Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they have given to the issue of preventing homelessness in the context of the current Spending Review.
My Lords, I am delighted to have the opportunity today to raise issues surrounding homelessness and the impact of the spending review on measures to prevent it. I am grateful to noble Lords, including my noble friends, for taking part in the debate.
Homelessness is a highly complex issue, which touches on so many issues of public policy, including provision of affordable housing, local government finance, public health, mental health, substance abuse, immigration and relationship and family break-ups. Given the time constraints today, I can only begin to touch on some of those issues.
Two years ago, I had the privilege of volunteering with Crisis at Christmas. I also volunteered to work on Crisis’s English-language classes, and, last August, I did an overnight shift with a brilliant outreach team from St Mungo’s Broadway in north-west London. In my attempts to understand homelessness issues, I have been consistently impressed by the dedication of the professional and voluntary staff I have met at Crisis, Broadway St Mungo’s, the YMCA, Pathway and the Olallo centre, to name but a few.
Homelessness figures are significantly on the increase and must be a cause for real concern. Outreach teams recorded 2,862 individuals sleeping rough in London from October to December last year, a 12% increase in the total figure from the year before. However, the statistics alone do not begin to tell the tragic and often harrowing personal stories that lie behind them—lives that have gone off course but, with timely intervention, can be put back on track.
The estimated annual cost to the state of homelessness is £1 billion. However, recent research for Crisis drawing on large studies of homelessness across Britain has shown that tackling homelessness early could help save the Government between £3,000 and £18,000 for every person helped.
The figures for homelessness are in themselves extremely worrying, but many more people do not show up in the statistics. They are the hidden homeless: those who are staying with friends or family members or living in squats, often in very insecure and inappropriate accommodation. Research by Crisis suggests that about 62% of single homeless people are hidden and may not show up in official figures. The hidden homeless are often subject to exploitation, and risks to personal safety are high.
One of the main causes of homelessness is the ending of tenancies in the private rented sector. The sector is home to 18% of the population and is in desperate need of reform. Private-sector rents have become untenably high in many parts of Britain, most notably here in London, and many renters are now paying more than half their disposable income in rent. Moving from one rented home to another can be very expensive, with high lettings fees and large deposit requirements. Rented homes often fall below a decent standard, and there are continuing problems with rogue landlords, which can lead to a family becoming homeless.
I welcome recent changes to protect tenants from revenge evictions: legislation which was passed by the coalition Government. I also welcome the provisions in the Housing and Planning Bill to tackle rogue landlords. It is vital that we strengthen the private rented sector if we are to hold the rise of homelessness. I have very real concerns, however, about the effect of the Bill on the level of social housing, which is extremely important when it comes to bringing down homelessness. Selling off council homes to fund the right-to-buy extension, with no requirement for replacement properties to be of the same tenure, will have the effect of pushing more people into the private rented sector in the long term.
What measures do the Government plan to take to prioritise funding for new housing that is affordable to rent for people on low incomes? Will they make it clear that low-cost homes for ownership—starter homes—should be additional to, not built instead of, housing to rent?
I welcome the Government’s announcement of 17 December last year on maintaining and protecting homelessness prevention funding for local authorities and on increasing central government funding for homelessness programmes to £139 million over the spending review period. I welcome, too, their commitment to work with homelessness organisations and across departments to consider options, including new legislation, to prevent more people becoming homeless. However, I would like to use today’s short debate to ask the Minister for some further details on these proposals. What measures are the Government taking to ensure that the homelessness prevention grant is allocated based on actual levels of homelessness and housing need in each local authority area, and what measures will be put in place to monitor how the money is spent? Will the Minister give a commitment to keep the level and allocations of the homelessness prevention grant under review to ensure that it is sufficient to implement any new legislative reforms on homelessness?
I turn to the specific issue of public health and homelessness, and in particular tuberculosis. I declare an interest as a vice-chair of the APPG on Global Tuberculosis. Rates of TB have been found to be as high as 400 per 100,000 among London’s homeless population, more than 10 times the London average and more than 30 times the national average. Homeless people are also less likely to access healthcare to complete treatment and are therefore significantly more likely to develop drug-resistant strains, which have been described by the WHO as a global health emergency.
