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Homeless Young People

Volume 597: debated on Wednesday 10 February 1999

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6 p.m.

rose to call attention to the case for an appropriate range of effective services to meet the needs of homeless young people under the age of 25; and to move for Papers.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I thank my fellow Cross-l3enchers for allowing me this debate. It is important and timely. The number of 16 and 17 year-olds making use of Centrepoint's emergency London shelter in Soho for 16 to 25 year-olds has increased by 10 per cent. in the past five years. Over 50 per cent. of its residents in 1997 were under 18.

My experience of working with young people has been on housing estates in the boroughs of Southwark, Greenwich, and Kensington and Chelsea. Since Christmas, I have worked as a volunteer one evening a week in a winter hostel for homeless people under the age of 25.

Who are the young homeless, and why are they homeless? They are the young people who sleep rough on the streets, who live in short-stay hostels, bed-and-breakfast or other temporary accommodation, or who sleep on friends' floors. They are homeless because they have come out of care, the armed services or prison without a home to move into or are too institutionalised to keep one. They are homeless because they have been sexually or physically abused by their families or because a step-parent does not feel obliged to house a step-child past the age of 16. They are homeless because they are mentally ill or have behavioural problems which make living with others hard. They are homeless because they are political or economic migrants or because their family has difficulty supporting itself or because they have no academic qualifications to enable them to find the work to pay the rent. Some are homeless because they have had one of those family arguments that are part of adolescence and should simply return home. For others, those family disputes are insuperable.

In addition to the various particular reasons for homelessness among young people, there are three widely agreed general factors: the availability of housing, employment and benefits. The availability of affordable accommodation has plummeted since the 1950s. The private sector has shrunk from 25 per cent. of the housing stock in 1966 to 8 per cent. in 1991, a problem which has been increased by the flight from rentals to young people following the introduction of the single room rent. Many homeless people have difficulty in reading and writing and have few skills that are useful in the modern labour market. The Social Security Act 1988 removed automatic benefit entitlement from 16 and 17 year-olds and reduced benefits to those under 25. The consequence of those factors is that young people are chasing too few homes with too little money.

Fortunately, government and volunteer organisations are rising to the challenge posed by youth homelessness. The previous Conservative government began the Rough Sleepers' Initiative in the early 1990s, funding charities to increase the capacity of their hostels, to go out to help homeless people on the streets and to help to establish them when homes are found. As a consequence, the number of rough sleepers in London has fallen from 2,000 a night at the start of the decade to about 400 today.

Voluntary organisations have originated a varied range of effective services. Sixteen year-olds who run from their family or care home can be referred to one of three national refuges. Those are run by charities such as Centrepoint, National Children's Home and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. They are tightly regulated and immensely costly for the charities to run. On arrival, the residents are put on a police list so that they are known to be safe. A child then has 14 days' breathing space before he or she must be either returned or referred on. One refuge manager explained that 10 per cent. of his charges had merely had a family row and were easily returned home; that 80 per cent. had more serious problems and might need professional counselling for themselves and their family to improve their situation; and that about 10 per cent. had been sexually or physically abused.

Listening to the child and trying to improve the family situation is indispensable; otherwise children will often make repeated flights and then become homeless after 16. The Children Act 1989 recognises that children should be listened to and their views taken seriously. However, it can take weeks to arrange an interview with a social worker. Will the Minister consider issuing a protocol to social work teams to ensure that children in refuges are seen well before those 14 days have elapsed?

At 16 and over, short-stay shelters are available in London and other cities. They provide young people with a bed, help with finding work, applying for benefits and obtaining temporary accommodation.

The Foyer has grown up to provide one helpful next step to independence. Eighty-one foyers provide accommodation for 4,200 young people nationwide. Their aim is to help young people who have been homeless or are at risk of homelessness into work and a permanent home. They achieve this by offering something akin to a student hall of residence, combined with a training and education centre and an employment agency. Residents sign a licence agreeing to obey the rules of the establishment and an agreement to meet certain training, education and employment goals.

The capital funding comes from various sources, including the Housing Corporation and the lottery while rent and to some extent services are met by housing benefit. The funding of training and education is the hardest to raise; the European Social Fund has been generous but will stop funding in 2002. One foyer manager made this plea: think about proper funding for staff, training and education before building new foyers. Managers are having to act as receptionists, clerks, and carers in addition to their all-important managerial role.

I should like to make the following important point. The average age for young people to leave home is 22. Most young homeless people exit well before this. They are still not full grown, no matter how tough they may pretend to be. Often they will have had unsatisfactory family relationships. Such young people benefit immensely from a good long-term relationship with a responsible adult. Where there are insufficient appropriately trained and experienced staff those trusting relationships cannot grow. It is very hard to explain to a young person who expects to be disappointed that one is too busy to see them.

The Social Exclusion Unit's very welcome report Rough Sleeping, of July last year shows that the Government appreciate the importance of those

relationships. The report suggests working with voluntary organisations to produce mentoring schemes, schemes by which an older person makes available his or her experience to a younger homeless person. Perhaps the Minister could say what response there has been to this suggestion.

The importance of such good supportive relationships is apparent in the excellent schemes for ensuring that when a flat is found for a young homeless person they manage to establish themselves there. In one London "floating support scheme", a new tenant is visited for a couple of hours each week by a settlement worker and helped in budgeting for expenses, advised on how to keep house, and reassured. Such support is necessary because young people often feel very lonely, removed from their friends of the street or hostel. They are also faced with the responsibility of running their own home for the first time. Without assistance, sometimes the blanket across the window and the broken pane remain permanent fixtures; rent is not paid and the young person returns to the streets with the added burden of rent arrears and a sense of failure.

There are many other services which have grown up to serve young homeless people. Here a medical practice geared to their needs; there a counselling service to help with depression to which young people can be prone. In London there is a drugs help project which not only offers assistance in its Soho premises but has its workers patrolling the streets persuading drug users that they should take help. These workers also regularly visit hostels to make themselves available to give advice to residents and are called on by the management of hostels to suggest ways of dealing with drug use. Similarly, family planning agencies provide an information service which visits hostels on a regular basis.

All these services need to be co-ordinated to be of effective good to their clients. The voluntary organisations realise this and have already begun working together. That is why, again, the Social Exclusion Unit's report on rough sleeping, was so very welcome. It recommended the formation of a body for London which would co-ordinate the work of government, local authorities and the voluntary sector. It recommended means for local authorities outside London better to co-ordinate services, which the new homelessness action programme is now providing. It also emphasised the need for a strategic approach to the problem of street homelessness and announced that Hilary Armstrong, the Minister responsible for local government and housing, would lead a ministerial committee to supply that.

The Government have also set up the youth homelessness action partnership to bring together senior members of central government, local government and the voluntary sector. Its purpose is to thoroughly understand the problem of youth homelessness and to ensure appropriate action. It is most helpful that the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions will be working with charities in this area to produce better, more authoritative statistics. Realistic figures for youth homelessness are notoriously difficult to obtain. Furthermore, the Government's New Deal scheme has also been made especially accessible to young homeless people. The normal waiting period of six months for the jobseeker's allowance has been waived for them.

It is certain that some will benefit immensely from the combination of advice, training and employment experience that the New Deal offers. Another initiative, the release of some capital receipts from the sale of council homes to build 60,000 new ones each year for the next three years, will also help some formerly homeless young people finally to establish themselves. Can the Minister say whether there are plans to reform the single-room rent which has driven so many private landlords away from renting to under 25 year-olds, so that more homes still can be made available?

The consultation paper Supporting People is also welcome for the possibility it offers of consistent funding for youth homelessness charities. Perhaps the Minister could reassure them that those whose residents come from many different local authorities will have to deal only with one regional authority for their area. The alternative is a costly administrative quagmire for those charities.

To conclude, young homeless people need all the support that we can give to see them through to their independence. As the Prime Minister said,

"The most vulnerable should not he left simply to fall through the cracks in the system or have the odds so heavily stacked against them".

I sincerely hope that the Minister will do all he can to ensure the provision of adequate services for the young homeless to reverse the current trend before it is too late. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

6.15 p.m.

My Lords, one of the most vulnerable groups of young people comprises those who have been in care. They often face great difficulty in finding suitable and affordable accommodation. Between one-third and one-quarter of rough sleepers have been looked after as children by local authorities. Young people who have had contact with the local authority care system are hugely over-represented in the homeless population. At a time when most young people are still receiving full family support, many 16 and 17 year-olds are leaving care with no safety net to fall back on. Some local authorities will not grant tenancies to 16 and 17 year-olds. Many are reluctant to give them priority on the waiting lists. Although legislation exists to protect homeless young 16 and 17 year-olds who are at risk, it often does not work. Young people often do not know where to go for help. They can and do end up falling through the net of advice and provision.

Services tend to be reactive and crisis based. Emergency housing placements are met which are inappropriate and break down quickly. This can be devastating for young people who have been in care, precisely because they usually do not have support networks to call upon.

The homeless legislation tends to be regarded as relevant primarily for families. But it is relevant to individuals. Most young people leaving care with no family or other back-up are vulnerable. They should be recognised as being in priority need. Too often that does not happen. Local housing authorities need to be reminded of their responsibilities in that respect.

These are responsibilities not only to provide housing. Housing departments must work with the social services and other agencies. Above all, advice and assistance must he provided in order to prevent homelessness. It is vital that everyone—young and not so young, including those who are single and who may not be in priority need or whose homelessness may not be deemed unintentional—should have ready access to the best information and advice about homelessness from local authorities and from services such as Shelterline. Authorities should adopt strategies to map out positive steps to improve access to help and services for young people, covering all their needs.

With the right help vulnerable young people, including care leavers who may not have a supportive family to fall back on in times of trouble, can not only obtain suitable accommodation, but also retain it and live independently and successfully. Providing the right sort of support to such young people is an important part of the process which will help them to participate fully in society. The recommendations in the Social Exclusion Unit's report on rough sleeping must be adopted. I am confident that the code of guidance on homelessness and allocations will be strengthened accordingly.

6.18 p.m.

