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Children: Bed-and-Breakfast Accommodation

Volume 686: debated on Wednesday 1 November 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they have any plans to reduce the number of parents with children under five who are housed by local authorities in bed-and-breakfast accommodation.

My Lords, since 2002, there has been a drop of 85 per cent in the number of families with children placed in bed-and-breakfast accommodation by local housing authorities. In 2004, an order came into force which prevents the use of such accommodation under the homelessness legislation, unless there is no other accommodation available. Even where that is the case, the family must be provided with more suitable accommodation after six weeks at the most.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging Answer. I am sure she will agree that, for a young couple trying to create a home for their new child, or a single mother, bed-and-breakfast accommodation is a total disaster. I ask the Government to do something that they rather like. Will they set themselves a target to ensure that, within an agreed period, there is no more bed-and-breakfast accommodation—or perhaps one month’s temporary accommodation only—for any family with young children?

My Lords, under the homelessness legislation at the moment roughly only 100 families with children are left in bed-and-breakfast accommodation for more than six weeks. Of course, that is 100 too many. Although some of them are there by negotiated choice, we would very much like it not used in that sense. I can tell the noble Lord—he will like it—that our effort has moved very much to the prevention of homelessness. For children, who bear the brunt of homelessness, that must be better. We have put £200 million into prevention strategies that range from helping families with mediation, for example, to helping them with rent deposits to manage their debt, so that they can keep children in the family home as far as possible.

My Lords, my noble friend needs congratulating on the reduction of the number of such families. Unless I misheard her, she said that there was a reduction of 85 per cent, but I did not hear her say of what. What is the number, rather than just the figure of 85 per cent?

My Lords, we had 3,000-plus families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation in 2002. That has gone down to about 100.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware of the evidence given by Shelter to the Select Committee in another place that government emphasis on assisting home purchase has been to the detriment of social housing for people in overcrowded and bed-and-breakfast accommodation? Does she not agree that, for some vulnerable members of society, home purchase is not the right option and that social housing should be given equal emphasis?

My Lords, in housing policy, one wants to meet aspiration as well as need. We are encouraging those people who want to own their own home as much as possible through the key worker living schemes and so on, but we have not neglected social housing. We have provided 75,000 new social rented homes between 2005-06 and 2007-08. That is a major increase of 50 per cent and constitutes 10,000 extra social homes a year. Of course, we will be pressing the Chancellor hard during the Comprehensive Spending Review.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the considerable number of priority categories that have to be taken into account by housing authorities in fulfilling their statutory obligation not to house the homeless in bed-and-breakfast accommodation? Does she think that satisfying those requirements militates against local authorities’ ability to place families together in permanent accommodation at the earliest stage of homelessness?

My Lords, again, one strives for a balance. Within the categories for priority needs are extremely vulnerable people: a person aged 16 or 17; a person under 21 who was, but is no longer, looked after; a person aged 21 or more who is vulnerable as the result of being looked after; a person who is vulnerable as having been a member of Her Majesty's forces. Those are categories of vulnerability and local authorities are to be congratulated on how they try to meet those needs alongside their other housing responsibilities.

My Lords, how many children are being brought up in sub-standard and temporary accommodation, some of which provides the sort of conditions that we have struggled—I congratulate the Government on this—to get rid of in bed-and-breakfast accommodation?

My Lords, we have had significant success in some areas. For example, rough sleeping is down by 73 per cent. I have already given the figures for bed and breakfast, but we have 130,000 children in temporary accommodation, which is far too many and involves 94,000 families. The figure has reduced by 29 per cent compared with this time last year, and we have a target to reduce it to 50,000—to halve it. We are trying hard through our investment to ensure that local authorities have a choice of options in which to place those families for settled accommodation.

My Lords, homelessness has become a particular problem for young black males and elderly black people. What is the Government's response to those vulnerable groups?

My Lords, there is often a complex set of circumstances for BME families that puts them in a cycle of deprivation. We have created a fund of £3 million to identify good practice and support for ethnic minorities. That builds on a guide that we published for development in 2005. We are producing information through videos, for example. I refer my noble friend to the Tower Hamlets youth homelessness prevention project, which is an interesting example, addressing young people with their families and approaching the prevention of homelessness in a holistic way.

My Lords, in the light of Shelter’s report, Living in Limbo, of June 2004, which stated that only one-fifth of families with children aged under four living in temporary accommodation were accessing Sure Start services, what are the Government doing to increase the number of children in the most vulnerable groups accessing that important service?

My Lords, the evaluation of Sure Start shows variable take-up in many areas, but it is an invaluable project. With the additional money going into children's centres and a growing expertise in the field, we are beginning to be more effective in reaching the very hard to reach. I am sure that housing authorities want to play their part in that as well.

My Lords, some months ago, my noble friend circulated a consultation document on the way in which long-standing unoccupied private residential accommodation might be used. Where have we got to with that consultation, and could that accommodation not be used in this context?

My Lords, I think that my noble friend is talking about the document on empty homes. We have issued the guidance, and we are looking forward to local authorities taking full advantage of every opportunity in that respect.