As infectious diseases, particularly drug-resistant diseases, pose a threat to the public health of all UK citizens, it is extremely important to support the outreach programmes and multidisciplinary teams required to diagnose and successfully treat people with chaotic lifestyles. If admitted to hospital, a homeless person cannot be discharged unless either their treatment is completed or they have a permanent address to which they can be discharged. In practice, this leads to people with long-term conditions such as TB being admitted to hospital and bed-blocking, sometimes for as long as six months. The cost to the NHS of a hospital bed per night is around £500. By contrast, however, dedicated hostel provision can cost as little as £60 to £70 per night and would include life- skills coaching, three solid meals a day and secure accommodation. This would help to ensure that patients complete their treatment, which is particularly important in the case of tuberculosis.
One such hostel is Olallo House near Euston station, which has a very effective TB programme. It is also, I believe, unique in its specialised provision of beds for homeless European migrants in London, and does a fantastic job in assisting people to return home, should they want to. I understand, however, from my last visit there just before Christmas, that its future funding is now in question. Will the Minister consider visiting the Olallo Project with me to see how such it works in practice and just how effective—and cost-effective—it has been?
In conclusion, homelessness is a highly complex issue which transcends party politics. It crosses over several government departments and requires co-operation between local government, devolved Administrations and central government. It requires programmes for homeless people with complex needs that join up services, pool budgets and provide holistic, tailored support. For this reason, I believe that a national homelessness strategy is now required involving cross-party consensus. Such a strategy should have input from local government and the devolved Administrations, as well as from practitioners and the homelessness charities. It should provide sharing of best practice from local government of the many excellent programmes on the ground, some of which I have seen. Above all, a national strategy should monitor national resource requirements and anticipate increases and changes in these requirements. Such a national strategy would be an effective step forward in the prevention of homelessness.
My Lords, I commend the noble Baroness for her choice of subject for this short debate and for the powerful speech she has just made in opening it. She raised a number of pertinent questions which I know my noble friend will want to answer.
It is 50 years since 1966 when “Cathy Come Home” was first shown on television. It was a powerful film that showed how a young couple through no fault of their own could become homeless and have their child taken into care. In the wake of it, two great national charities were formed: Shelter and Crisis. They are both approaching their 50th anniversaries, and I know they will do all they can to ensure that the issue of homelessness remains very high on the political agenda. It is also 25 years since, as Housing Minister, I launched the rough sleepers initiative here in London with the objective of making it unnecessary for anyone to sleep rough on the streets of London. Anybody who has been round London at night knows how much remains to be done. This is not to belittle the steps that have been taken in the past 50 years. Without the legislative changes and financial investment, the position would be far worse, but no Housing Minister could possibly ignore the challenges that remain.
At a strategic level, as the noble Baroness has just said, there needs to be an increase in housing supply, not least so that those in temporary accommodation can move on into permanent accommodation and free up spaces in hostels and temporary accommodation for those in greatest need. I welcome the initiatives in the Housing and Planning Bill designed to drive up the supply of new homes. I also welcome the financial initiatives in the Budget and the recent public expenditure review, which had the same objective of increasing supply. Like the noble Baroness, I was pleased that in the recent spending review the homeless prevention grant for local authorities was protected.
However, as in health, so in housing, and we need to put more emphasis on prevention. I was delighted to see that the ministerial group on preventing and tackling homelessness continues. Perhaps my noble friend can bring us up to date with its work. I understand it had a meeting last month. It would be helpful to know what its priorities are for this Parliament. Is my noble friend also able to confirm, as asked by the noble Baroness, that the Government have not ruled out legislative changes on the prevention of homelessness in the light of discussions that her ministerial colleague Marcus Jones has been having with interested parties?
On this subject, I was reading Crisis’s report, Turned Away, which shows how the services provided by local authorities can vary. Its mystery shoppers found that in more than half of their visits local authorities turned them away with little or no support leaving them in very vulnerable situations with the prospect of sleeping on the streets. That is simply unacceptable.
I also welcome the recently announced review of the funding regime for supported housing. Unlike mainstream housing that depends on rents and housing benefit, supported housing needs a stream of funds from a variety of sources and has higher management costs and more voids. We need to put this vital housing sector on a much firmer financial footing so it can play its full part in helping homeless people.
Can my noble friend update us on the no second night out initiative, which her department is helping to fund, to stop those who had no option but to sleep rough adapting themselves to that very dangerous lifestyle? The average life expectancy of somebody sleeping rough is 47. It would be helpful to know how that initiative is going. With the 1990s initiative, we were able to reduce the number sleeping rough in London by two-thirds, but of course it has gone up again. This may be partly due to better recording, but today there are many non-UK nationals in this country who were not here in the 1990s, and we need some targeted initiatives to resolve that problem. Homelessness is the symptom of wider problems—alcoholism, relationship breakdown, financial problems, discharge from prison or care without proper support—that need to be addressed at the same time as accommodation is provided. The supported housing movement is so important as it can provide the one-stop shop that is needed.