My Lords, I believe that all Members of your Lordships' House will be grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for bringing this very important subject to the House tonight. We have not discussed young people for quite some time. To have a new young Peer instigate the debate is right and fitting.

I must declare an interest. I am not a young person, but I have had a great deal of experience dealing with young people. With my late husband I started a charity 33 years ago which I called Crisis at Christmas. Some noble Lords may have heard of it. It was started by young people for young people and other lonely people at Christmas. For 32 years we have looked after up to a thousand people for a whole week at Christmas time. We think that we have perhaps been able to make their Christmas happier than it would otherwise have been. I take a great interest in the charity and I am its life president. I try to keep as much in contact with it as I can.

I wonder how many noble Lords watched the programme on BBC2 last night. It is extraordinary that that programme should have been broadcast last night because we so rarely have the opportunity to see what people are doing on the ground to help people of all ages. It was an excellent programme. I could have watched it for some time. However, tonight we are discussing the age group which comprises people who are the most vulnerable of all in our society, and that is the under-25s and the over-16s. They are vulnerable because it has been established that they have spent their formative years in local authority care. That is not to decry the help that is given to them by local authorities, but I wish to draw attention to the fact that so many young people have nowhere to live. They have been thrown out of their homes for various reasons and they have nowhere to go.

I know that local authorities do their very best to bring up those people in a caring society. However, about 10,000 young people annually leave care. They have to leave when they are 17. It is estimated that in 1996 nationally the 16 to 21 age group were among the homeless. That is a great number of people. Why did they leave home? They did so because their parents had split up or because they were in trouble with the law. Over three-quarters of young homeless people are unemployed. Most of them are without qualifications. In these days when a piece of paper means that one is more likely to get a job, a qualification is an absolute essential.

Having left local authority care and having no parents to turn to, having lost the interest of local authority social workers, and having no job, where do people in this age group go when they have no accommodation? There is always a long queue of youngsters to take their place in doorways, under bridges and in cardboard boxes. We must show future generations that we care. We, the older people, must show that we care what happens to the youngsters. The Government must do something positive. The other day the Minister, Mr. Dobson, said that,
"children who have spent a significant time being looked after by the local authority should afterwards be given the kind of support that decent and responsible parents would give to their own children".
That was a wise and caring remark. I hope that he bears out what he says and acts soon. We have the snow and the ice outside. How many people are sleeping rough under bridges in the snow and the ice tonight? I hope that some of us, through the agencies that we represent, will be able to help these young people.

6.24 p.m.

My Lords, I also would like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, on his thoughtful introduction to this debate. It is absolutely right that we should be reminded that even as we discuss these matters there are young people out there who are homeless, and some who may be spending their first night alone in a big city, and some who may be fearful about their safety. However, the noble Earl has also reminded us that there are a number of people of good will who voluntarily give their time and energy to make contact with these young people and to offer them practical help and advice. I am sure that all Members of your Lordships' House will agree that our society is the richer because of the contributions of so many volunteers and we warmly acknowledge the part that they play.

The noble Earl and others have set out clearly the problems of homeless young people. In the time available I wish to concentrate on the special difficulties of young people leaving public care and support all that has been said by the noble Baronesses, Lady Goudie and Lady Macleod. It is significant that the first four speakers in the debate this evening have made special mention of the needs of young people leaving care. Tonight there are about 55,000 children and young people in public care who for a variety of reasons are not being looked after by their parents but by local authorities. For the time being each of these young people has to look to the state to be a good parent to them. Many of these young people will have experienced a great deal of disruption in their short lives. Some will have been abused and most will understandably be angry that they have been let down by the adults they looked to for care and protection.

As has been said, most of these young people will leave care at 16, or younger. Most will have no educational qualifications, limited personal skills, and probably no one to stand by them. Even the most educated and confident young people often need to fall back on their families for help and support, be it a word of praise or encouragement, a good meal or a clean shirt. The reality is that we expect the most from those young people with the least. Is it any wonder that young people leaving public care are among the most vulnerable members of our communities, exposed to danger, drug and alcohol abuse, exploitation and delinquency?

As has been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, the Secretary of State for Health in another place established a ministerial task force to tackle this problem. I commend to your Lordships most warmly the report on children's safeguards. I hope that as many noble Lords as possible will be able to study this report. At the launch last November the Secretary of State said,
"Children in care make up 0.5 per cent. of the child population. Young men who have been in care form 22 per cent. of the prison population. They make up 39 per cent. of prisoners under 21 years old. I in 3 of the people sleeping rough in London were once in care".
That helpful report emphasises that when a local authority takes on the parental role this should be its first responsibility. An effective leaving care plan is a vitally important part of that task. The report sets out a large number of recommendations. I should be grateful if the Minister could give us an assurance that action is being taken especially by the departments of government with lead responsibilities in these areas.

I should declare an interest in that I chair an advisory group on a leaving care project which is a partnership between the Prince's Trust and the Camelot Foundation. This project is developing and supporting mentoring schemes for young people leaving care. It has been a real joy to see the response from people of good will across the whole of society, and covering a wide age range, who are now volunteering to help these young people at a critical time in their lives. People are being recruited from industry and commerce, from churches and voluntary organisations, and concerned individuals are willing to give their time to take a personal interest in the welfare of a young person. They are helping them with literacy, numeracy, and everything from computer science to fishing and pigeon racing.

The important thing for these young people is that someone with ability believes in them and cares about them. This often makes a difference between the development of self-esteem and confidence, or drifting into a life of crime. I hope that the Minister will give his support to mentoring and to those organisations which are developing support for young people as they leave care.

6.30 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, not only on moving this Motion but also him on an outstanding and encouraging speech. It showed all the marks of commitment and growing experience which, to an old campaigner, is particularly welcome.

I speak as chairman of the Children's Society and as co-president of the English Churches Housing Group. I was very keen to speak in this debate. I have already apologised to the Minister for the fact that I may have to leave before it is concluded as there are not many trains deep into Somerset late at night.

The Churches, in their national and local institutions, in partnership and in local parishes, together with individuals, have long been concerned about the plight and needs of all homeless people, and young people in particular. In fact, January 31st this year was designated "Homelessness Sunday", which was observed ecumenically to draw attention to the problem. Some 2,000 churches marked the day in some way. In my own diocese of Bath and Wells, a number of events took place.

Homelessness is not, as is sometimes thought, just an urban phenomenon, as I experienced it in East London for many years; it is a real problem in rural areas too, where lack of public transport and difficult access to employment can also exclude young people.

In Shepton Mallet, for example, a cardboard city was set up recently and a number of people took part in a sleep-out to draw attention to this issue. I can speak from personal experience of such a sleep-out at Westminster Cathedral. Even to spend one night on the pavements in plastic bags and boxes is really very hard. In fact my Roman Catholic Bishop colleague at one point in the middle of the night turned to me and said "I shall never forget this if I live to remember it".

The volunteers of Shepton Mallet Housing Association run a hostel which has been open for six years. During that time it has housed no fewer than 85 youngsters. We must always remember how much can be achieved by local enthusiasm, local commitment, co-operation and partnership.

I was especially pleased to open the Foyer Project in Yeovil with the right honourable Member of Parliament for that constituency. Our diocese declared redundant a church building which had been isolated in the town centre development. In partnership—again that word—with housing associations, the local authority and other groups, in an imaginative and impressive project, converted it into a resource for young people, offering them accommodation and job training. I emphasise that all that was done, but the real concern is the continuing funding and how that money can be raised and secured.

Research shows that the rise in youth homelessness has been one of the main features of the changing face of homelessness over the past two decades. The Department of the Environment noted that in 1981 the typical single homeless person was a male in his late 40s or older. By 1991 the majority of single homeless people were young people. It is particularly worrying to note the increase in numbers of homeless young women and girls.

In seeking ways to improve this truly shocking state of affairs, it is important to be aware of the major causes of homelessness. Most homeless young people say that they have left home because of household conflicts. Our Children's Society report, Running the Risk, showed that young people have experienced high levels of disruption, lack of support networks, and being cut off from the education system. Together with household conflict, these were the main causes of their leaving home in the first place. As we have just heard, it is estimated that one-third of homeless youngsters are estimated to have come from local authority care.

These young people are especially vulnerable, with significant levels of substance abuse, self-harm, depression and criminal offending, aggravated by fear and sometimes by assaults, and of course prostitution. I particularly welcome the Government's recent steps to treat young prostitutes as victims and not as criminals.

We have an example which confirms some of these facts in relation to New Age travellers. The Children's Society is involved in a number of projects in Somerset with homeless young people, including a participation project in Bath. Successive research carried out by the project in the west country has shown that 50 per cent. of New Age travellers were homeless prior to going on the road. So, for members of this group at least, becoming a traveller has been seen as a viable housing option.

It would appear that domestic problems like family breakdown are responsible for a high proportion of youth homelessness. There needs to be an examination of the financial impact of government policies as they affect young people—for example, the payment of the jobseeker's allowance at a lower rate until the age of 25, as has been mentioned, and the restrictions on housing benefit payments on the under-25s, cannot make it easier for young people facing housing difficulties. One policy change in particular, mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, would make a significant difference to smoothing the transition of young people into independent accommodation: that is, reform of the single-room rent restriction on housing benefit. Changes introduced in 1996 mean that young people under 25 can only receive housing benefit up to a maximum of the single-room rent, the amount set by the rent office as the average cost of accommodation in a shared house in the area.

A report by the National Rent Deposit Forum and the Catholic Housing Aid Society, published last June, showed that the effect of this on young people is considerable. Shared housing is often unsuitable especially for vulnerable young people. Often it does not provide adequate stability for their needs. As we have heard, as a result of this single-room rent provision, many private landlords no longer offer accommodation to under-25s.

In addition to measures to assist young people in obtaining and sustaining suitable independent housing, efforts should also be made to help those experiencing difficulties at home—if not to remain there, then to leave in a constructive and planned manner when absolutely necessary. There should be a great deal more family mediation and counselling, as well as development of local services, to achieve that smooth transition from home to independence.

