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Homelessness: Young People

Volume 753: debated on Monday 7 April 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they have taken to tackle homelessness among young people.

My Lords, this Government have invested £470 million to tackle and prevent homelessness overall, and we continue to seek improvements in services for vulnerable young people. We place heavy emphasis on preventive measures such as family mediation and on a more joined-up approach by local services so that young people receive support before reaching crisis point. The percentage of statutory homeless people aged 16 to 24 continues to fall and is at an all-time low.

I thank the Minister for her reply. Is she aware that rough sleeping has increased by more than 37% since 2010? No Second Night Out estimates that as many as 20% of rough sleepers are under the age of 25. Research conducted by Centrepoint found that councils have not spent £65 million assigned for emergency support for vulnerable young people, for fear that the Government will cut more of their funding. Will the Minister encourage local councils to spend that money on vulnerable young people and provide them with the housing that is desperately needed?

My Lords, as I said in my opening reply, the Government have invested £470 million in homelessness, and this investment has been maintained and continues to provide services for those who are in need. Our emphasis is very much on preventive measures, particularly around mediation. On helping those who, sadly, do find themselves homeless, the noble Lord mentions the No Second Night Out project, which has done tremendous work in ensuring that those on the streets spend only one night out, and we are also doing a huge amount to ensure that the money that is available for local authorities to support homeless people is being targeted effectively on prevention and root causes.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the most vulnerable group of young people—those who have come from prisons and young offender institutions—struggle, particularly because they come from all over the country? Would it not make sense for each local authority area to have one point of contact in the local authority who would liaise with the prison and the young people and ensure that, once they leave prison or the young offender institution, they are rehoused back into their local areas in safe housing?

The noble Lord makes a specific suggestion to do with those coming out of young offender institutions. Clearly, we are improving our services so that they are very much targeted at those in need. One of the arrangements that we have put in place is the youth accommodation pathway, which focuses on helping families stay together and, where they cannot, makes sure that the support offered is tailored. I will consider the point that the noble Lord has made.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that young homeless people are particularly vulnerable to infectious diseases such as TB, and that early diagnosis and safe accommodation for the duration of the lengthy treatment of TB are essential in preventing the spread of the disease to the wider community?

Clearly, as I have already said, one of our biggest priorities is making sure that, if somebody ends up on the street, they are helped off it as soon as possible. The No Second Night Out programme in London has seen about three-quarters of rough sleepers spend only a single night out. On TB specifically, NHS London has been funding a mobile X-ray unit to screen for TB in hard-to-reach groups and a “find and treat” service to help ensure that people identified with suspected active TB are supported in accessing appropriate services.

My Lords, I remind the House of my interests as chair of Changing Lives. Is the Minister really content that enough is being done to help these most vulnerable people? Is she aware that many homeless organisations are now getting increasingly concerned at the number of younger people who are coming on to the streets and into services with severe mental health problems and for whom it is then very difficult to get help and support?

I certainly agree with the noble Baroness that any homelessness is a cause for concern. I always want to make sure that we can do more than we are already doing. This year, we are introducing a couple of new projects very much focused on the cause of homelessness and we are doing a lot to support those who are in a great deal of need but may not qualify under the formal criteria that would usually lead them to be statutorily homeless and receive that kind of help. We are constantly looking for new ways to assist people in their times of need.

My Lords, 48% of homelessness agencies report that they are turning away young, single homeless people because their resources are fully stretched. More worryingly, one in five local authorities feel that they are not meeting their legal requirements for homeless young people aged 16 and 17. Could my noble friend say what more local authorities could and should be doing, given that they have a statutory responsibility for young people of that age?

As my noble friend knows, all local authorities have a specific legal duty to house any 16 or 17 year-old who is found sleeping rough or who is not able to be with their family. On whether local authorities more generally are meeting those needs, we are doing quite a lot of work with local authorities to make sure that they are improving their services as far as possible to co-ordinate better and to address causes. We will continue to apply as much pressure as we can in this area.