Finally, I welcome the initiatives to make it easier for homeless people to access private rented accommodation. I note the reservations the noble Baroness has about the current regime. The Minister’s department has funded the private rented sector access development fund since 2010. This provides a good model for persuading landlords to accept families who are threatened with homelessness. If assurances can be given that the deposit will be available, the rent will be guaranteed and if the arrangements do not work the family can be rehoused, many landlords who might be cautious about accepting homeless families might overcome their reservations. Homeless families are not synonymous with problem families, and if they are given decent accommodation many can rebuild their lives.
We may need legislative change to reinforce the safety net. We need to spread best practice. We need financial support for cost-effective and targeted initiatives. We need a stable funding regime for the voluntary organisations on the front line. If we get all those arrangements in place, I think we in this Parliament can make a real impact on tackling homelessness.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, for initiating this extremely important debate. It gives me the opportunity once again to raise the problems of a group of women who, for many reasons beyond their control, find themselves vulnerable and homeless. These women have been overlooked for far too long and can find themselves in a downward spiral of chaos and exclusion. Just over 1,000 women have been recorded as sleeping rough in London. As no such gendered information is available for the rest of the country, will the Minister say whether there are any plans to collect this information, not least because, as has been said, the number of homeless people is rapidly on the increase? It is estimated that about 30% of rough sleepers will be women, and they have special needs. There are also many thousands of women who make up the hidden homeless. Homeless rootless women with few belongings will often show up in the head count of rough sleepers. These hidden homeless women may be sofa-surfing, staying with family and friends or trapped in an abusive relationship because they have nowhere else to go.
Women’s homelessness can occur after a prolonged period of trauma, including physical, sexual and emotional abuse. It can follow a cycle of mental health problems, substance use and myriad other problems. The figures show, however, that half have experienced domestic violence, 78% report mental health needs and one in five has a combination of mental health and physical health problems.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, said, homelessness has to be seen as being not just about a place for people to go but as a health issue and, sometimes, even a life issue. The average age of people who die while homeless is 47; for women, it is just 43. According to research from the Salvation Army, 53% of homeless women have attempted suicide at least once. Despite facing such harsh health inequalities, women who are homeless often do not get the right healthcare. Their health problems often remain untreated until a health crisis requires urgent care. That comes at a cost, for both individuals and the NHS. That is clearly illustrated by one instance. Angela has a history of homelessness and substance use and has spent time in prison. She says, “I got mixed up with the wrong people. I never imagined in a million years I would be selling my body for drugs. I have nearly been killed three times doing it. I have been raped doing it and as a result I have HIV”, which is another cost to the health service.
In my area of Brighton and Hove, evidence from the women’s centre—I declare my interest as patron—shows that almost half its clients are mothers. Of these, 67% have had their children taken into care or adopted. Much of the complexity of homeless women’s needs is rooted in histories of violence and abuse stemming from childhood. So not only are they grieving for their lost children, they are also grieving for their own lost childhood. These problems are intergenerational. We have to make sure that they are not passed on to the next generation.
To add to their problems, and to make the way out more difficult, women are marginalised in the labour market. Evidence from St Mungo’s states that the majority want to move into employment, but about only 9% of its female clients have a job. The importance of having an occupation, of being trained with the consequent boost to self-esteem, cannot be overestimated as a way of recovery.
Making matters worse for many of these women, they experience stigma and shame because they are homeless and are judged by societal expectations that women should be good mothers and maintain a home. A perceived failure to live up to these expectations can be a significant barrier to recovery. Unfortunately, the histories of far too many of these women are full of missed opportunities, through insufficient co-ordination by national and local government and inappropriate and erratic interventions, to get the right help at the right time, leaving needs unaddressed and making recovery much more difficult.