Before I finish, I should like to mention one other scheme, a project in Norwich, carried out in partnership with other agencies. The Milestone Youth Build Scheme enables young people between the ages of 18 and 25 to be involved in building their own flats. The programme lasts for 12 months. Training takes place on site and in college, and successful participants gain an NVQ at the end of the scheme. That seems to me to be a very good example of the sort of self-help that can be set up if charities, government and housing associations form partnerships that will help them.

There is a great deal still to be done, but I am grateful for all that is done by volunteers and voluntary agencies throughout our society. I hope that the Government will do all that they can to help them.

6.39 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, wish to thank the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for introducing this debate on such an important subject. Unfortunately, it has been a tremendously well-informed debate up to now; I have already had to score two good quotations out of my speech. I pity noble Lords who speak at the end of the list.

It is estimated that some 2,500 young people sleep on the streets at some time each year. As your Lordships leave the Palace of Westminster this evening, and gather your great coats around you, it may well be worth thinking about the young people who are sleeping out tonight. Although nearly all rough sleepers are homeless, by no means are all homeless people rough sleepers. There are also many who squat with friends or live in refuges or hostels. A recent survey showed that in each of seven major UK cities about 5 per cent. of 16 to 18 year-olds are homeless. Research shows that most homeless young people do not just "walk out" of home. They are either thrown out or forced out.

The noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, and the noble Lord, Lord Laming, both referred to the 30 per cent. of homeless young people who have come from local authority care. That is a devastating indictment of local authority care. Forty per cent. have been abused. a minority have mental health problems and others have alcohol and drug dependency problems. A significant proportion are women.

I should like to quote from the report of the Home and Away Project, to which I hope to refer later, which describes the kind of young people who are coming to it for help:
"A high proportion of young people who lack the basic wherewithal to make sense of everyday routine tasks is extremely high and worrying. Some cope by having well developed means of survival while others are at such a level of disadvantage that one is left wondering how they have remained safe for any period without a responsible carer. This group of young people appears to have gone through various systems without formal recognition of their vulnerability being made. Unfortunately, these are the young people who invariably get caught up within the criminal system before we are able successfully to help them to develop an alternative".
The vast majority of homeless young people are the victims of their families: families who cannot or will not support them; families which are so dysfunctional because of violence, alcohol or abuse in one form or another that young people feel they have to leave. There is also the problem of reconstituted families where a step-parent, a mother's lover, or whoever it may be, makes them feel they are not wanted. Only about 5 per cent, of young people walk away from the family willingly.

Let us look a little more closely at these family problems. The noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, referred to the great family of children in care. I would suggest that the care system has to be redesigned and funded in such a way that it does not just look after children but has the resources and skills to rehabilitate them, prepare them for adult life and then help them to make the transition to adult life.

One of the issues we have to face in the context of homeless people is that the Government appear to be quite unclear as to how 16 and 17 year-olds are expected to be financed. The previous government introduced arrangements for the tax and benefits system which implied that families would support them. But no one has ever said clearly that families had the duty to support them. I shall come later to some suggestions on that matter.

When older people today were 16, they were able to earn money and so were expected to contribute to the housekeeping, even if it was only £10 a week. They are now parents and they do not understand why their young people cannot contribute in the same way. However, the reality of our technological society is that 16 and 17 year-olds are not ready to contribute and are not ready to be earners. Either they are in training or in education or else they are in such a no-hope situation that they have rejected both training and education and are unemployable. There is a need for us, society, to decide who is supposed to pay for these people and what will be the system by which they receive the funding they need just to live.

I do not want to enlarge on the problem of abuse within the family but I should point out that we are not talking only about sexual abuse but also about physical abuse, constant verbal abuse and disparagement, and violence between the parents which sometimes the children are obliged to watch. There are many reasons why such abuse occurs.

There is a real problem with reconstituted families. One report I have read describes them as parents "living a new script with a new partner" who does not want a resentful, stroppy teenager around. Children of reconstituted families are particularly vulnerable to abuse. I would suggest to the Minister that the Government address the question of whether the cost of dealing with homelessness is greater or less than the cost of dealing with the problems caused by homelessness. Those problems are likely to be lifelong dependency on the state, poor health and all the problems associated with having nothing to do—crime, drugs, alcohol, and irresponsible parenthood.

Perhaps I may suggest some short-term solutions. Several noble Lords have said—I do not want to waste time repeating it—that each person needs the support a normal family gives. Each young person needs a shoulder to lean on—perhaps a shoulder to cry on—and someone to listen. That is far more important that more bricks and mortar. Perhaps I may quote the report of the Social Exclusion Unit on rough sleeping. It stated:
"What most homeless young people want above all is a fresh start in life—a job, a home and the confidence to re-establish contact with family and friends or start again from scratch. But many lack basic skills and most need intensive support to make the transition from homelessness to a job".
I am running out of time. I wish to stress the point that the Government must set the cost of doing something against the cost of doing nothing.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for referring to running out of time. I wonder whether I may warn all noble Lords that if everyone runs out of time the Minister will have none at all.

6.46 p.m.

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for initiating this very important debate. It is good to have someone speaking who is actually young. It seemed at the time that it was hard enough to grow up as a teenager in the 1960s, but I think that it was as nothing compared with the pressures now. Yet the greater the expectations and demands, the more we seem to treat young people as a problem to be controlled rather than as an asset to be invested in. Why do we so often demonise and penalise rather than celebrate and support? Perhaps it would help our perception of young people if we allowed them to be heard more.

I was at Westminster '99 yesterday, which was an occasion for politicians to be grilled by young people under the age of 18. It was a great experience and there were very pertinent and challenging questions. It really is time we gave young people votes at 16 and the right to be candidates at 18 so that they can have their say in how they are governed.

I believe that we will soon see the first generational accounts showing how much of national income and wealth go to different generations in this country. I will be most surprised if the picture is other than a huge bias towards the middle aged and old, particularly with the inheritance of houses and the receipt of second pensions by many people. I do not begrudge them—of course, many older people are in poverty—but, as a group, the over-fifties are probably becoming relatively richer. I suspect that the opposite is true of those under the age of 25.

There are many reasons for giving young people a solid start in life which will afford them dignity, independence and security. But for vulnerable young people who need a place to live away from their family, we are not supplying that. That is when they come up against discrimination in the housing and benefits system which says that 16 and 17 year-olds cannot usually get benefits at all and that 18 to 25 year-olds qualify only for a lower rate of job seeker's allowance and housing benefit. That is curious reasoning because, to my knowledge, the cost of food and rent is not age related. What we are saying is that young people under the age of 25 are less valuable human beings than their older fellow citizens yet we preach at them that they lack a sense of proper values.

The most harmful and inhumane discrimination we apply to young people who need their own place to live is, as has already been mentioned, the single room rent restriction. The National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux,
"strongly recommends the withdrawal of the single room rent restriction for the under-25s so that young people at a critical stage in their lives can concentrate on developing work skills and on playing a positive part in their local community rather than coping with extreme poverty and the constant threat of homelessness".
Those are tough words.

Presumably, one thought behind the introduction of the SRR was that it would keep young people in the parental home. Yet many young people are highly vulnerable, not only because of their age but because of their lack of family support. It is often the breakdown of family relations, fleeing violence or physical or sexual abuse, or coming out of care, which has led them to the need to seek separate accommodation.

It seems that another assumption of the Department of Social Security was that the single room rent restriction would lead to the operation of market forces and a lowering of rents by landlords or the availability of a greater range of inexpensive shared accommodation. In fact, surprise, surprise, it has led landlords, in a situation where demand outstrips supply, to refuse to let to young tenants who they know will struggle to pay the rent. Thus those youngsters are being forced either onto the streets—and Centrepoint of course does not accept the assertion of the Social Exclusion Unit that there are very few rough sleepers under 18—or into the lower, shabbier end of the rented market; that is, if they can find any accommodation at all. Those in rural areas often have to move to the cities in order to find shared accommodation. Shared accommodation is not always suitable. It is one thing for a group of friends to take a flat together, as students often do; it is quite another for a young girl who may have been sexually abused, or an HIV-positive young man, to be forced to share with strangers.

The difficulty of finding or sustaining a tenancy, or the worry and insecurity involved, is hardly conducive to maintaining a job or training placement. That is where the irrationality comes in. The Department of Social Security is jeopardising effective participation in the New Deal, this Government's flagship.

Early vulnerability magnifies problems in later life. If young people have run away from home, slept rough, or had drug or alcohol problems, the chances of later addiction or ill- health, unemployment, prison, or mental breakdown are all greater in adulthood. That is very expensive, as the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said. That is why the Government often cite the figure, which I believe comes from the United States, that £1 spent on childcare saves £7 in later life, to justify investment in nurseries. Surely "joined up", coherent government demands the same approach to housing youngsters at risk.

Yet the evidence from voluntary organisations which are concerned on a day-to-day basis with vulnerable and homeless young people is that the discrimination against them that is built into the social security and housing benefit system is causing hardship and a spiralling downward decline for many into rough sleeping, crime and despair. It surely cannot pass a cross-departmental, cost-benefit test.

If that is not the legacy that we wish to confer on our children for the 21st century, I urge the Government to remove the discrimination and abolish the single room rent restriction, perhaps as part of their overall review of housing benefit. They should certainly not wait too long while further damage is done. What is the point of a Social Exclusion Unit if it allows the blatant social exclusion of under-25s?

6.53 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, wish to thank my noble friend for introducing this important topic. I must declare an interest. I am a non-executive director of the Green Park Healthcare Trust in Belfast, which includes the regional residential child psychiatry unit for the Province. I am also a trustee of the Housing for the Homeless fund, which is run by the Simon Community in Northern Ireland. The Simon Community provides accommodation for all ages of homeless. The total referrals in 1997–98 were 3,314, and the age group that we are discussing comprised 51 per cent, of that total; namely, 1,728. As we have heard, current trends in that age group are rising. Just as worrying is the fact that a survey in 1996 carried out in Northern Ireland indicated that 41 per cent, of the homeless in this age group had mental health problems as defined in the Children Act.

