they are suffering.
How do we go about helping people who refuse time and again to be housed, even on the coldest days of the year? When I was responsible for rough sleeping at Westminster, I took out the Minister responsible for rough sleeping on the coldest day of the year. He was shocked to find people still sleeping on the street. When we have our cold weather plan, we open up churches, synagogues and other community halls, with no questions asked. We do not even have to ask for people’s names. We just want people to come in and be safe—we want to save their lives.
Even on the most dreadful nights of the year, people still refuse to come in. Why? That is what we have to tackle, which is why I have been working together with the brilliant people at Crisis, as well as the equally brilliant people at St Mungo’s and The Passage, on repealing the Vagrancy Act 1824. When I asked the Secretary of State in February in the House of Commons, he said that the Act
“should be consigned to history.”—[Official Report, 25 February 2021; Vol. 689, c. 1138.]
I am forever hopeful that that will happen one day, and perhaps the Minister can enlighten us, but we are working to replace the Act. From what the Government are saying, we think we have won the argument but what do we replace the Act with? We need to have a new approach—an assertive outreach approach—whereby we have the mental health and addiction services available on the street. We used to have mental health services on the street, but they have now gone. We need them back, and we need a health-led approach. We have heard about Housing First; we have the housing, the hostels, the temporary accommodation and the move-on accommodation. It is about persuading the people who refuse to come off the street with that offer and about tackling the reasons why they are on the street. Any expert in outreach would tell us that it is about tackling those causes.
I am proud to be involved in and a member of the Kerslake Commission, for which St Mungo’s is the secretariat. I have seen the first draft of the report, which is coming out in a couple of weeks’ time. It is one of the most collaborative pieces of research on homelessness and rough sleeping that I have ever seen, and I hope the Minister will welcome the abundance of recommendations coming his way in the next couple of weeks. What I have so far learned from taking part in the Kerslake Commission, which was UK-wide and involved charities and local authorities across the country, is that we all believe in one thing: we can, by working together, tackle rough sleeping and resolve it for good.
Many hon. Members have mentioned the issue of funding. As I said, this Government have probably put more into rough sleeping than any other Government for decades—that is the right thing to do—but it is about longer-term funding. I know from being responsible for commissioning services in Westminster that we need to know as much as possible years in advance. It is does not necessarily work to have a funding stream for a year; we need at least three years. We need to be able to commission services, and if we are to tackle the long-term reasons why people find themselves on the street, we need those services to be there for at least three years. Again, my plea to the Minister is for longer-term funding.
If we do not come together on this matter, we will continue to see people on the streets night in, night out. At the latest count, there were 171 rough sleepers in Westminster, which is much lower than in previous years, showing that we are working together and that the “Everyone In” strategy has had a longer-term effect. The vast majority of those still sleeping on the street do not tend to be British; they tend to be from eastern Europe. We also need to look at how local authorities—not just in London, but across the country—can work with people who do not have any recourse to public funds, which is an ongoing issue. Any local authority or charity that works in rough sleeping would tell us that.
I pay tribute to the brilliant organisations that I have mentioned, including Hotel School, a scheme set up by the Passage and Jeremy Goring of the Goring Hotel. They understand that if we are to help people off the street and turn their lives around, tackle their mental ill-health and addiction issues—the reasons why they are on the street—and give them a place to live, they also need skills and the ability to find a job. Hotel School, which is based in my constituency, is about doing that. It brings together hotels such as the Goring, the Ritz and others to provide real training, and jobs afterwards. I would love for the Minister to join me on a visit to Hotel School in the near future, so that he can see what the private sector and charities such as the Passage are doing together.
I have probably gone on for quite a long time now, Ms Rees, but as you can probably tell I am passionate about this subject. If I do nothing else in my time in Parliament, I hope that I can secure the repeal of the Vagrancy Act and, equally importantly, its replacement with the legislation, services and approach that will tackle rough sleeping once and for all. I really think we can do that, and from what I can see—and I have seen a lot of Governments in Westminster in my time in this role—if any Government can do it, it is this Government.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken), and I thank her for bringing her insight and expertise to this debate. I also thank the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) for securing this important debate.
Having somewhere to call home, somewhere to sleep and somewhere we can feel safe is the very least that each of us should hope to secure in our lives. We all have a duty to work together to eradicate the scourge of rough sleeping. As has been said, there has been good progress and the pandemic prompted a renewed focus on the issue, but of course there is always more to be done. A sensible, partnership approach between the third sector, local authorities and the Scottish Government meant a move away from night shelter provision and led to the “Ending Homelessness Together” action plan, and that work has benefited from £50 million of additional funding.