It is feared that unless urgent action is taken now, too many women will not get the help they need to escape from homelessness, a situation not assisted by the cuts to public services, the restrictions on welfare, rising private sector costs and the lack of social housing supply. I also have concerns about the consequences of the Housing and Planning Bill. There are also cuts in local authorities’ spending on specialist services, such as refugees and women-only hostels. That has reduced the number of places where women can go. It is estimated that next year there will be a shortage of something like 15,500 places. The Government have said they will consider legislative changes to prevent more people becoming homeless, which should take into account the provision of holistic, gender-sensitive support. There have to be imaginative approaches and partnership working across government and local government. Will the Minister say what progress has been made in getting some legislation on the statute book? The longer a woman sleeps rough, the worse her problems become, and the more costly it becomes to help her off the streets and make her life worthwhile so that she is able to contribute to the economy of the country.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Suttie for sponsoring this debate. We visited St Mungo’s Broadway together to see its work last year. As a former trustee of Homeless Link, the membership body for organisations working with homeless people, over the years I have had the privilege of seeing St Mungo’s Broadway’s innovative approach, led by Howard Sinclair. It has never ceased to impress. Street Link is just one of the examples. It was set up in 2012 by St Mungo’s and Homeless Link to connect people on the street as quickly as possible to local services. It continues to have very welcome support from the Government, including the No Second Night Out initiative referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham.
Fifty years ago, Shelter was formed, as the noble Lord, Lord Young, mentioned, with the express ambition of quickly putting itself out of business. A short walk from here along the Strand any evening of the week suggests that the work of my former employer, Shelter, is needed now more than ever. The stats seem to bear out what we can all see, especially in inner cities, not just London but elsewhere. The latest quarterly figures, which came out at the end of January for the period October to December 2015, show that outreach teams recorded 2,862 individuals sleeping rough in the capital, a 12% increase on the total figure for October to December 2014. New rough sleepers accounted for 46% of all rough sleepers. In a way, the good news is that there are fewer people out for longer periods of time. It would seem that there is some achievement in that area. Intermittent rough sleepers account for 39% of all those recorded.
Will the Minister share with us what is happening with the Government’s statistics, which are now under criticism and scrutiny? The recent assessment by the UK Statistics Authority concluded that the official statistics for homelessness prevention and relief and rough sleeping do not currently meet the required standard of trustworthiness, quality and value to be designated as national statistics. They have been retained, on condition that urgent action is taken by the Government to make a series of required improvements. That seems a far cry from when my former colleague Louise Casey was in charge of this.
Today, I would like to tease out one of the things that particularly affects homelessness, which is the danger of unintended consequences when developing policies in government and the need, among friends and in this safe atmosphere, for Governments occasionally to change their minds and recognise when policies go wrong in this area. Away from party point scoring, there is value in recognising just how often Governments with the best of intentions end up with some of the worst case scenarios. From right to buy and care in the community all the way to the spare room subsidy or the bedroom tax, recent political history is awash with policies that have impacted badly on homeless people
Other speakers referred to the overall supply of affordable housing and the chronic decline in social housing. What has been needed ever since right to buy is a substantial housebuilding programme, but the loss resulting from the sale of 1.7 million council homes between 1979 and 2001—covering two Governments—has never been recouped. Local authorities are now left with such limited stock that today’s councils find themselves in the invidious position of deciding to move homeless foreigners out of their own boroughs to areas with cheaper rents for temporary accommodation. As Inside Housing and others have shown, the increase in the number of households placed outside the capital often comprises vulnerable families. Often, a local authority in receipt of them has not been informed that they are within their area.
Given all we know, those accepted as homeless often have complex issues. As Homeless Link’s research showed, 78% report a physical health problem and 86% report some form of mental health difficulty. From those on the front line of street homelessness represented by Homeless Link, the most pressing concern right here, right now—and possibly an unintended consequence—is the proposed cap to social rents to LHA levels. I would love to hear from the Minister some reassurance on that because this is in the welfare area. Many of Homeless Link’s members now say that they will be forced to close homeless provision, hostels, supported accommodation and refuges. There is also a danger in terms of funding that drives more and more towards generic provision of service and away from specialised services, for instance for women or trans communities. These are unintended but damaging consequences.
I can recall as far back as 1996 when at Shelter I asked my policy team why housing benefit did not go direct to recipients rather than landlords—a classic question coming from a Liberal, if you will forgive me. Now, having seen how HLA will be delivered, I can see unintended consequences from it going to any chaotic individual rather than the landlord. However, I am out of time.
My Lords, I join others in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, on securing such a timely and important debate. The impact of the CSR announcement on capping social rents kept us all up late last Wednesday during Report on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill—and quite right too. This is an incredibly important issue for many providers of supported housing for the most vulnerable, whose care and shelter may be all that stands between those they serve and unbearable hardship or even death.