I wish, first, to look at the prevention of homelessness and at this group with mental problems in particular. They are in two categories: those with emotional problems which develop gradually and eventually may force them to become homeless; and those with behavioural and conduct problems, which are a form of mental handicap. One-third of this second category have specified reading disorders, such as dyslexia. It is vital that these children are diagnosed at a very early stage, and that is where we let some of them down in the first instance.

The Education Order in Northern Ireland—and the Education Act in Great Britain—provides for statement of special needs for 2½ per cent. of all children. However, it is felt by many professionals that another 2½ per cent. of children could benefit educationally and in terms of mental health given that extra support. Therefore, there is under-funding of the educational psychologists service, and only the more serious cases are treated. Diagnosis should take place in primary school or earlier; it is early intervention that is most important.

In addition to the lack of capacity in the system, we have, as we have been told today by Chris Woodhead, 15,000 teachers who are not up to the mark. Just over 40 per cent, of those, according to the Express, are primary school teachers. I welcome the Government's endeavours to improve teaching standards. However, I ask them specifically to target the skills needed for early diagnosis of these problem children. Too high a proportion of them are our future homeless young people. It is vital to treat them from primary school age and not leave them undiagnosed until their teens or, sadly, sometimes even later.

Good teachers make for happy schools; and happy schools with a good ethos are shown to have fewer children with emotional and mental health problems. That fact was identified in a report by Sir Michael Rutter in the 1980s. Therefore, that is a vital link in prevention or in the improvement of mental health in children.

Although we are not discussing suicides, it is important to note that the attempted suicide rate is five per million in the under-14s and 30 per million in 14 to 20 year-olds. Ninety per cent, of suicide victims among the under-20s have mental health problems, so we are also looking at the prevention of these tragedies in the long run.

It is sad when any child has to be taken into care for mental health or other reasons, and we are lucky and can justly be proud of these establishments and the staff who work in them. However, that is not the end of the story but perhaps the start of another. These establishments are a form of housing for the homeless. Many will leave at 16, and we know that too many of them become homeless adolescents.

That brings me to the Simon Community and the help that it gives to its homeless residents. Like Centrepoint, it has many programmes. I should like to highlight one that is of particular note; namely, the Outhouse programme. It is in the form of a CD-ROM produced recently by the Simon Community. The CDs inform children about how to get on in the outside world and develop the skills that are needed to live there. They are now being distributed to every school in the Province by the Department of Education. I mention this programme as an example to show that charitable organisations strive very hard to fill this serious gap in government and educational responsibilities. I urge the Government to do even more to lower the number of adolescent homeless in the future.

6.58 p.m.

My Lords, I must declare an interest as national president of the YMCA in England. With great commitment and considerable experience, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has powerfully raised a vital social issue. He has chosen the words to describe his debate with care. "Appropriate" necessitates analysing the real nature of the problem, its underlying causes as well as its consequences. "Range" recognises that there is no one easy remedy, and certainly no quick fix. "Effective" underlines sustainability as essential. "Services"—a good, old-fashioned concept—indicates an honest acceptance of the importance of support. "Meet the needs" reflects the sensitivity to approach the issue, to see it from the standpoint of those who are affected.

As the noble Earl made plain, pressures on the young leading to homelessness can be formidable. Let me list some more: the impersonal pace of modern technology; the emphasis on league dominated educational performance, with its marginalisation of the weak and vulnerable; meritocracy, with its damaging impact on those who, for whatever reason, do not make it; low pay and/or low benefits or none—the Citizens Advice Bureaux and Shelter make this point emphatically—job insecurity and unemployment; the impact of commercialism and the market economy on traditional values; the downward and cheapening spiral in the media; the break up of families accentuated by the increasing career and job demands of parents who are in work; domestic violence; cynical, egocentric materialism which too often explicitly, let alone implicitly, rubbishes what used to be valued as mutual responsibility; and, to say the least, the confused messages sent out by too many at the peak of conventional success—in other words, the gap between strictures and performance: "Do as I say" not "Do as I do"; the fudged dividing line between what is seen as bright and astute and what is wrong or criminal. All the time, there waiting to exploit the opportunities of bewilderment and stress are the irresponsible pedlars of drugs and alcohol and their masters.

I say all this because homelessness is usually a symptom of a sick society rather than a separate self-contained social ill of its own. When I have met and talked with homeless young people—not just young people—I have always been struck by how all too easily, with a different life experience, with acute personal adversity of a kind I have fortunately not encountered, it could have been me or any of us in this House. Precisely because what we see begins to open up too many challenges and fears which we would rather brush away, it is tempting to retreat into an authoritarian response.

If there is any one single point I want to emphasise in support of the noble Earl this evening, it is that we cannot divorce our concern for the homeless from the whole ethos, values system and direction of society. The materialism of the market simply has to be balanced by the regeneration of a sense of community with mutual loyalties and responsibilities. Everything else we attempt—all the administrative systems in the world— will not prove effective unless and until we get that right. We may suppress or mask the unpalatable evidence of social sickness, but we will not cure it. The psychological stresses and resulting physical realities could indeed be aggravated, becoming even more dangerous for those affected, not least in the sphere of mental illness and the dangers of suicide.

There are some 141,000 homeless young people in Britain. Young people under the age of 25 are almost twice as likely to be unemployed as the rest of the population. And homelessness significantly increases the likelihood of being unemployed. No home, no job, no home becomes a vicious circle. A recent survey among YMCA residents indicated that 42 per cent. had been in trouble with the police, highlighting the relationship—cause or effect or both—between anti-social behaviour, as it is described, and homelessness.

Experience has brought the YMCA to recognise the importance of the holistic approach. The need is not just for bricks and mortar Young people desperately need space, security, the opportunity to discover themselves and to grow in self confidence. A job or long-term meaningful training are priorities. Support and guidance are essential. Good quality housing of itself is seldom, if ever, the end of the road. The Foyer scheme to which the noble Earl referred has, as he suggested, proved an exciting initiative with great potential. The YMCA has experienced this with the foyers which it provides. Forty per cent, of young people who pass through those of the association leave with a job.

Social activities can also be invaluable. These can provide stimulation and bonding and can assist in creating a sense of community, a sense of belonging, something which is significant as a young person secures and, we hope, sustains permanent housing.

After housing has been secured, continued outreach support is invariably worthwhile. It helps to ensure that losing a tenancy and a return to homelessness are less likely. It can also contribute to reassuring neighbourhoods in which rehousing is taking place—a problem to which (he right reverend Prelate referred. It is obviously important if the negative consequences of a hostile or suspicious environment are to be avoided. When such after care is not provided, there is sadly evidence that a significant minority of young people in fact return to homelessness.

I spoke earlier about: the ethos of society as a whole. Perhaps I could conclude by repeating what I have said before in debates on related issues. Solidarity matters. Taking the hand and walking with the homeless towards their own self-confident future is the greatest test of commitment of all.

7.4 p.m.

My Lords, it is perhaps opportune that this debate is taking place at a time when the nation is in the grip of some of the coldest weather that we have had for some time. It is also opportune that the debate is taking place after such an interesting programme last night on BBC2. It is also opportune that the debate is taking place when one of the youngest Members of your Lordships' House has introduced the debate to us. We are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Listowel for having given us the opportunity to air our views.

For those who have been assisting the homeless for many years, like the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, it is a well known fact that the homeless used to be mostly older men, many of whom had alcohol problems. Very few were women. Now there are many more young people, most of whom are not part of the same sub-culture.

I wholeheartedly support the Government's initiative to reduce the number of rough sleepers by two-thirds by the year 2002. The detailed report on rough sleeping by the Social Exclusion Unit gives a clear understanding of the complexities and causes of homelessness, as well as the enormous challenges that the Government and the many worthwhile voluntary agencies and charities have to tackle to produce a sustained successful result.

Concern has been expressed that a disproportionate amount of the Government's financial assistance has been allocated to London, rather than the other centres outside London. The National Homeless Alliance estimates that two-thirds of the nation's rough sleepers are found outside London. Also, the report by the Social Exclusion Unit quoted a figure of 2,000 people sleeping on the streets around England every night and 10.000 sleeping rough over the course of the year.

While many may blame the problem of homelessness for young people on lack of job opportunities, it is far broader. My noble friend Lord Listowel and others mentioned other causes such as broken marriages, cruelty, depression, alcoholism, loneliness and despair. They are all roads that lead to homelessness. An alarming statistic from Centrepoint revealed that 86 per cent, of young people across the country had been forced to leave home rather than choosing to do so. I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, that a major problem is that many young people do not know where to go for help.

As other noble Lords have highlighted, it is not just the challenge of tackling the need to accommodate the homeless, but, just as important, the need to offer effective services to help those suffering from mental health problems, alcohol and drug addiction. There are so many worthwhile charities. Noble Lords have mentioned Centrepoint, Shelter and Look Ahead. All those charities and others strive to provide 24-hour supervision, medical help, counselling for drug and alcohol abuse, as well as advice on finding permanent accommodation and assisting young people in getting training so that they can go out and get jobs.

One other programme that I believe is doing excellent work in endeavouring to prevent school children ending up on the streets in London is the Safe In The City homelessness prevention programme which has targeted persistent truants and expelled pupils. The project has identified the areas around London where children are suffering from abuse or poverty. As a result of these surveys, specialists have been sent into schools particularly to teach children between the ages of 13 and 16 all about budgets, how to claim benefits, how to cope with family breakdowns, how to find jobs and to assist with training. In the foreword to the report by the Social Exclusion Unit on rough sleeping the Prime Minister wrote:
"The longer people spend on the streets, the harder it is to return to anything like normal life. Only 5 per cent. of rough sleepers do so by choice".
I also quote the words of the chief executive of Centrepoint:
"The way forward is to enable individuals to find themselves, find work find friends and a passage into a more settled lifestyle".
In conclusion, while I fully support the Government's integrated strategy to tackle homelessness, I believe that the challenge for the future should be to target the prevention of homelessness particularly for young people as well as to endeavour to cure the problem of homelessness on a sustained basis.