In Scotland, rough sleeping is at a record low and frontline teams offering support to those who might need it, particularly during the pandemic, have done a sterling job. The priority of keeping people safe and housing those with no settled home in emergency accommodation was a public health imperative during the pandemic, which is why the Scottish Government awarded £1.5 million to third sector organisations to assist them in their work of securing accommodation for that emergency provision. However, we must continue that as we move through recovery, as the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon and others who have spoken have indicated. To that end, the Scottish Government have launched their “Housing to 2040” strategy—a renewed commitment to ending rough sleeping and homelessness for good.
The emphasis must be on prevention of rough sleeping, and that means that the necessary support structures must be in place to support people in their homes. That means working with third sector organisations, landlords, local authorities and a range of other services to support those at risk of homelessness, for whatever reason. As was mentioned earlier, some of those who sleep rough may have complex needs and may require a lot of support in a lot of ways. As a society, we have to be prepared to help them through that.
But all that work is taking place against a much more challenging background, and it would be remiss of me not to mention the policy of no recourse to public funds, which leaves some people with no access to basic essential services, putting those affected at real risk of housing insecurity and homelessness. We cannot underestimate the impact that removing the £20 universal credit uplift will have on households who are already struggling and teetering on the financial edge. The Scottish child payment is the Scottish Government’s attempt to target support at the most financially challenged, but that will be wiped out by the abolition of the universal credit uplift. I urge the Minister to use his influence and good offices to encourage the United Kingdom Government to think again on that policy.
The freeze on local housing allowance rates from April will push people further into poverty and increase the risk of homelessness for many. The Scottish Government’s discretionary housing payment spend is around £82 million for 2021-22. That is an important investment used by councils to safeguard tenancies and prevent homelessness. Alongside that, the much-hated bedroom tax has been fully mitigated in Scotland, helping 70,000 households to sustain their tenancies, but of course challenges remain. I hope that best practice will be shared across the UK as each part of the UK works to eliminate this social scourge—this social blight. It does not matter where it is working. Whatever works is what matters, and we should all be sharing the best practice that we are using to tackle this issue.
Progress has been made on rough sleeping and homelessness. I am sure we all welcome the renewed focus on that, which the pandemic prompted, but we must look at the fabric of our society and how we build a more inclusive society, so that we can envisage a time when homelessness and rough sleeping become part of our past. At its heart, tackling rough sleeping and homelessness is fundamentally about the kind of society that we want to build. If tackling this issue is about anything, it is about asking ourselves what kind of country we want to live in. Dealing with it requires concerted effort around supporting tenancies, the welfare system, and supporting families who are struggling through these times in the range of ways I have indicated.
We can never be comfortable with homelessness and rough sleepers in our communities and on our streets. We must all work together to address this issue and ensure that it is no longer part of our society; we must envisage a future in which it does not happen. Rough sleepers and homelessness are hard evidence, if we need it, that our support systems have failed or are inadequate. We must have systems that are comprehensive and flexible to assist those most at risk. Supporting people in their tenancies allows them to go on to live full, productive lives and to contribute to their community. We will all be better off for that. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response on the further progress we can make on co-operation across the United Kingdom, so that we can work together to solve this.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, I think, Ms Rees. I congratulate the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) on securing this vital debate and speaking consistently and passionately about the need to end rough sleeping. I also praise hon. Members from both sides of the political divide for talking about the value of the third sector and volunteers, whether it is Crisis, Shelter or local charities, and advocating the need for Housing First and making sure it is implemented using a sustainable model. I thank the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) for her consistent campaigning for the repeal of the Vagrancy Act 1824. Of course, there will be advocates of that in the Opposition. I look forward to the Minister’s answer on that subject.
Before the pandemic, people sleeping rough on our streets was a visible sign—a shameful sign—of failure for Governments and society. That includes the many people that the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster referred to. On my walk to my flat last night, I saw that visible sign: people have started to reappear, rough sleeping in alleyways and doorways. After a decade of austerity before the pandemic, we have twice as many rough sleepers as we had 10 years ago; that is a fact. Tragically, 976 homeless people—human beings—lost their lives in 2020.