I think about Jonathan, who was offered a place in the Exaireo homelessness project in Loughborough after he tried to drink himself to death when his marriage foundered. Exaireo means to rescue and restore. It did not just put a roof over his head but gave him a reason to hope again, to rediscover a sense of purpose and his worth as a human being. Within a couple of years, with Exaireo’s help he had set up a consultancy that has since worked with local authorities on their housing strategies. It has a great track record in getting people off benefits and into jobs and higher education. For information, the criminal justice system savings from keeping ex-offenders out of prison are more than 300% higher than the housing benefit costs they incur.
Certainly, organisations such as Exaireo are concerned about the sword of Damocles that hangs over their funding, as has just been referred to. I am sure the Minister can imagine the trust they and others must place in the Government’s review as they seek to expand to meet growing need. My noble friend Lord Freud repeatedly stated that this Government take their responsibilities to the most vulnerable extremely seriously as they seek to reform welfare. Ministers responding in last week’s debate in the other place on housing benefit and supported housing were also unequivocal that they had no interest in cutting off the social housing sector at the knees.
However, this debate is about preventing homelessness, and I want to spend the rest of my time talking about what we must do to reduce the number of people who need the services of organisations such as Exaireo. Many providers cite the prevalence of relationship breakdown as a potent driver of destitution. Exaireo says that it is a significant factor for more than half, possibly three-quarters, of all the people they help. Certainly many of them have addictions and mental health problems but, as Professor Kim Etherington’s research has shown, the roots of these often lie in the trauma from emotional, physical and sexual abuse that people experienced in childhood. Poor parenting has to be addressed, so I welcome the Prime Minister’s life chances speech, which highlighted this as well as the need to support couple relationships.
Tragically, the pressure group Crisis says that the biggest cause of homelessness in young people is being told to leave the family home by their parents, when the relationship between them has broken down considerably or irretrievably. The inspiring Liv Bauckham, who leads Love4life, another award-winning Midlands charity, says how difficult it is for the vulnerable young people she works with when a string of different partners come into their mothers’ lives. Many single parents are utterly devoted to their children and either put their own romantic aspirations on hold or tread incredibly carefully in this area, but it can be the case that young girls and boys suddenly find themselves living with older men whom they have never met. When there is conflict, often borne out of the teenager’s fear for their own safety, the mother, says Liv,
“will always put her boyfriend first”.
The teenager is seen as an unruly and unpleasant interloper in their romance and is given the ultimatum that if they do not like the living arrangements, they can always leave. Crises are easily reached, and underage teenagers find themselves sofa-surfing, going into care or disappearing into the shadowlands of gang and drug culture, easy prey for exploitative adults. Yet their mothers are often outworking a dysfunctional parenting blueprint they somehow survived themselves.
In many families in our poorest communities, and even in some where there is less financial need, the relational fabric of society lies in tatters. There are solutions that could ultimately stem the flow of people into homelessness services, but we have to start early. Your Lordships, and indeed now a number of Ministers, are aware of my focus on the need for family hubs. Some pioneering local authorities facing greater social need and smaller budgets, such as the Isle of Wight, have transformed their early years children’s centres into hubs where families with older children can go when they are struggling. Troubled families programmes are wholly integrated into this service. Often it is the conflicted relationship between parents that hinders them from giving their children the safe, stable and nurturing environment that they need to flourish. Bromley family hubs recognise this and, if staff cannot help couples, there is a small budget for Relate sessions.
Leadership from national government is urgently needed to encourage local authorities to broaden the purpose of children’s centre infrastructure. Many children’s centres are deserted from 4 pm onwards; certainly they are underused at evenings and weekends. Let us sweat these assets. Will the Minister undertake to look more closely at family hubs and perhaps consider using her role in the Cabinet Social Justice Committee to create a caucus for change in this vital area?
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Suttie on securing this important debate. At a time when the House is beginning to debate the Housing and Planning Bill, we do well to consider the plight of those who are homeless. The number of homeless families has rocketed by one-third since 2010, with a record 56,040 families on the streets last year. I draw noble Lords’ attention to my entry in the register of interests as vice-president of the LGA. We have heard from my noble friend Lady Suttie who spoke eloquently of the brilliant work of St Mungo’s and other organisations to assist homeless people back into employment and decent housing. Similar organisations operate across the country to great effect. Many rely heavily on charitable donations to carry out their work. This is a very hand-to-mouth existence and deserves more security.
One-third of those who find themselves homeless do so as a result of private landlord tenancies ending. There are very considerable costs to renting in the private sector with myriad fees: agent’s fees for introducing a property; fees for drawing up the tenancy agreement; fees for credit checks; and at least four weeks’ rent, and often six, as a deposit in advance, and then a month’s rent also in advance. The previous deposit is not returned in sufficient time to be used for a new property. Many of those reliant on the private sector for housing do not have this kind of money, so when their tenancy ends they have nowhere to go but the streets. These people deserve better.