My Lords, 18 years ago I returned to this great capital of ours after a long absence. I had a little cash borrowed on a credit card. I held the notion that I could find lodging and a temporary job before looking up old contacts and that I might return to my family debt-free. Was I being too proud to seek that dignity? I regarded myself as a youth of great resource. I do not remember exactly how long it took me to discover what the noble Lord, Lord Judd, could have told me; namely, that without a proper address there would be no job, and that such a base would cost me more than I could raise. At about that time—I forget the exact chronology—I was offered a job as a male prostitute. So, I returned to my family like the prodigal son. Then, fed, rested and well turned-out, I got a job within days.

There are several points to my little story. The first is that starting out alone is beyond the means of an unsupported young person. I believe that the situation is worse now than it was then in regard to the basic earnings to basic accommodation ratio. This is an economic fact and is nobody's fault. But it drags people down and changes their self-perception from young optimist to urchin so fast that it makes your head spin. The charity London Connection has noted that there is a three to four-week opportunity for finding new arrivals to the streets, before they are lost to street sub-culture. They see about 3,000 young people a year.

The second point of my story is to show how very privileged I was to have a family to whom I could turn. We have heard much about children who come out of care. The one-third to two-thirds of homeless young people who have been in care institutions might well have been better served by adoption. Even when they are too old for official adoption, unofficial arrangements can still be useful and give a young person some kind of family and home to turn to. There are 36 centres for care leavers run by NCH Action For Children. Even those young people in its care would benefit from the personal and emotional support that experienced parents could provide during the rites of passage from dependence to independence.

At to those young people who have recently been in contact with their parents, or a parent, their situation might not have become so desperate had some kind of financial support been available to their families. We have absolute evidence of this from the experience of 1988: the withdrawal of income support from 16 to 18 year-olds produced an immediate rise in youth homelessness for that age group. There is a two-year gap, 16 to 18, to which my noble friend, Lord Northbourne, referred, in which a young person is a child or an adult depending on who asks. Many parents view 16 as a suitable age for children to leave home, especially where one has a new relationship, or a conflict arises within the home. But government policy has tended to regard 18 as the age when young people can claim benefit in their own right and earn adult wages. Therefore, they are in limbo. They are neither one nor the other. Those are two crisis years, which is not a good start in adult life.

In a survey of Centrepoint admissions—my noble friend Lord Listowel made reference to this, albeit in a slightly different way—48 per cent, of its visitors left home at 16 or 17 years of age. Minimum wages might help these people. Housing benefit that does not wither with earnings would help; I believe that the correct term is "higher earnings disregard". The withdrawal of the single room rent restriction has also been mentioned. Most of all, non-means-tested child benefit for this most expensive period would help. The idea that a means test will target poorer families mistakes the changed shape of families. In reconstituted families—and here we are talking almost exclusively about reconstituted families—in which a step-parent or new partner is not a long-term parent, there may be little obligation to support young adults, whatever the family income. Child benefit sends a message. Child benefit is not just a matter of reducing the financial burden on families. It goes only a small way to doing that. The perceived social responsibility of caring for a 16 year-old within a family has been undermined by governments' desire to shift that responsibility onto families from the state over the past 20 years. No doubt that is a well-intentioned desire, but responsibility has not been shifted so much as erased.

There is scope here for joined-up thinking. A young person on the streets is much more expensive than a young person at home who seeks to study, or seeks work. He is worth supporting while still at home. I should like to make a request that my noble friend Lord Alton has made in the past. I ask that a family and young person impact assessment accompany new social and benefit arrangements. That would assist everybody in joined-up thinking. Here we have the crux of the needs of homeless young people. Almost all youth homelessness can be traced to the breakdown of a family somewhere in the young person's life. There is no one cause, but this broad one covers most cases.

While charities and agencies try to help the homeless by mopping up the pools of young people in our cities, the tap that feeds these pools still runs freely. If we can sort out the families, we shall solve most of the problems that we have discussed today.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for providing me with this opportunity to speak on this very important subject. Many noble Lords have already spoken about the situation of young homeless people in London, the south and in Northern Ireland. As a Yorkshire lad it is my duty to draw the attention of noble Lords to youth homelessness in the South Yorkshire area. Recently Shelter Network produced a report which showed that between November 1996 and October 1997 based on multi-agency monitoring statistics for South Yorkshire over 2,000 young people had approached 27 agencies about their housing needs. Nearly 70 per cent. of those young people were either actually or imminently homeless, 9 per cent. of them having slept rough for at least one night and 6 per cent. having nowhere to sleep that night.

Forty per cent. of those young people were under 18 years of age. Almost half of all cases of homelessness were due to family breakdowns, with a further 14 per cent. fleeing because of the fear of or actual violence, abuse or other kinds of harassment or friction. This also includes a growing number of ethnic minority youth who leave home due to lack of understanding and conflicts of culture between parents and children. Over 20 per cent. of young people either contacted more than one agency or re-accessed a service at a later date due to the re-emergence of a housing need or crisis.

Young people have limited access to social housing. Many local authorities do not accept onto their waiting lists young people under 18. There is little tenancy support available for young people who move into independent accommodation. Access to the private rented sector is limited, with high rent levels, poor quality accommodation and the requirement to pay a bond and rent in advance. In recognition of that difficulty, a bond guarantee scheme exists in Rotherham and Sheffield and moneys have been secured to set up such a scheme in Barnsley. Landlords are unwilling to allocate tenancies to under 25 year-olds partly due to housing benefit restrictions and partly to preconceived ideas about the behaviour of young people.

A multi-agency consortium in Rotherham has been successful in setting up a young people's housing advice centre with lottery money. The local statutory and voluntary sector play an important role in delivering services and creating an effective and co-ordinated network of services.

No single solution exists to the problem of youth homelessness. An effective response acknowledges the need for a range of services, in particular different types of accommodation and a variety of support structures. I welcome the Government's new initiatives to tackle the housing problem including the Youth Homelessness Action Partnership, the New Deal for the young, and the phased release of moneys to local authorities to build new homes.

I believe that if services are best to meet the needs of young people, it is important that young people are involved at all levels. Agencies should involve young people in both the development and management of services. Agencies should also work with young people to set up regular consultations on their services through a variety of means including user groups. That information should be fed back into strategic service development.

In conclusion, will the Minister consider issuing guidance to local authorities on the following? Local authorities should regard care-leavers and homeless 16 and 17 year-olds as vulnerable and in priority need under the homeless legislation, and provide appropriate support by social services departments to enable them to maintain their new home. Every person aged 16 and over should have the right to appear on the housing register. Every young person should be able to obtain independent housing information advice and advocacy services when they need them. And every young person should be able to obtain accommodation in an emergency. The local authority should ensure that placement in emergency accommodation is followed by an assessment of the longer-term housing needs.

On that final point, as a local councillor in Rotherham, I am aware that there is a shortage of single person's accommodation. Will my noble friend consider schemes to bring into use the thousands of commercial properties by introducing grants and rate concessions for those property owners who would convert those empty storerooms for single person accommodation, with penalties and compulsory purchase orders for those who refuse to co-operate?

.22 p.m.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Earl for introducing this important and wide-ranging subject.

The policy of successive governments on homelessness has demonstrably worked. Because of the Rough Sleepers Initiative and hostel provision, there is now an expert voluntary sector. Volunteers have always been imbued with altruistic and Christian values. Now, augmented with the acquired expertise and the earned trust of the homeless, the voluntary sector is in a position to continue this success and address the issues which the Social Exclusion Unit raised in its report, Rough Sleeping, in July of last year.

I wish to address a specific problem with which rough sleeping drug users in the 16 to 24 year-old age group are faced. Most young people who die on the streets die of drug overdose. Many, but by no means all of them, are homeless through a breakdown in their family circumstances. In some cases they have been forced to leave the family environment through the poverty of, or lack of space within, the household. In others they have suffered physical mistreatment or sexual abuse and are therefore understandably self-evacuees from the family. Others have been rejected and expelled by parents.

Let us consider Bill. Bill is 17 years-old. He left home because he was not contributing a wage to the household in Newcastle where his father was unemployed and he had four younger siblings. Once on the streets, young people are vulnerable. Because they cannot get money on which to live, and in desperation, prostitution becomes a source of income and petty crime a source of material needs—both of which expose them to exploitation as sex workers. They are at risk of turning to drug or alcohol dependence in a wretched attempt to ameliorate the unhappiness and misery of their lifestyle. Moreover, their self-esteem is eroded.

Bill came to London and soon his meagre savings were gone. He managed to find shelter in a squat where he was introduced to heroin. Bill had been smoking cannabis since he was 15. He became addicted. To finance his habit he took to petty theft. He shoplifted to eat. In desperation he then became a sex worker: a rent boy in the West End.

The use of drugs is initiated through many reasons— peer pressure, curiosity or boredom—but is sustained by the poignant motive so common in rough sleepers: lack of self-esteem. That is perpetuated within a cycle of drug use, petty crime, greater loss of self-esteem, and greater use of drugs. That cycle cannot be broken if the sole provider of housing is the emergency night shelter which must be evacuated during the day thus exposing the victim to the vulnerable environment of the streets all day and every day.

Over three to four months Bill became depressed and drifted apart from his friends at the squat. He was sleeping on the streets. He was miserable and cared little for himself or his peer group. He occasionally slept at the Lord Clyde, an emergency night shelter in Vauxhall run by the Depaul Trust. The Lord Clyde is a night shelter with 26 beds. The shelter supplies emergency provision for 16 to 25 year-olds between the hours of 7.30 at night and 8.00 in the morning. But entry to the next stage of accommodation beyond the emergency night shelters, the direct access hostel, is denied the drug user since the criteria for progression are that they must be rough sleepers, they must not be drug users or have a history of drug use, and they must not have a criminal record. Although the Social Exclusion Unit identified that 39 per cent. of young rough sleepers have a drug problem, the truth is that about 90 per cent, of that group are drug users.

The Social Exclusion Unit reported that in some London boroughs the wait for drug rehabilitation is four months. Many hostels aim to move people on after three months. This does not include any delay in preparing the groundwork and getting the drug user to accept the need for rehabilitation.