Not having shelter and the necessary wraparound services that hon. Members have referred to is literally a matter of life and death. The hopes and aspirations that we all share just disappear without those wraparound services. More than 2,500 people slept rough last autumn. The figures cause considerable debate and give policymakers and service providers only a snapshot of the level of need at any given time. I hope the Minister can elaborate on how the Government intend to provide more accurate and robust figures in the future. I know that Crisis has been advocating for that for some time.
When covid-19 hit, the Government promised councils that they would do “whatever it takes”. Local authorities were asked by Ministers to ensure that those sleeping on our streets or in high-risk accommodation were supported into safer accommodation. It seemed to take a national and international health pandemic to gain the focused political will to provide shelter and tackle homelessness, but I pay credit to the Government and all the supporting agencies in the third sector for doing so. Councils and partners up and down the country, including in my own patch—Cheshire West and Chester and Halton councils—should rightfully be praised for all their work in getting people off the streets in extremely challenging circumstances for us all.
Despite that work, I fear that the Government have quietly started to roll back the support of the “Everyone In” programme—a move highlighted by Dame Louise Casey, who resigned from her post as the leader of the Government’s rough sleeping taskforce. She is the very same person who helped successfully to reduce rough sleeping under the previous Labour Government some time ago. Shelter says that now almost three quarters of the people helped through the “Everyone In” programme—almost 30,000 people—have not moved into settled accommodation. Minister, we require a sustainable solution. Meanwhile, the freeze of the local housing allowance and the end of the eviction ban mean that many more people risk being pushed on to the streets, as workers in rented accommodation still relying on furlough or currently in arrears risk losing their home.
Homelessness is not inevitable. The Government’s manifesto stated that they had the ambition to end rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament, but the refusal to address some of the fundamental causes of homelessness—the interdependency of public services that refer to mental health services and social services, for example—means that we could be getting back to business as usual, with people starting to appear back on the streets. I hope that the Minister and the Government can prove me and others wrong.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his speech, but does he also recognise that over the pandemic, charities have had an extremely difficult time with funding? Across the board, charities have £10 billion less now than they had at the start of the pandemic. We are likely to see significant cuts in local authority funding, too. That is the biggest threat to the ability to resettle people safely.
My hon. Friend is exactly right about that interdependency, not only of the state, whether regional or local, but of charities. I am sure that the Minister will refer to it when summing up.
Housing and people—the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon referred to people being at the heart of this—should come first. That should be the foundation on which to build better lives. Housing First, however, does not seem to be part of the Government’s—or, should I say, of the Treasury’s—stated mission to “Build Back Better”. Instead, the response to housing during the pandemic and as we transition out of it seems to be a story of half measures, repeating mistakes similar to some of those of the past 10 years, with the austerity to which my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) referred.
If I look at some of the Housing First pilots, our metro Mayors are leading the way, whether it is Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester, Steve Rotheram in Liverpool City Region or, indeed, Andy Street. Those pilots have been successful. I declare an interest, in that I used to work for Andy Burnham, but he talks about an 87% tenancy sustainment rate, and Andy Street uses similar figures. I know that they have certainly been speaking to the Minister. I hope that they help. Indeed, I hope that Treasury Ministers can see the light, and that investment in people and Housing First would create an overall cost saving over time. I wish the Minister well with that argument.
We need to look more at the underlying problems of rough sleeping. The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster referred to that. There is a need for mobile, flexible mental health services, but of course they have been cut, particularly in the last decade. There is an interdependency there.
We must also ensure strong investment in building council and housing association homes. Social house building has almost ground to a halt under Conservative Governments. The number of homes for social rent built in England stood at just under 6,700 in 2019-20, compared with almost 40,000 in 2010-11. The Government risk that figure being further reduced by the scheme that provides half of those homes under their long-awaited planning reforms, which may come somewhere down the line. The Minister, who, like me, came into politics shaped by experiences in a housing association, knows that socially owned homes provide a real foundation for stability for growing families. Social housing is affordable.
The Government’s ambition is to build 300,000 homes a year—I think we built around 244,000. However, the only time we have had a successful house building programme—way back in history, back through successive Governments—was when social housing was a fundamental part of the mix. It was not the only element—market-led housing always leads the way, and that should be regulated more effectively—but we need to step things up on social housing.
Reforming our broken private rented sector will also be key if the Government want to get serious and prioritise preventing rough sleeping and homelessness. The Government could have used the Queen’s Speech to drive through the long-awaited reforms of the private sector and abolishing section 21. I hope that the Minister will confirm exactly when that will happen—the day and the month—in his response. I look forward to that reply.