Outside of those who are homeless as a result of tenancies ending or evictions are those with mental health issues, those given to alcohol and substance misuse, and those suffering from domestic abuse. It is widely reported that among those arrested and spending a night in police cells are many suffering from mental health problems. I am pleased that the Government are at last allocating resources towards dealing with mental health on a par with physical health. This is long overdue and needs urgent attention.
Not many years ago I frequently used the Tube at Hyde Park where there were often male rough sleepers on cardboard. One morning there was a woman with a boy of about eight sleeping there as well. Both were clean and reasonably well-dressed. Women do not sleep rough with their children unless they are fleeing domestic abuse. Local authorities have a duty to provide housing and accommodation for many categories of vulnerable people, especially those suffering from domestic abuse. However, these services are continually under threat as contracts outsourced to private contractors collapse due to insufficient profit being available. Services are returned in-house and re-let to another provider. On each occasion, the specification and the cost are reduced. Since the ending of ring-fenced funding for Supporting People, local authorities with dwindling resources find it increasingly difficult to prioritise this section of our communities. The current local government settlement has put these people at very serious risk.
Currently, my own county has given notice that the existing contract which provides for vulnerable adults will end in April 2016. It has a statutory duty to provide for those with mental health issues but the other elements of the contract will only receive £1.4 million for all other elements of homelessness, including substance abuse and homeless hostels over the whole county. Other counties are suffering similar choices. Analysis from the National Housing Federation suggests there are 110,000 places in supported housing in 2015-16 for those of working age. That is 15,000 fewer places than needed. This shortfall is set to grow to 30,000 places by 2019-20. Is the Minister aware of this situation and is she prepared to take action to ensure that vulnerable people are safeguarded? This is a particular challenge in two-tier areas where districts are the statutory housing providers. Funding is now channelled through the counties which, under pressure, are withdrawing sufficient funding and saying to districts, “You are the housing providers; you take responsibility”. Is the Minister aware of this tension?
Social housing is increasingly important for people who are homeless or at risk but the availability of social rented housing has halved since 1994, dropping from 3.6 million properties to 1.6 million properties in 2016. Many local authorities find that they have insufficient housing to accommodate emergency cases. Some of these people will resort to sleeping rough or will be placed in temporary accommodation in a hostel or bed and breakfast. One of my colleagues who is the leader of a large council tells of how she cried the first time she had to put a family into bed-and-breakfast accommodation as there was nowhere else for them to go. This is soul-destroying, especially for those families with young children. How many people—both individuals and families—are currently in temporary accommodation up and down the country? There is a desperate shortage of housing for those vulnerable people needing to rent. I look forward to the Minister’s response to the comments made this afternoon.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, for putting this Motion down for debate. Secondly, I declare an interest as an elected councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham. When discussing homelessness and how we can prevent it, I am always drawn to the fact that we are one of the richest countries on the planet. As a nation we have achieved some remarkable things in almost every field you can think of, and yet we have people sleeping in doorways and on friends’ sofas, and the problem is not being addressed properly. The noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, is right when she tells the Grand Committee that this is a complex issue that needs tackling across government.
I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, will produce a raft of statistics. As organisations such as Crisis and Centrepoint point out, these official figures do not reveal the real scale of the problem and, unless we get true figures and a real understanding of the problem, then we will struggle to get a grip with this issue. You have only to walk the streets a few hundred yards from this House to see people sleeping in doorways. I was struck by witnessing homeless people on the Strand, close to Charing Cross station, gathering in the early evening to be fed by charity workers, who brought them bread and soup.
You can break homelessness down into different categories and circumstances, and with some it can be easier when trying to find solutions than with others. Families that find themselves unintentionally homeless have protections in law, and local authorities have a duty to help them. However, changes that the coalition Government made to welfare and housing benefit, and other reforms, mean that, particularly in London, local authorities often have to rehouse people in temporary accommodation many miles away. Many Members in the other place, representing constituencies in the north of England and the Midlands, have told me of families coming to their surgeries who were rehoused from parts of London but who want to go back to their own communities. An immediate problem is solved, but others are created.