Bill sometimes wishes that he could start again. He could be persuaded to undergo drug rehabilitation but needs secure accommodation as a base. He cannot get into a direct access hostel because he has a history of drug use and a record of petty crime—shoplifting, possession of heroin. Even if he were fortunate enough to obtain a place in a hostel, he would be moved on before a place on drug rehabilitation could be fixed up.

I cannot believe that it is government policy to return these youngsters to the streets rather than remove them from the dangers of street life, especially in view of the new initiative due to start in April. There is a need for a secure environment where the voluntary sector can work with young drug users, a need to provide support, and to instil a sense of purpose and promote self-esteem. That must form part of the terms of reference for the new Youth Homelessness Action Partnership. I note that improving access to drug treatment services is a key objective of the Government's new drug strategy.

But where is there a form of 24-hour accommodation which will house the young rough sleeper with a history of drug use and a criminal record? Can the Government offer an option other than constant rejection and a bleak future (having been denied access to the next rung on the ladder to recovery) leading inevitably to death on the streets? Bill needs help now. In a few more months he may well be just another young rough sleeper dead on the streets from a drug overdose.

7.30 p.m.

My Lords, I rise to give the Minister good news. I have no solution to nor analysis of the problem, other than those about which we have heard for the past hour. Never before have I listened to a debate and at the end of every speech said, "Hear, hear". The debate was devoid of acrimony. Noble Lords know where the problems lie and the terrible damage being done to many young people by the social consequences. I was delighted that it was not a party political debate and that no party was blamed for the situation. No party in this House has a control over passion, a blame or a mischievousness. All parties bear some responsibility for the present situation.

I congratulate the noble Earl and those on his Benches. They have encouraged more people to attend the debate who have not only spoken but assiduously listened to others. As a former Chief Whip, I am envious to see how well the noble Earl has been supported by his colleagues on this important topic.

As regards my two penny-worth, my days in housing go back 35 years to when I was a councillor. When I was a Member of Parliament I received more complaints or requests for help about housing than any other topic. I am not sure what the position is today, but I do not think that it has changed a great deal. Housing has always been at the heart of good government, local or national. The lack of good, affordable housing has brought misery to many people in this country. If ever there were a topic which ought not to be made a political football it is housing and the solution to the problem.

Tonight, we are considering the problems of the young homeless. Fortunately, I arrived home last night in time to see the television programme about the young, disabled homeless people. They live in wretched circumstances. I applaud the Minister and all the agencies who are striving to find the right mix. The young people I saw were not proud and knew exactly what had caused them to be on the streets. They knew that there was help, some of which they were able to grasp.

I tried to visualise the circumstances in which I or members of my family could have been driven out of our home. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, told us what he considered to be the reasons for there being many homeless people. He listed leaving care or the Armed Forces, sexual or physical abuse, step-parents who were out of kilter with their children and many other problems. Those are not new social phenomena, but the problem is that the social mores and culture of this country have changed.

I am grateful to the London Government Association, of which I am vice-president, because it recognises that this is not a party problem. The word "partnership" was used more than once. I believe that that is the way forward. We will never, ever solve the problem of housing, but we can demonstrate to young people that our society in general has a responsibility. I greatly value my home, family and stability and I have some idea, but only remotely, of what these young people are missing.

It is our job in life to work together. That means money and it also means pride. We must work together and settle big differences. We must say to the Minister and his colleagues, "We believe that you are doing a good job—you are doing all that you can within the limits—but there is much more that can be done if you consult more widely and recognise the solutions which may be found elsewhere". I wish the Minister and his colleagues well in trying to solve these difficult problems.

7.35 p.m.

My Lords, it is with a great source of pride that I stand tonight and declare an interest in that I am a kinsman and a friend of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. My knowledge and information about the problem of homelessness has been greatly enhanced by listening to tonight's commendable debate.

The Government have implemented some welcome measures to address homelessness—for instance, the publication of the report of the Social Exclusion Unit on rough sleeping—and have brought forward enabling measures to give young people an immediate chance to join the New Deal. The Government's target to reduce the number of people sleeping rough in England to one-third of its present level by 2002 is very welcome. I am sure your Lordships will welcome the Minister's feedback as to the progress of that initiative.

A real concern when reading the report of the Social Exclusion Unit is the estimate of the number of homeless people on the streets, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie. Does it not underestimate the extent of the problem and, therefore, are not its targets flawed? From casual observation of the streets of London, it seems that there are many more than 2,000 people living homeless at any one time. Can the Minister give us an assurance as to the basis of that figure? After all, if the extent of the problem is not known, how can we have an action plan that will adequately alleviate this very great social problem?

On visiting the London charity, Centrepoint, I found commendable the extent of partnership between government and the charitable sector. Centrepoint's activities include providing shelter during the cold winter months and providing the young homeless people with a point of contact with drug, drink and medical health experts. Very importantly, it tries to prepare the youngsters for a life inside the remits of conventional society and social responsibility.

As regards co-ordination of the Government's policy, will the Minister investigate whether there are significant differences between the various local authorities' treatment of the homeless? It seems that it is far too easy for local authorities to brush the problem aside and, in effect, pass the homeless on to neighbouring authorities. That unsettling process would surely be to the detriment of any disadvantaged young person.

I hope that the new London-based DETR unit will seek to encourage a holistic approach to the problem in our capital and, if the London model is successful, that the Government will consider setting up similar networks in all parts of the country where there is a problem of homelessness.

7.38 p.m.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh. He is a credit of that little society of Earls! I have known so many members of his family and have been friends with them.

The debate is a credit to the House. If I were asked to explain what the House of Lords does I would invite him or her to come along and listen to a debate such as this. That would justify the House of Lords in the eyes of any fair-minded observer. Quite a few hereditary Peers have taken part. I speak as half-and-half, but the noble Earl is a genuine hereditary Peer. They have played their full part in the debate and it represents the House of Lords at its best.

Your Lordships might ask why I am intervening in the gap. I put my name down on the list a long time ago, but it escaped someone's attention. It appears that nowadays only the youngsters are listed and that anyone over 90 is not registered. Therefore, I have been allowed to speak.

This is the House of Lords at its best and it is particularly appropriate to follow the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. When I was at Eton, his father was the only known socialist in that school of 1,000 boys. There was a dreadful rumour that there might be a socialist there. There was an even worse rumour that the headmaster's wife had Labour sympathies. But the point about the noble Earl's father is that, although at that time he was called Lord Ennismore, he preferred to be known as plain Mr. Hare. Therefore, throughout the school it was known that there was one very dangerous man called plain Mr. Hare. We feel that his son is a chip off the old block. He is perhaps not as dangerous but is as brave as his father.

I hesitate to boast about anything but the other day a woman on the train said to me, "Lord Longford, how many great grandchildren do you have?" I said that I thought I had 14 but in fact, I have 15 now. That must be more than most. But the man opposite said, "That's nothing at all. I have 17". Therefore, one should not boast too quickly.

However, I took the initiative which led to the foundation of the New Horizon Youth Centre. That was for young people aged 16 to 21. I am delighted to think that it has flourished today. It was not always a powerful organisation. When we began, there was one woman called Nikki Hunt, the secretary, and myself. But the office was so small that, if she was in the office, I had to sit in the corridor and if I was in the office, she had to sit in the corridor. It now has 18 social workers. I do not like to say that it was all due to me, but I was there at the beginning. Therefore, I am pleased to be able to speak on behalf of New Horizon.

Now it is visited by about 1,000 young people every year and, perhaps, 300 of them for considerable periods. Most of them, perhaps 700, obtain advice and move on but the other 300 receive long-term help. Therefore, on my behalf, I wish to pay tribute to the present Government who are extremely helpful. Are the Government going to live up to their promises? I hope that they will.

7.42 p.m.

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for giving us the opportunity to debate this very important issue of homeless young people.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, I do not believe that there is anything new to be said on the issue. Many of us are grateful for the extremely good briefings and large amount of research that has been undertaken by a wide range of voluntary agencies and other bodies.

As the debate has indicated, a large number of issues which affect homeless young people are being looked at by a wide range of bodies, including government. I hope that this debate will give the Government the opportunity to acknowledge the scale and nature of the problem and come forward with further firm announcements as to how we can improve our efforts to tackle the problem.

As has already been highlighted this evening, a wealth of research has been undertaken. I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to. the conclusions of a Rowntree research report which was entitled Young Homeless People and their Families. In particular, I wish to quote some of the conclusions because they reflect what has been said this evening. It states:
"The research highlights the part that better counselling support services could play in preventing homelessness among young people and helping those who do leave home. The interviewees, including young people who had been abused, were agreed that someone prepared to listen to them in the community or at school would have helped. Once they left home, they found that the Probation Service and specialist homeless agencies were more supportive than social services. Needs varied between individuals and it was clear that some young people would benefit from help through the established relationships with parents while others would be better helped to build an independent life for themselves".
I believe that those conclusions have been reflected in the contributions to the debate this evening. In his opening remarks, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, set the scene extremely well. He is to be congratulated on instigating such a well-informed debate and a debate which has attracted a larger proportion than usual of young Members of the House. I particularly welcome that.

Other noble Lords have ranged wide. The noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, and the noble Lord, Lord Laming, provided us with good information about the problems of those leaving care. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells, who we know has had to rush off back to Wells, reminded us of the role that the Church has played and has continued to play over a number of years. In fact, it is the one organisation which keeps housing and housing matters higher up the agenda than almost any other organisation.

He reminded me of a sleep-out in which I took part. But he also reminded me of a matter which still concerns me. All of us here this evening are concerned about homeless young people. But when I took up the issue in the constituency which I used to represent, I was pilloried by my political opponents for daring to talk about the young homeless in a constituency which perhaps had a higher proportion of elderly people than many others.

I helped to promote something called HYPID— Homeless Young People in Dorset. Again, I came up against prejudices of other people. One Christmas the organisation undertook an appeal and one of the most distressing things that I ever heard in the time that I was involved in homelessness issues was that that organisation received in its envelopes hate mail about young people. So although in this House we may understand the problem, outside there is still an argument to win. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for reminding us of that this evening.