I mentioned seeing, last night while walking home, the visible signs of a re-emergence of people sleeping rough on our streets. It is somebody’s son, daughter, sister, grandfather or gran huddled in a doorway, sometimes hidden down an alley, but without a roof over their head to call home. The right to shelter and a good home should be a basic human right for everybody, regardless of whether they have access to public funds, which was a point well made by the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster. My plea to the Minister and the Government is to ensure that “Everyone In” continues and becomes a permanent feature of that ambition to end rough sleeping for good.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees, but more importantly, it is a pleasure to see you not just at 6 o’clock in the morning at the gym, which is where I am more used to seeing you.
My apologies, Ms Rees.
I thank the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) for securing the debate. We may be few in number in Westminster Hall, given that other important things are going on in the Chamber, but we are all committed to the cause. Generally, this has been a largely unpolitical debate—sometimes the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) and the SNP draw us more towards the political element of the discussion, but perhaps that is no surprise. It feels to me that in this room we have a bunch of people who are committed to this cause, regardless of political affiliation. That is a nice place to be.
We have half an hour, and although it is not my intention to use all that time, a slightly less formal approach might be warranted in the discussion. For example, the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon mentioned Aspire in her opening speech. One of the things I find critical in my role is that we do not make services and do things to people, we do things with them, and an important part of that is to speak to those people who have experience of the rough sleeping system. I believe 30% of Aspire staff are in that position. It is incredibly important that it is not just a bunch of civil servants or MPs in London creating the policies, but that we are making sure that we take account of the people on the ground who know what they are talking about.
On the issue of support at a time that works, as a Minister, during the summer I had the opportunity to go out and about round the country, and I went to Fairmount Lodge in Shipley. Through the rough sleeping accommodation programme, a building that was originally built in the early 1900s is now converted into one-bedroom and two-bedroom flats, and co-located in the building is the local support service, so that people can access care at the time they need it. There is a concierge on site 24 hours a day, to protect the flow in and out of the building so that inappropriate people are not coming in. Care and support is brought into the site from other groups, such as drug and alcohol abuse support organisations, so we are not sending people out to appointments that we expect them to attend all the time.
Members have mentioned the “Everyone In” programme, which provided, for example, the opportunity to make sure that people saw dentists or GPs for the first time. We held events where I have been joined by, for example, the vaccine Minister. Some people said it was the first time they had seen Health and rough sleeping Ministers attending meetings together. Let us hope that in the future we develop the appreciation that homelessness and rough sleeping are about not just the absence of a home, but the health requirements that go with that.
Not far from Shipley, in Leeds, St George’s Crypt provides crisis accommodation for people rough sleeping and has built a number of houses on a similar model, providing wraparound services. The houses are low carbon. It has been able to get assistance from the social investment sector. What more can be done to provide asset funding to organisations to build this sort of housing to move people on from rough sleeping into that type of accommodation?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. That sounds like an innovative method of providing houses. We have our flagship rough sleeping accommodation programme, with the intention to provide up to 6,000 new homes by the end of this Parliament. Significant progress has already been made. The programme is not simply providing the capital for the homes and the fabric of the buildings, but the support that I think we have all recognised is so important. We would be kidding ourselves if we were to expect people who have previously had chaotic lifestyles to immediately sustain a tenancy.
Several Members have mentioned Housing First. The hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) mentioned graciously the various Mayors who have been involved in the programme. I was delighted when Andy Street became Mayor, as the first thing he did was to convene people to address homelessness and rough sleeping in the west midlands. At the time, I was working for YMCA Birmingham, a charity supporting previously homeless young people. It seemed like a really emblematic moment for him to take that lead. This is not a political point. Andy Burnham has also done incredible work—not least, I am sure, because his campaign had the political support of the hon. Member for Weaver Vale to help secure that position in the first place. To push the non-partisan theme, I am hoping to meet up with Andy Burnham at the Conservative party conference, of all places, to discuss how we might continue to work together.
However, the Housing First scheme is not perfect. While I am a keen, enthusiastic supporter, I would not like it to be held up as a completely perfect scheme. For example, there were reservations from some housing associations over committing property to the scheme. Subsequently, now that some have engaged and seen how the scheme works, I think they are warming to it and, after that initial delay, are coming forward with more properties. As it is a housing-led project, it obviously needs to ensure that it has the homes before it can put people in them and provide them with support.