The Government have allowed local authorities to use the private-rented sector to house homeless families. They also have overseen the building of the smallest amount of council houses, as I mentioned earlier, building fewer than 11,000 social homes for rent last year compared to Labour’s 33,000 in its last year in office. During the Second Reading of the Housing and Planning Bill, I recall the noble Lord, Lord Horam, from the Conservative Benches, making a plea for the Government to build more council homes and social rents. On the subject of rent, the affordable rent strategy being pursued by the Government just creates an unaffordable private-rented sector for young people and families in many parts of the country, particularly in London, and that is no solution.
You then have people who are not protected by legislation, including single people, young adults, the poor and renters in the private sector, who are being failed by the policy decisions taken by the Government. We are seeing more and more of these people on street corners in our cities and in London. The noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, outlined the measures in the Housing and Planning Bill concerning the sale of housing association properties and introducing more unaffordable rents that will do nothing to help the homeless or those people at risk of becoming homeless. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, mentioned “Cathy Come Home”, and he is right about the effect of that programme and the founding of Crisis and Shelter. I was five years-old at the time and benefitted from a council house that my parents were allocated in Southwark. I also remember the revulsion against the activities of people like Peter Rackham and their effect on the private-rented sector at the time. It is very different today with so few council houses being built and the Government seeing the solution to the problem very much more in the private-rented sector with these expensive rents. The noble Lord, Lord Farmer, talked of family hubs in his contribution. I would say to the noble Lord that the Sure Start programme, which has been decimated by the Government, was about those family hubs and I think we need to get back to those programmes.
Can the Minister set out what initiatives the Government are taking to help these people and what the process is for reviewing policy decisions made by the Government? In addition, what is actually happening in London and elsewhere? Can she say how the No Second Night Out programme is progressing? It is supposed to tackle the problem of people living on the streets. What review of the programme is taking place? The Motion asks the Government what steps they are taking to tackle homelessness in light of the current spending review. A proper assessment of the success or failure of government initiatives in this area must be used to inform the spending review. One of the risks for this forgotten group of homeless people is to have no protection from the real dangers they find themselves in. They can be targeted by criminals, who can get them into a life of crime, drug and alcohol abuse and dependency, prostitution—and young lives destroyed. We have too often seen the tragic results of these cases in the media. As my noble friend Lady Gould of Potternewton said, there are effects on young women, in particular, and I very much agree with the points she made.
I believe some work is needed to look at the effects of government policy across departments and the cumulative effect of those decisions. These are decisions about building fewer council houses, welfare and benefit reforms, unaffordable private sector rents, the reduction of mental health spending, and what services can be provided to asylum seekers where people are left destitute. Taken together, you have a toxic mix of misery, despair and hopelessness. People with mental health problems also make up an alarming number of the people sleeping on our streets, as the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, said. Can the Minister tell us what is being done across government?
Finally, when discussing homelessness, we should never forget the plight of our former service personnel, who make up an alarming number of the people sleeping rough on our streets. Again, what are the Government doing to help these forgotten heroes? Many have suffered mental trauma from what they have witnessed in other parts of the world.
In any debate of only one hour it is hard to touch on all the issues one would like to. It is clear that the picture is bleak and the Government need to sharpen up their act. This debate has been very worth while. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, for enabling us to discuss these issues.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. The contributions have been many and varied and have touched upon some of the key issues for society, both now and in the future.
The Government have always been clear that we are committed to supporting the most vulnerable people in our society. During the previous Parliament, we made significant progress in securing the right support for homeless people, not only so they have a roof over their head but so they can get back on their feet. Since 2010, we have invested more than £500 million, which has helped local authorities prevent almost 1 million households from becoming homeless. For example, we invested £8 million in the Help for Single Homeless fund, enabling 168 local authorities to partner up to help some of the hardest-to-reach individuals. These projects are offering support to help people turn their lives around and find long-term solutions. Likewise, our access to the private rented sector programme, which one noble Lord mentioned and which we have funded Crisis to run, has helped more than 9,000 people access privately rented accommodation and the right support they need to rebuild their lives. However, we remain clear that one person without a home is one too many. Protecting the most vulnerable in society and supporting their housing needs is just as much a priority as driving down the deficit. There need be no contradiction between these two aims.
The noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, started with the point about rogue landlords and young homeless, and the two may often be linked. Noble Lords will be aware that we will be dealing with this through the housing Bill. Strong cross-party support is emerging for dealing with this really poisonous and irresponsible practice, which is far too prevalent. Young homeless people often find themselves at the mercy of these rogue landlords. The noble Lord, Lord Farmer, talked about young homeless in relation to fractured family relationships. Young people find themselves homeless for a variety of reasons but often it is because relationships within the family break down. These are two very important aspects for us to think about.
