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Rough Sleeping

Volume 754: debated on Thursday 19 June 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the current number of rough sleepers in England; and what proposals they have for tackling rough sleeping.

My Lords, the latest official figures from my department from 2013 show 2,414 people sleeping rough in England. Our approach to preventing homelessness and supporting those who, sadly, end up on the streets is comprehensive and is reflected by our increase in spending in this area.

My Lords, I remind your Lordships of my interest as chair of Changing Lives. Is the Minister aware that a recent survey from Homeless Link shows that 3% of claimants in general are sanctioned but that 33% of homeless claimants are sanctioned? Will she commit to working with her colleagues across the Government—I know that they have a working group—to ensure that the road from the streets and preventing people going on to the streets is understood and that these very vulnerable people are worked with in a way that helps rehabilitation rather than through sanctions, which, largely, push them back out on to the streets?

I share the noble Baroness’s concern about this very important and serious issue. That concern is felt widely across the Government. On the specific topic of sanctions, it is already recognised that there is a need to be flexible with regard to people who sleep rough when considering sanctions that might have to apply. Certainly my colleagues in the DWP have already introduced some changes in this area and are currently looking at what more is possible for them to do. However, I hope that it will give the noble Baroness some confidence to hear that only this week my colleague in the Department for Education—my honourable friend Matthew Hancock—announced some funding to assist with reading and writing for those who sleep rough.

My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that the Government will continue to do all they can to identify those young people, many of whom have run away from public care and are sleeping rough, and make sure that they are properly cared for and protected?

Of course I can provide that assurance to the noble Lord and to the House. I remind your Lordships that all local authorities have a statutory obligation to young people who are under the age of 18 as well as to those who come out of care homes who are older than that.

My Lords, I was the Minister who first introduced the rough sleepers grant some 25 years ago and I think I may have been wrong to do so. Does my noble friend agree that a better way to spend the money might be on improving the hostel facilities for people who do not have anywhere to sleep?

Our primary priority in terms of how we spend money in this area is prevention and doing everything we can to avoid anybody arriving in this dreadful situation. We are also investing in hostels to make sure that provision—should anybody have to be placed there—is adequate and that it includes services that help them to get in a much stronger position so that they no longer need to draw on this kind of help.

My Lords, I declare my interest as patron of Bradford Cyrenians, an organisation that works with homeless people. One gathers that a large percentage of those who are sleeping rough have alcohol, drug and mental health problems. Many patients who have been discharged from overcrowded mental health hospital wards now find themselves sleeping rough on the streets. What action are the Government taking to address this really important issue? What percentage of rough sleepers are veterans who have come back from conflicts?

As I said in response to the previous Question, most of our investment is on preventive measures and trying to ensure that we provide support on issues such as mental health and drug and alcohol addiction. As for people sleeping rough who have served in our Armed Forces, the number is very small, but obviously any number is a number too many. When I was asked about this matter some months ago by a noble friend of the noble Lord, I replied comprehensively in writing about everything we are doing for former members of the Armed Forces. That letter is in the Library.

My Lords, which department of government has overall responsibility for rough sleeping? How thorough is the co-operation between those in government and the voluntary sector, which does such a tremendous amount of work in this direction?

My department, the Department for Communities and Local Government, leads on rough sleeping but it is a matter that cuts across a range of Whitehall departments, which is why we have an inter-ministerial group that is specifically concerned with this issue. As my noble friend indicated, we work very closely with the voluntary sector, and our approach is to provide funding to the voluntary sector as we think it is best placed to provide the services that people need.

Does the Minister agree that the installation of spikes and other devices to prevent public spaces being used for rough sleeping is a civic disgrace? Will she consider legislating against this practice?

We certainly want all our public spaces to be safe and welcoming. My honourable friend the Housing Minister spoke very clearly about this matter the other day. He said:

“I don’t know what self-respecting architect would want to be associated with such an offensive measure”.

As the chief executive of St Mungo’s, one of the charities very much involved in homelessness, said, it is important to prevent people adopting a street lifestyle. Sometimes there is a need to adapt the physical environment but in a way that is not consistent with the kind of example that the noble Lord highlights. As a Government, we need to ensure that we provide services to support people to get off the streets and into other kinds of accommodation, and that is what we are doing.