We also need to agree with the matters raised by my noble friend Lady Ludford and expanded upon by the noble Lord, Lord Judd; that is, our attitude to young people in society and what our priorities as a society should be.

I wish to concentrate on two other issues. The first is to pick up on a matter referred to earlier; namely, foyers. Secondly, I wish to address the problems of single room rents.

There are two main concerns in relation to foyers. One has already been mentioned this evening. There is a particular problem for rural foyers. They find that their work is much more difficult in a rural area where the support services are more scattered. It is not so easy to integrate services. I hope that the Government will look at ways in which they can assist foyers in that regard.

The other matter I wish to raise is the funding of foyers and in particular revenue funding and keeping them going. I say that because curiously, just last week I was asked whether I would be involved in helping to raise money for a foyer which is being set up in Poole in Dorset. I said that I should be delighted to do that, but in return I asked them to send me a briefing note about how it had been for them in trying to set up the foyer for this week's debate.

I was here at the end of the last debate and I listened to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, giving us quite good news about lottery funding. He said that the Government are looking at revenue funding and how they can assist projects which need lottery funding. Some foyers have tried to obtain lottery funding and it is very difficult to put together a package which meets the criteria. As has been highlighted, it is the running costs that are often the problem. I hope that the Government can give us some indication that they recognise those problems and some idea as to how they may be able to help on that matter.

In the few moments I have left I wish to return to the problem of the single room rent. I was involved in highlighting this issue when the National Rent Deposit Forum produced a report last autumn. Also, like other noble Lords I received briefings from CAB and Shelter. All those organisations have done quite a bit of research. We had some detail tonight about landlords not wanting to continue to provide this type of accommodation to young people and the problems young people face in meeting the rent when they are in and out of work and only receive a little help towards the single room rent. In fact, it is often the most vulnerable people who have the most problems arid who are also required to share accommodation with people whom they do not know well.

All those matters have been raised tonight. Research by a variety of groups reached the same conclusion; that is, that the single room rent has led to increases in the level of homelessness and the level of hardship among young people and it is time we abolished it. I know from a series of Questions tabled by the honourable Gordon Marsden in another place that the Government are currently reviewing this issue as part of a general review of housing benefit. I know also that they commissioned research which will explore its effects. I hope therefore that the Minister can keep us even more up to date and expand a little on that.

I want to end by reflecting on what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod. She told us of her involvement in setting up Crisis at Christmas. She said that she had been involved in setting up that organisation over 30 years ago; yet here we are, still debating this issue. The challenge for us all, and particularly for this Government, is to really make a change. I am sure that none of us wants to be debating this issue again in two years time, let alone 30.

7.52 p.m.

My Lords, anyone who walks around in central London rapidly becomes aware that homeless people are living on the streets. The evidence is there for all to see at any time. The waste of lives that that represents is all too obvious and, where young people are concerned, the lost potential is enormous. In calling this debate, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, gave us an opportunity to discuss a problem that has exercised many minds: for a long time and I join in adding my thanks to those that have already been expressed by many other noble Lords.

As the noble Earl mentioned when introducing the debate, the Rough Sleepers Initiative was started by the previous government in the early 1990s and led to the successful resettlement of more than 4,000 previously homeless people. The scheme currently costs around £24 million a year. The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions administers Section 180 grants. Payments under that heading started around 1990 and now cost around £8 million a year. That is all to help prevent single homelessness. The DSS maintains around 4,300 bed spaces in hostels and temporary accommodation in a resettlement programme costing around £18 million a year and the Department of Health has programmes to assist the mentally ill and those with drug problems, which also feature as serious symptoms among the young homeless.

Thus it can be seen that Government concern in this area is long-standing. The previous government, having first toughened conditions to try to encourage the young to remain at home, began to assist those who, despite discouragement, nonetheless felt the need or, worse, were compelled to leave. The Government are now working to bring together and co-ordinate action in this field, and that we wholly welcome.

I took the trouble to discuss this issue with the manager of a hostel for young homeless run by a less well-known charity in my borough of Kensington and Chelsea as I wished to hear the experience of a practitioner. He reported that the picture has changed considerably over recent years and that the proportion of his clients that used to come from outside London has reduced from around 50 per cent. to around 10 per cent. At least that might be held to indicate that the situation has improved to a certain extent outside London.

The manager said that 20 per cent. of his clients now come from his own borough; 30 per cent. come from next door Westminster, which may seem odd; and most of the rest come from Inner London. For 90 per cent. of his clients family breakdown lies at the root of their problems, in particular problems arising from conflicts of loyalty with step-parents and problems with step-parents and step-brothers and sisters. Most of the rest of his clients are those who were caught in the trap when leaving care. Social services departments work very well for the young who have to go or have to be taken into care until they are 16. But at that point there is a tendency to pass the problem on to others by an abrupt withdrawal of support. Regrettably, some are lost as a result of that transfer process. The manager also commented that he could fill his hostel daily from start to finish with asylum seekers, but that is a separate problem outside our remit today.

The hostel provides accommodation for up to six months and in that time they expect to train and educate their clients so that they are able to live independently in their own accommodation. Some of their clients have none of the necessary skills when they arrive and need intensive one-to-one training. This is a high cost establishment. At the end of six months clients are moved on, generally into private-let accommodation but otherwise into longer-term accommodation. But they can still receive guidance from a resettlement officer who is funded by a combination of money from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and money from the lottery fund.

Most clients, in a welcome way, go into further education, but some go straight into work. For all of them a continuing income is a constant worry. The normal costs of running this hostel are met by a combination of charges based on their clients' housing benefit and jobseeker's allowance, though the latter is expected to change in the near future. The centre runs at an annual deficit of around £20,000 a year, which has to be met by fund-raising, and is a constant struggle.

Two points stick in my mind as a result of that discussion. The first is the significance of the family and responsible parenthood. That has been mentioned by many noble Lords tonight. Although it is somewhat outside the remit of this debate, anything that can be done to improve family stability and relationships must be of great help if it results in fewer young people leaving home prematurely and becoming homeless. Indeed, in the long term that must be the most profitable way of tackling this subject. We, in this House, might regard parental obligations as absolute but, sadly, too many parents today take an altogether different view. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, talked about the ethos of society. The noble Lord, Lord Craigmyle, also touched on this aspect. That is the root problem. There are educational and social implications that run far beyond our debate tonight, but I cannot help but think that we must improve this area.

The other lesson is that it is essential that everybody recognises the need to work together so that there are no gaps between services, parts of services or between organisations through which clients can fall. Follow up and cross-referencing between different services and charities are essential if the homeless are to be brought back successfully into normal society. The instinctive corporate ethic of any particular group, be it a public body or a charity, can, on occasions, be damaging to the prospect of finding solutions to these problems and needs to be suppressed.

This has been a thoroughly interesting and helpful debate and one to which I have greatly enjoyed listening. I look forward to the Minister's response. I am sure he will tell us that the work which has been of concern for such a long time is continuing in a better and perhaps even more helpful way.

8.1 p.m.

My Lords, I add my thanks to those already expressed to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for initiating this debate. He made a splendid contribution at the beginning and set the tone for the whole debate. I thank noble Lords from all sides of the House who have participated including, in particular, the Cross-Benchers and, indeed, the Irish Earls, with their wide age range.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Lord, Lord Craigmyle, brought home to us the terrible experience of being homeless and young. To be without somewhere you can call home at any age is pretty awful, but without the experience and robustness that maturity brings, homelessness must be absolutely terrible. It robs people of their identity and their individuality. It can lead—not just immediately but for some time afterwards—to the kind of social exclusion that this Government are determined to tackle. At the very best, the experience takes a long time to get over and people need help to get over it. At worst, people do not get over it and there is a downward spiral into drugs, crime and prostitution.

Much has been made of the need to provide for young people the security of a home background. For most young people, that situation still applies. However, for many, the experience at home has been of trauma, break up, being thrown out, abuse or family break up. As the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and many noble Lords have emphasised, we therefore need to pay particular attention to preventive measures. We hope that our comprehensive proposals to strengthen the support available to families in this context will increase family stability and reduce the pressure on families. In particular, the Youth Homelessness Action Partnership has identified preventive measures as a priority for research so that knowledge about the range of measures that can be taken in the early stages is improved and we can base our policies on that.

There is one slight correction I want to make. It is not always the family's fault that young people become homeless. There are many families who have done their best but, nevertheless, the kids have walked out or otherwise moved away, often through addiction or attraction to crime. However, there are over 2 million young people who still live with their families in varying degrees of harmony.

I should also like to make a broader correction with regard to an issue raised by my noble friend Lord Judd and other noble Lords; namely, that much of the problem relates to the ethos of society and the fact that there is no collective help for some of these people. They feel that once they have dropped out there is no way back.

I turn to the role of the Government and the public authorities. I pay tribute to what was done under the previous government in recognising the problem and setting up the Rough Sleepers Initiative and other such measures, as noted by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. We all recognise, at both national and local authority level, that there is a serious problem here. It is important that all public authorities, together with the voluntary sector, act together. That is why we established the Youth Homelessness Action Partnership which, for the first time, brings together senior representatives of central government, local government and the voluntary sector to tackle and prevent youth homelessness. The partnership has already agreed on priorities for research and a working definition of youth homelessness which will be used to provide a reliable estimate of the numbers involved.

In response to the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, I should point out that there are real problems in attempting to measure the scale of youth homelessness. In one sense it is a sub-set, albeit a growing proportion, of homelessness as a whole. Clearly from the experiences relayed by a number of noble Lords, the proportion of homeless people who are young is increasing. However, the term "youth homelessness" may be used to represent a number of different levels of housing need. At its most extreme, we are talking about total homelessness— rough sleeping. I shall return to that shortly. However, that is only a relatively small proportion of the total problem. There are young people accommodated in emergency night shelters, direct access hostels, various forms of squats, unsatisfactory bed and breakfast accommodation and, indeed, in some very good longer-term hostels.