Despite the need to take tough decisions on government spending, we prioritised the need for investment in this area and increased funding for homelessness programmes to £139 million over the course of this Parliament. As the noble Baroness recognised, we also protected and maintained the homelessness prevention fund that goes to local authorities, which will amount to £315 million by 2020. We have also put in place additional discretionary housing payments to local authorities. We are also assessing, along with homelessness charities and cross-departmentally, other options for preventing more people from becoming homeless, including legislation. A number of noble Lords brought up that point. We are not ruling that out.
The noble Baroness also asked about a national housing strategy. At this point we are looking at the best practice locally but we are not ruling out legislation. I am sure we will revisit this in due course.
The noble Baroness talked about support to local authorities. We know that local authorities are facing challenges, like every area of the public sector, in managing the pressures of homelessness. In addition to maintaining homelessness prevention funding, we have also provided support to help build local authorities’ capacity to manage these pressures, including: funding the National Homelessness Advice Service, which is delivered by Shelter and Citizens Advice, to provide expert training and assistance to front-line staff dealing with homelessness issues; and helping to kick-start the National Practitioner Support Service, which is a sector-led programme to improve local authority homelessness prevention.
My noble friend Lord Young of Cookham talked about his role, 35 years ago, in the Rough Sleepers Initiative. The figures for last year, 2015, will be published on 25 February. He touched on the point of rapid intervention, which is absolutely crucial in this area. He also talked about the No Second Night Out system in England. The result of that has been that two-thirds of rough sleepers in London spend no more than one night out. Two-thirds of rough sleepers in the 20 key areas outside London also spend no more than one night out. We have also co-funded both Tower Hamlets and the City of London in their quite ambitious No First Night Out pilot—in other words, so that people do not have to even sleep rough at all.
The scheme has supported the development of a housing options toolkit to identify clients at risk of sleeping rough—that is how it works—and is providing the rapid intervention service and intensive mediation to support those identified in accessing accommodation. It also includes a safe connections service, supporting rough sleepers from outside the boroughs to return to their home area, and aims to significantly reduce the number of new rough sleepers across the three boroughs.
My noble friend also talked about the interministerial group on homelessness. The noble Baroness, Lady Grender, talked about complex needs, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, which is all part and parcel of what that that group is looking at. Its priorities are to reduce and prevent rough sleeping as much as possible. We introduced the world’s first social impact bond in London, which has helped nearly 900 rough sleepers, but we are now looking at a new social impact bond for the most complex individuals, such as those with mental health problems or substance misuse problems—those who are really very vulnerable. We are looking at introducing this very soon.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gould, talked about the very important issue of domestic violence. That is something that I absolutely homed in on when I became a Minister, after seeing the effects of domestic violence on so many areas of family life and on society and public services. Over the last few years, we have given £13 million to support victims of domestic violence, and I was very pleased that the Chancellor announced funding of £40 million over the spending review period for innovative solutions to prevent domestic violence and support victims.
The noble Baroness, Lady Grender, asked about the UKSA report. One thing I can tell her at this stage is that the Secretary of State will be meeting Andrew Dilnot to discuss it. I cannot give her any more information at this point, but I will do when I have it. She talked about out-of-borough placements. I recall her asking me about that during Questions the other day. It is not unusual. Local authorities have a duty to ensure that wherever possible in-borough placements are prioritised, particularly when people need to be within the borough for school or work reasons, but it is not unusual that families are placed out of borough. In the vast majority of cases they will be placed within London—if that is the area we are talking about. She also talked about complex needs, which I have dealt with.
My noble friend Lord Farmer has previously talked to me about family hubs. I fully recognise the importance of early years support for children in difficult families. It is not something that I have forgotten about and we touched on it in the Social Justice Committee. I will take away what he said and consider how working across government we could take that forward.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, talked about why finding a woman with her child on the street at night might be related to domestic violence. I have no doubt that she is correct. The statutory framework is very clear that families with dependent children are a priority for accommodation. That is not to deny that what she saw happens, but there is a framework in place to prioritise them.
The number of households in temporary accommodation is currently 68,500, and the peak was 101,000 in 2004. The number of children in temporary accommodation is currently 103,000, with a peak of 130,500 in 2006. A £5 million fund was announced in December to support 25 areas under the greatest pressure.
I need to wind up, as I am on my 12th minute. I again thank all noble Lords for their contributions on a very serious matter. The Government are well aware of the problem and have prioritised tackling it.