Skip to main content


Volume 746: debated on Thursday 27 June 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to tackle the underlying causes of rough sleeping and homelessness.

My Lords, we have provided £470 million over the spending period to prevent rough sleeping and tackle homelessness, including £34 million to the Greater London Authority to tackle rough sleeping across the capital, and £20 million to support the national rollout of the No Second Night Out initiative and protect vital front-line services. The ministerial working group on homelessness is continuing to tackle the underlying causes of homelessness and has published two separate reports on rough sleeping and preventing homelessness.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Does he agree with the conclusions of the report produced yesterday by St Mungo’s, which suggests that the factors more often present in the lives of those who slept rough were, first, a traumatic childhood; secondly, drug and alcohol use; and thirdly, mental ill health? Will the Minister and the Government be ready to join with organisations such as St Mungo’s, which do tremendous work with the homeless and rough sleepers, in setting up a permanent group to look continuously at these issues?

On my noble friend’s final point, of course the Government are always looking at such groups and how we can take good practice forward. I will certainly take that suggestion back to the department. The homelessness figures for London, for example, show that more than 53% of those who are sleeping rough are non-UK nationals. However, my noble friend raises the important issue of mental health and there are statistics to substantiate his point. Many people who find themselves homeless suffer from mental health illnesses, and it is important that that responsibility is not shunned in any respect.

My Lords, further to the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, does the Minister agree that the vulnerability of a growing number of young people who are sleeping rough is the real cause for concern? Will the Government not just give further thought to their safety in the No Second Night Out initiative but address their needs and continuing well-being?

Again a valid concern is raised. I should add to the noble Lord’s comments that last year only six young people under the age of 18 were found sleeping rough in London, for example, out of about 6,500. That said, they are among the most vulnerable. Certainly young people between the ages of 18 and 25 are predominant among rough sleepers, and it is important that we look after their needs and future development.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that one of the reasons for homelessness, and in particular rough sleeping, may be that there is often a delay in benefits being paid? People simply do not know what to do, particularly if they are on their own, and they therefore end up sleeping rough.

On the point that the noble Baroness raises about benefits being paid, I know that we are considering moving from a three to a seven-day period. I heard the shadow Chancellor say in the other place only this morning—and certainly in his media appearances—that he would perhaps support the move to a seven-day period. It is important to share information so that we can get people who are entitled to benefits validly assessed and off the streets in order to develop their lives and those of their families.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that homelessness and rough sleeping have some connection with human trafficking? A BBC documentary of 27 February last year suggested that some rough sleepers may have paid huge amounts of money to agents abroad to come to the UK, only to find themselves on arrival homeless, out of work, suffering from various illnesses and ending up sleeping rough. What measures are being taken to tackle this complex issue?

My noble friend raises another important point. As I have said in a previous answer, 53% for example of the homeless in London constitute non-UK nationals. I share with him that it is important that the Home Office together with others take initiatives to ensure that people who travel to our shores are checked and vetted for their employment opportunities and whether they can afford to sustain their lives here. If not, that information needs to be shared with them at the port of embarkation, not in the UK. We are working with some of our partners in Europe to produce that information, and translating and making it available in Europe and other countries, to ensure that, before travelling, people are aware of what they are doing and that if they do not have a job or a place to live they need to reconsider their options.

Is the Minister aware that while, to their credit, the Government are spending the £470 million that he mentioned in combating homelessness, they are simultaneously pursuing policies that will increase homelessness, notably the way in which the changes that they have made are gradually taking effect on housing benefit? How much extra have the Government committed to try to combat the further homelessness that will arise as a direct result of their policies?

Let us put the issue of the welfare benefit cap into context. In 2010-11, £201 billion was spent on welfare and pension payments. We simply cannot sustain that. The Government are ensuring that we tackle homelessness. I am delighted to say that my right honourable friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has just announced in the other place a new, three-year affordable homes programme for 2015 that adds close to £2.8 billion to what has already been committed up to 2015. The Government are taking action across the piece to tackle homelessness and the availability of affordable housing.