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Homeless People

Volume 750: debated on Thursday 12 December 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what estimate they have made of the spare capacity in London of hostel places for the homeless.

My Lords, London has good hostel provision to meet the current needs of the homeless, and a range of services is provided to help rough sleepers off the streets. We are continuing to improve the quality of hostels, with investment nationally of £42.5 million under the homelessness change programme.

Bearing in mind what my noble friend has just said, why is the number of people sleeping rough on the streets of London likely to rise this year to record levels at Christmas? If one of the reasons is that many of them do not want to accept the accommodation being provided, why is that the case and what are we going to do about it? I raise this as a former Minister for Housing who, some 25 years ago, started, rightly or wrongly, the grants for rough sleepers. Nearly 50 years ago, almost to the day, I was one of those who set up Crisis at Christmas—now called Crisis—which all goes to show that 50 years can be a short time in politics.

My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend for his long-standing interest in, and efforts to combat, rough sleeping. I think that I can be quite confident in saying to your Lordships that none of us wants anyone to end up on the streets. Our first priority in government is prevention, and we have invested £470 million on measures to prevent people ending up on the streets. However, in the sad event that prevention does not work, we need to ensure that those who do end up on the street are supported and moved off them as quickly as possible. That is what we are doing. We have provided £34 million to the GLA, which is using some of that money to fund the No Second Night Out campaign. I am pleased to report to noble Lords that 75% of first-time rough sleepers last year did not spend another night on the streets. Rough sleeping is increasing but we are getting people off the streets more quickly.

As another former Minister for Housing, I remind the Minister that, by 2005, the previous Government had virtually eliminated the problem of children and families living in hostel accommodation. The situation has deteriorated since then. I am not casting any blame but I have a suggestion. I know that the lady I am about to mention is incredibly busy but, when the Minister goes back to the department, could she commission Louise Casey—who set up the original system in the early part of the previous decade that brought about that result in 2005—to take a few minutes off from dealing with troubled families to have a look at what has gone wrong and why we have ended up with children back in hostels? It is quite unacceptable and totally unnecessary.

I am interested in what the noble Lord says, but the information that I have contradicts some of the points that he makes. The most recent statistics that we have show that the number of local authorities accepting families as homeless is going down. There has also been a drop in the number of families in bed and breakfast accommodation for more than six weeks, which the noble Lord will know is the statutory limit for any family to stay in a B&B. Overall, because of the money that we are investing in prevention, which I spoke about earlier, the time that families spend in temporary accommodation has reduced from 20 months at the start of 2010 to 13 months now.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her contribution. However, is it not true that one-third of local authorities are not meeting that six-week regulation? I am sure that I speak on behalf of the whole House when I say how much we appreciate the work being done by the various charities and local organisations, especially at this time of year. Churches and so on are doing remarkable work. What are the Government doing to make funding available for the continuation of that facility, to make sure that those who are on the streets have somewhere, especially in the coldest weather, where they can at least have shelter?

My noble friend is right to pay tribute to the charities that work so hard to support people who are homeless and find themselves on the street. With regard to local authorities that have not been meeting the statutory requirement to limit families’ stays in bed and breakfasts to six weeks, I responded to some specific questions on this the last time this topic was discussed at Questions in your Lordships’ House. I mentioned then the money that we had provided to improve the performance of those councils, and we have seen some improvement in that area.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that a significant proportion of the homeless in London are former members of the Armed Forces? It is a scandal that reflects on all of us that these men and women are prepared to go and fight for Her Majesty’s country, but we are not prepared to look after them when they come home. Is it not time for the Ministry of Defence to address this issue and try to get to the roots of it?

The noble Baroness is right to express real concern and disappointment that, in a small number of cases, people who have served this country find themselves homeless. The services that are there to support people who are out on the street are working hard for anybody who is out there on the street, including those who are former armed services personnel. We need to ensure that when people are supported, their reason for being homeless is addressed—and that is something that we are focusing on.

I thank my noble friend for supporting the No Second Night Out campaign, and wish it success. Will she ensure that the borough authorities, the charities and the GLA ensure vigilance and organisation in the last few days up to Christmas Day, when there may be people left on the streets through inadvertence or a lack of organisation because of the holiday period?

Yes, of course. I will also highlight for the benefit of noble Lords another initiative that we have, StreetLink, which is a system that is available for the public to use—I can provide noble Lords with the telephone number and the website address—where people can notify a local authority when they see somebody rough sleeping so that the local authority can go out and offer that person assistance.