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Rough Sleeping

Volume 768: debated on Monday 11 January 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to reduce the number of people who are sleeping rough.

My Lords, the Government remain committed to protecting the most vulnerable in society. That is why we are maintaining homelessness funding over this spending review period, building on our significant investment since 2010. But even one person without a home is too many, so we have committed to work with homelessness organisations and across departments to consider options, including legislation, to prevent more people from becoming homeless in the first place.

Can the Minister explain how a Prime Minister who believes that affordable property in London is £450,000, and a Housing and Planning Bill which sells off social housing but with no legal guarantee of replacement, can be interpreted as anything other than the abandonment of a homelessness strategy and a return to the 1980s when kids out of care and troops returning home had no choice but to sleep rough?

My Lords, the Prime Minister has not said that £450,000 is the price for an affordable home in London: it is the cap at which an affordable house can be provided in London. I apologise but I did not hear the second part of the noble Baroness’s question because there was a slight disturbance. Perhaps she would like to repeat it.

I will repeat the second part. With the Housing and Planning Bill, which sells off social housing but has currently no legal guarantee of replacement, how is it possible to interpret it as anything other than an abandonment of homelessness strategy by this Government and a return to the 1980s when kids coming out of care and troops returning home had no choice but to sleep rough?

My Lords, the Government are committed to building 1 million new homes by 2020 which will include affordable houses and homes for rent with a mix of different tenures. I must repeat that we will maintain and protect funding for local authorities, which by 2019-20 will be £315 million.

My Lords, as the housing Minister who introduced the rough sleepers allowance, I often wonder whether I was right to do so. Would it not have been better to have introduced more money for the provision of hostel places? Can I ask my noble friend how many hostel places are available today as compared with the number of those sleeping rough?

My Lords, I cannot give an exact figure for the number of hostel places, but what I can say to my noble friend is that I think he was absolutely right to do the work that he did. We introduced a £20 million homelessness transition fund that has supported the rollout of “No Second Night Out” across England, which has been very effective.

My Lords, the Chartered Institute of Housing was recently quoted as saying that the main cause of increased homelessness is social security cuts. Can the Minister tell us what assessment the Government have themselves made of the impact of benefit cuts on the number of homeless people?

My Lords, I cannot agree that the cause of homelessness is social security cuts because, in line with the housing benefit cuts, the welfare reform Bill will introduce a 1% reduction in social rents. My understanding is that the biggest cause of homelessness is in fact the end of tenancies.

My Lords, I think that the whole House will be disappointed that the noble Baroness was not able to estimate the number of people sleeping rough in London—and perhaps the Government do not have the figures. Could she at least answer the second half of the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Spicer; that is, how many hostel places are there in London at the present time?

My Lords, I think I made it clear that I do not know the number of hostel places, but I will get that figure both for my noble friend and for the noble Lord.

My Lords, in my capacity as chair of the charity Housing Justice, an interest that I declare, I am very aware of the work of church and community winter night shelters. Indeed, the organisation provides a charter mark for such initiatives. In the winter of 2014-15, these shelters used some 500 church and other buildings, including mosques and synagogues, to provide winter accommodation, along with tens of thousands of volunteers who welcomed several thousand guests. Sadly, this work is expanding, although I wish it were not. Perhaps I may invite the Minister to affirm the Government’s support for initiatives such as winter shelters not simply as places of temporary shelter but, more importantly, as places where homeless people can be assisted to find longer term, permanent solutions to their circumstances.

I am very happy to endorse what the right reverend Prelate does and the work of organisations like the church. It is absolutely vital, particularly in the cold winter months, in taking rough sleepers off the streets and giving them warmth and shelter.

My Lords, can the Minister explain why the Prime Minister has actually chosen to deal with some of the symptoms of problems in our society but not the causes? He has suggested that he is going to knock down sink estates, whereas in fact what we need is poverty alleviation.

My Lords, I think that this Government and the coalition Government before them focus quite heavily on the causes of poverty and alleviating it. Certainly the troubled families programme has been extremely effective in taking either a whole-family or whole-community approach in dealing with these complex, long-term problems.

My Lords, I am not sure whether the Minister has seen the Centrepoint report which states that the number of homeless young people aged between 16 and 25 years old has more than doubled since 2011. It has called on the Government to make more hostel provision and support services to stop very vulnerable young people ending up sleeping rough on the streets. Do the Government have a plan to address this directly?

My Lords, we most certainly have. Young people getting into a homeless situation can often also cause other problems. The Government totally support what the noble Baroness is saying. The idea of prevention at that stage is vital for that young person’s future.

My Lords, in addition to the worrying increase in homelessness and rough sleeping, more and more people are being driven to rely on food banks. Which of these consequences of government policy do the Government regard as the more serious? In any event, will they now include provisions in the Housing and Planning Bill to address what David Cameron once described as the “disgrace” of having people sleeping on the streets?

My Lords, both aspects are important. People being homeless or using food banks is a worry for society, which is why the Government are investing centrally and locally to address the issue.

My Lords, the Immigration Bill will try deliberately to force people into destitution and discourage them from being immigrants in the UK. Listening to the Minister’s replies, does that mean that the Government will withdraw that section of the Immigration Bill which deliberately tries to force people on to the streets?

My Lords, I am not totally au fait with the Immigration Bill. The Government believe that, while no one should ever have to sleep rough, EU nationals who choose to do so are abusing the freedom of movement, which will not be tolerated.

The Minister may not have the figures she was asked for but she may be interested in the figures of people sleeping rough in Watford. Prior to the Christmas appeal for what, in the last few years, was for food, this year the charity which looks after the homeless and those who sleep rough in Watford reported that four years ago approximately 30 people were sleeping rough; currently, there are 79. This year, they were not asking for food but for sleeping bags. Does the Minister have any conscience about what has happened to these people?

My Lords, indeed, I have a conscience about what is happening to these people, but I am very proud to say that homelessness is still half what it was at its 2003 peak.