As the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, indicated, there are also young people who will stay with friends and relatives on a temporary basis which may not be satisfactory to anybody concerned. In many ways they, too, are suffering from a lack of a permanent or a satisfactory home. So a wide spectrum of young people is involved. As I have said, the most extreme cases include rough sleeping. It is totally unacceptable to all in this House that anyone should be out there tonight sleeping on the streets of London, or any other of our towns and cities. That problem was taken up as a priority issue by this Government.

The Prime Minister asked the Social Exclusion Unit to address the issue of rough sleeping as one of its first priorities. The report, published last July, sets a tough initial target of reducing the number of people sleeping rough throughout England to a third of its current level by 2002. Information compiled by the Housing Services Agency indicates that about a third of the rough sleepers contacted were under 26 years old. Of those, a quarter were aged between 18 and 25. There were some under the age of 18 but that was only 7 per cent. of the total. However, they are obviously by far the most vulnerable, as many noble Lords have emphasised. The SEU report emphasises the need for a joined-up approach and hammers home the message that better integration of policy and service delivery and better co-operation between the voluntary and public sectors is needed in this area. We have established at the top level a new ministerial committee to ensure that our policies are truly consistent and joined up. My honourable friend Hilary Armstrong will be responsible for that co-ordination.

We are establishing a new unit for London where the problem is most acute. Some noble Lords have queried the emphasis on London. Despite the figures for Kensington, indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, London is still an attraction for many homeless and displaced people from outside London. Some of the figures quoted perhaps misrepresent the emphasis on London. Nevertheless, there is a disproportionate problem here and therefore disproportionate resources are allocated to it.

The new London unit will have an integrated budget of £145 million over three years until 2002 to combat rough sleeping and the causes of rough sleeping. We are intending to appoint a person heading that unit who the newspapers have described as a "street czar". Whatever the press call him or her, the important point is that there will be one person with the responsibility and the means to arrange the co-ordinated delivery of services here in London.

We have heard examples relating to the problem outside London from my noble friend Lord Ahmed, who referred to the situation in Yorkshire, from the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, who referred to the situation in Northern Ireland, and from the noble Baroness. Lady Maddock, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells, who has now gone to test the rural transport system. No doubt he will come back to me on that at some point! All indicated that the rural areas, particularly the run-down parts, are also facing serious problems, although much less publicity has been given to them. The Rural Development Commission has identified over 80 projects which will work to address the housing needs of young people in rural areas. It is important that action is taken in all our towns and cities, not just in London.

The SEU report confirms that, in general, local authorities are in the best position to co-ordinate rough sleeping and general homelessness outside London. To support local authorities, the DETR has launched the Homelessness Action Programme, which will provide £34 million over the next three years to help voluntary organisations outside London to tackle and prevent single homelessness and rough sleeping. Details of the first tranche of successful applications were announced the other day by my colleague Hilary Armstrong. A number of those projects will now get underway rapidly. As well as addressing rough sleeping, we shall be funding schemes to ensure that young people never have to experience homelessness in any of its forms.

In relation to one particular group, we are co-ordinating the provision of homelessness grants with those provided under the Homeless Mentally III Initiative. People who are mentally ill, even prior to becoming homeless, often have secondary problems, such as those relating to alcohol and drug misuse, and then encounter even greater problems in getting out of that situation. We are prioritising support for homeless people with drug and alcohol problems. We have recently published details of how voluntary organisations can bid for funding under the specific grant relating to those with drug and alcohol problems. That issue was raised by several noble Lords, including the noble Viscount, Lord Leathers.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Lord, Lord Laming, referred to mentoring. In pursuing its strategy, the Social Exclusion Unit has been in discussion with a number of government departments and with those in the voluntary sector, including organisations such as the Big Issue and the Homeless Network, to try to find the best way to take forward the Government's commitment to rough sleeper mentoring initiatives. As a result of those discussions, the Homeless Network, working with homelessness organisations, including the Prince's Trust, is already running mentoring projects and has produced a paper for the SEU outlining the basis for further development. I join the noble Lord, Lord Laming, in paying tribute to those adults and others who engage in the mentoring process. It provides vital support to very vulnerable people.

Perhaps I may add a general tribute to the work of the voluntary sector and the Church-based organisations which have developed a substantial response to these problems. I refer not only to the household names, such as Shelter, the National Children's Home, and Centrepoint, but also to the hundreds of smaller, locally based, voluntary organisations. I pay particular tribute to the efforts of the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, with regard to Crisis and Crisis at Christmas. The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, also referred to activities in Northern Ireland.

Voluntary sector organisations, in conjunction with local authorities, can do much to help those who have often become deeply suspicious of more formal organisations. The Government are helping. Grants totalling £27 million over three years have been awarded and we shall shortly make an announcement about the allocation of a further £7 million to help voluntary organisations in this area. As the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, indicated, young people often do not know where to turn. Frequently, the voluntary organisations provide the point at which those young people have any contact with potential support.

I have been asked about foyers and funding for them by, among others, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. The Government support the work of foyers through the Employment Service and Careers Service funding. Those agencies work closely with foyers to give residents access to guidance, support and training. Several successful foyers have operated. My noble friend Lord Judd referred to the YMCA, and there are many others. Both now and beyond, into the new funding arrangements after 2002, foyer schemes will be able to bid for employment and training provision alongside other providers. Individual local authorities are probably best placed to assess whether or not foyer schemes meet the need. As has been identified, there is not much point in giving a foyer project capital support if there is no workable proposal on how the running costs will be met. It is important that all prospective partners in new foyer schemes—the local authority, the housing associations and the voluntary organisations— properly plan the future financing of such schemes. That will enable them to play an important part.

Wider policies impact on youth homelessness. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, referred to the impact of the New Deal which will mean that we can begin to take young people out of the situation of total unemployment and therefore, in many cases, homelessness. Young people need to be in the labour market so that the cycle of "no home, no job/no job, no home" will be broken. The New Deal offers many such people a real opportunity to address other problems at the same time as maintaining a focus on employment, which is the central element of that scheme.

Issues relating to housing benefit have been raised. Clearly, access to housing benefit is a key factor for many young people. Inadequacy of resources is clearly one of the main causes of homelessness. For most young people under the age of 25, support for living in the private rented sector is restricted to the single room rent. That is supposed to represent the average rent for a single room with shared facilities. The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and others, asked whether the Government should be looking again at that. We have received reports from voluntary organisations showing that the single room rent is causing problems in many localities where landlords and, to some extent, local authorities are avoiding letting accommodation to young people. We have therefore commissioned a survey on housing benefit and the private rented sector conducted by the London Research Centre. That survey has now been completed and is being considered by Ministers. Government departments, including the DSS and my own department, together with the local authority associations, are reviewing housing benefit rules as part of the housing benefit simplification and improvement project. All the relevant evidence will be considered in that review. The overall priority of the review is to simplify and modernise the housing benefit structure. Clearly, the youth homelessness aspect must be considered.

Perhaps I may make two qualifications in relation to the single-room rent allowance. There is already some degree of flexibility. Those who are most likely to face additional problems and who are living independently without family support, for example, care leavers and disabled people, are exempt from the single-room rent provisions. It is also true that claimants suffering exceptional hardship as a result of the single room rent restriction can apply to the local authority for discretionary help.

The noble Viscount, Lord Leathers, referred specifically to the fact that drugs aggravate the problems of homelessness. A large proportion of those most severely affected by homelessness are also subject to drug abuse. Our new drug strategy will provide treatment for groups which are hard to reach. I refer, for example, to the young homeless. In total, the health authorities are deploying an extra £70.5 million over the next three years to develop and commission drug services. Some of that will benefit the young homeless. We must also consider the implications of restrictions on access to hostels and other services.

The noble Viscount, Lord Leathers, and other noble Lords, referred to prostitution. That is a serious problem in our major cities and elsewhere. Child prostitution and that of young persons must be dealt with. We have provided new guidance on that for police and local authorities. We are also developing a national plan to combat the commercial exploitation of children. It is vital that young people are seen as victims, not criminals, in that respect. We hope that all public authorities will take that view. It is a demeaning and disastrous side effect of homelessness in our cities.

There are other aspects as regards vulnerable people and the housing legislation which need to be tackled. We are currently strengthening the advice in the code of guidance about the duties of local authorities. My noble friend Lady Goudie referred to that. We need to give priority to all young people at risk.

That brings me to a point which a number of noble Lords raised; namely, those who have left care. They belong to probably one of the most vulnerable groups of young people. They have been in the care of local authorities and left. They have then found great difficulty in finding suitable and affordable accommodation. We know that between one third and one quarter of rough sleepers have been looked after by local authorities as children. Through our other policies in relation to care we intend to try to improve the position of those leaving care so that the transition out of care is managed more effectively than clearly it has been. Improving the support for care leavers as such is one of the six priority areas which will attract additional resources through a special grant to local authorities as part of our "Quality Protects" programme to renew and reform children's services.

We are planning to make radical changes in the whole area of care leavers' support so that those aged between 16 and 18 years will have a plan setting out a "pathway to independence", including arrangements for their accommodation and ensuring that they have the necessary life skills. I hope that reassures my noble friend Lord Ahmed that we are beginning to tackle these problems.

I see that my time is almost up. There are a number of points which I have not touched on. In the normal way, I shall write to noble Lords about them. The issues raised in this debate go far wider than simple accommodation. It is a central social problem of our times. I hope that the expectations that have been raised by government action will be fulfilled. We owe it to all the young people on the cold streets tonight, or in inappropriate hostels and others forms of accommodation, to improve their circumstances. The Government are committed to that, as I know your Lordships are. I very much appreciate the contributions of noble Lords in this debate.

8.21 p.m.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken this evening. It has been a fascinating debate. There are a few points that I would like to emphasise. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Longford. I have now at last found out something about my father's life at school and I am very grateful for that. The noble Lord, Lord Laming, made the important point that we expect the most from those who can give the least. The noble Lord, Lord Leathers, made some important points on which the Minister went some way to reassure us as regards the need for a secure environment for working with drug users so that they do not fall through the net of provision. There was an encouraging note from the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, as regards the Rowntree Report. Sometimes it is possible to re-establish a relationship with a family and that can be pursued, but obviously, it is not always possible.

I thank the Government for taking such positive steps and I wish them well. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.