Through things like a combination of the rough sleeping accommodation programme and the rough sleeping initiative, we get a good element of the same sort of principle. I fully appreciate that keen advocates of Housing First will talk about fidelity—the purism of its approach—but we can still achieve giving somebody a home and providing them with support.
On the rough sleeping initiative, I would seek a point of clarification, and I think that many council officers would also be desperate for a clear answer on this. Councils received letters from the Government saying that, because of the rough sleeping initiative, they should end all “Everyone In” programmes, and, in particular, the use of hotels. Meanwhile, they have heard elsewhere from Government that the “Everyone In” scheme is still ongoing.
That has caused huge amounts of confusion, not least in my own area in Oxford, and other councils have also contacted me, desperate for an answer. My question is: has “Everyone In” now stopped completely, or are councils still allowed to use money to put people in hotels, or was that letter not saying the right thing?
I would say that “Everyone In” continues; we still have people who are in emergency accommodation. However, we also need to appreciate that “Everyone In” is not a sustainable approach. It was fantastic that, during the height of a pandemic, we were able to move people into emergency accommodation, but the type of accommodation that many of those people were moved into is, by its very nature, not something we would expect people to stay in for a sustained period.
I make no apology for constantly referring to my time with YMCA, but we would have had a range of accommodation. With off-the-street accommodation, we had a 72-bed hostel, but would then move people through a system where they were supported in accommodation until, eventually, they were in a position to perhaps gain employment and support a tenancy on their own.
We still have people in emergency accommodation; I do not think that councils will be pressured to get people out because, for some reason, it is coming to an end. The pressuring we are doing over moving people on is around moving them to more stable, permanent accommodation, which is appropriate to their needs.
The problem with the step process, though, is that those people who do not want to go into a hostel do not get on to that first step, and therefore remain on the street. In light of that, what steps can the Minister take to try to encourage local authorities—or even provide for local authorities—to release housing for Housing First?
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention, but I would suggest that the question is slightly more nuanced. If, for the sake of argument, I was running a hostel that people did not want to come into, I would be questioning why that was the case. As I have moved around the country, I have seen excellent examples of accommodation which people feel is safer, more secure and more appropriate than sleeping on the street. If the hon. Lady has examples of hostels where she thinks that people do not feel that degree of comfort, I would be happy to work with her and look at that with my team. We should be ensuring that all accommodation of this type, for particularly vulnerable people, is appropriate.
To run through some of the other things the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon said regarding scrapping the Vagrancy Act, my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster reminded us what the Secretary of State said previously: we do have quite a busy legislative programme. It is almost amusing to me that it feels like we have barely had the previous Queen’s Speech, and already the hon. Member for Weaver Vale is talking about the next one. We have reviewed the Act, and are considering what action to take. We do not want to get rid of an Act and find that there is an unintended consequence; some useful element that we have thrown in the bin, but which we in this room would not be keen on losing.
With regards to long-term funding: the upcoming spending review is something way above my pay grade. However, it is something that I am contributing to as somebody who has experienced the vagaries of waiting for funding settlements in order to employ staff, and, unfortunately, as someone who has even had staff leave because they felt their position was insecure. We would all accept that, like the rest of us, the Chancellor has been through a pretty dramatic 18 months. We are moving into a more settled position thanks to the success of the vaccine rollout, and the economy seems to be getting back on its feet. Hopefully, the Chancellor feels suitably reassured and is able to give us a couple of years’ funding to provide that certainty.
With regards to a refreshed strategy, I am delighted to have spent a considerable amount of time discussing with Ministers in other Departments what they need to contribute to help us reach the ambition of ending rough sleeping during the lifetime of this Parliament. We have seen some fantastic schemes, such as work done with the Ministry of Justice on the accommodation and settlement of prisoners when they come out of prison—a very delicate time to ensure that they do not automatically reoffend and go back in.
In the interests of working together and learning from one another—which is very important on an issue like this—regarding the Minister’s understandable comments about the unintended consequences of the abolition of the Vagrancy Act, he may wish to look at the Scottish example. This Act has been abolished in Scotland for decades. He may wish to look at how that has worked, and see if it can be applied to England.
The Minister has raised the issue of people leaving the criminal justice system. I have been particularly concerned that many of the reasons why women, in particular, end up in the criminal justice system are due to the fact that they have been exploited on the streets, and they do not have a safe base. Within his programme, would he look at some of those issues so that we see a more preventive programme in place to protect women?
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. I have had some discussions with the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), on this subject. It is a theme that I will continue to come back to.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart) touched on a theme that is incredibly important: it is not just about the Government doing stuff. There are an awful lot of organisations in this field—sometimes they are almost bumping into one another. The idea that she might convene those people to secure a collective aim, so that they are all working together efficiently and effectively, is an incredibly important one. She also touched on the problems of family and relationship breakdown; one of the areas for which I am responsible as a Minister is the Supporting Families programme, for which I am an incredible enthusiast and advocate. During the summer I have seen councils putting that programme into action across the country. Early interventions to support people who are experiencing multiple difficulties, trying to ensure that the family stays stable, provide an incredibly important contribution.
Going back to York Central, the charities there are outstanding. Having worked for one, I fully appreciate the work they do, and I admire and respect the work that the hon. Member for York Central does in this field. We have seen some incredible work, such as the transformation fund, which is money we have given to charities so they can transform their provision. It sometimes seems to be the most efficient spend, because for small charities, every pound counts, so when they get some money from the Government they make sure they spend it effectively. Amen to the charity field.
I am looking forward to going out for a walk around the streets with my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster, or “TwoCitiesNickie” as I think of her because of her Twitter handle, although I appreciate that is inappropriate here. We will be going out to have a look around. Strangely, I thought I completely understood the rough sleeping sector and those who provided support, but my view was from the west midlands. Then I came down to London. My hon. Friend represents an area that has three times as many rough sleepers as the next two boroughs in the list. That gives us a keen appreciation of the problem. It has been a real pleasure for me to benefit from her experience and to visit organisations such as the Passage with her to see the excellent work that they do. I am looking forward to going out with her next week at night for a look around so that I can understand first-hand the service provision available.
I am very happy to learn from whatever is going on in Scotland. It is great to hear about the success that there has been—prevention is key, clearly. I want to touch on a couple of points that the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran mentioned. No recourse to public funds sometimes can be a catch-all phrase that does not apply to the people we are talking about. During the summer I visited other organisations, and saw people in London, for example, who employ their own solicitor to help people regularise their immigration status and then secure funds. I appreciate that sometimes navigating that system is not easy—it is complex, which is why the Home Office is offering surgeries to help people navigate their way through what can be a very difficult process. I would also make a minor political point: sometimes, it is impossible for us to regularise people’s immigration status, and sometimes they do not have the support networks they would need in this country, so helping them to reconnect with family and friends in their country of origin is an appropriate solution to the problem, and we have done that in some cases.
I thank everyone who has contributed to the debate today. It has felt warm and non-partisan, and I am sure our collective discussions will continue in the months and years ahead. With regard to the point made during the opening speech about this Government’s commitment to end rough sleeping, it is clearly absolute. We are committing significant resources to it and working incredibly hard, with experts and councils and councillors up and down the country. I think that our collective effort will help us to achieve that goal.
First, I warmly thank all hon. Members who have contributed to the debate today. As many have said, and as I know, there are other Members of the House in all political parties who feel as strongly as we do. I agree with the Minister that there is not a paper between us on where we want to end up; however, there is a genuine debate to be had about how we get there.
The support for Housing First is welcome, but equally welcome is the Minister’s acceptance that nothing is perfect, nothing is a panacea. In some parts of the country—in the south-east, for example, where there are only 255 Housing First places—we need to work out how we can unlock that housing. I am genuinely concerned about the planning Bill and the impact it will have on councils’ ability to deliver the policy. It feels a little like one hand of the Government does not know what the other is doing. We need to make sure the actions are joined up. I have other concerns about the planning Bill—that is just one of them—but they are not a matter for this debate.
Regarding the Vagrancy Act, I thank the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) for the work that she and others do on that. I am hopeful that we will get a positive result in the next few years, but—to push the Minister gently on this—I do not believe that new legislation is needed. The example from Scotland and the legal advice obtained by Crisis and others show that there is already provision in law, and in large swathes of the country local police have decided not to use the Vagrancy Act at all. That shows that already in England the Act is not needed. I understand the precautionary principle, but it has been proved that we do not need it, so just get rid of it.
I will end by asking the Minister for a favour. I mentioned that trust is an important part of this work. An innovative charity, the Mayday Trust, which I mentioned a few times, has come up with a programme that I genuinely believe is the answer to that final 10% we have been talking about today. Will he consider meeting me and the trust, so that we showcase that important work?
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered ending rough sleeping.