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Homelessness: Rough Sleeping

Volume 769: debated on Monday 7 March 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what proportion of the £42.5 million grant made through the Homelessness Change programme for hostel bed refurbishment has been allocated to tackling rough sleeping.

My Lords, no one should have to sleep rough. Our £42.5 million Homelessness Change programme provided funding for 1,500 new and refurbished bed spaces across 42 local areas. We have increased central funding to tackle homelessness over the spending review to £139 million, and protected homelessness prevention funding. We ran the world’s first social impact bond on homelessness and are establishing a new national £5 million social impact bond to improve outcomes for homeless people with complex needs.

My Lords, in a recent Written Answer to me, my noble friend the Minister stated that a survey in England found that there were 2,744 people sleeping rough on our streets. At the same time, the number of appropriate beds was 36,540. Can we conclude from these figures that the problem is not so much the availability of beds as the apparent unwillingness of those sleeping rough to take them up? In which case, what are Her Majesty’s Government going to do about it?

My Lords, there are a number of reasons why people sleep rough. The noble Lord has alluded to one of them. But he is absolutely right to suggest that we need to tackle the rough sleepers and make sure that they do not spend a second night out, but also, where it is necessary, provide the bed spaces for those who need them.

My Lords, given the Minister’s Answer, is she able to tell us why rough sleeping has more than quadrupled during the period of this Government and why we are now unable, particularly in London, to find beds for rough sleepers?

My Lords, as I say, the reasons for rough sleeping are many and complex—they are. A number of people do actually choose to sleep rough. Without commenting on that, this Government are committed not only to tackling rough sleeping, ensuring that nobody spends a second night out, but in one local authority there is actually a no-first-night-out programme in place. That is why we have protected, both centrally and locally, homelessness prevention programmes.

Does the Minister agree that if the leading cause of homelessness now in England is a loss of private tenancy, we desperately need an increase in social housing alongside a homelessness strategy? If Richard Gere has managed to persuade the Chancellor to make this his next big cause—according to the newspapers at the weekend—does the Minister now regret the lack of policies to increase social housing in the current housing Bill?

My Lords, it is important that we provide housing of all types of tenure: houses for social rent, as the noble Baroness pointed out; affordable homes; starter homes; shared ownership; Help to Buy schemes; Build to Rent—all the different schemes in place under this Government which we have doubled the housing budget to £20 billion to provide.

My Lords, as the Minister says, it is indeed a complex problem. Does she know how many of those sleeping rough have serious mental health problems? What projects are available to go out to those people to try to get them back under cover, when their mental health problems are one of the reasons for them not doing so?

The noble Baroness raises a very pertinent point—a point which the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, has spoken about previously. This Government have committed to put in place £1 billion per year to help alleviate mental health problems. One of the worrying features that we have seen over the last few years is the rise in cases of young people in mental health programmes. The £40 million Homelessness Change and Platform for Life programmes help to deliver new low-cost housing for young people at the risk of homelessness, and it supports their transition into adulthood.

My Lords, has my noble friend seen the recent dialogue between the Association of Residential Letting Agents and the homeless charity Crisis, aimed at encouraging more private landlords to give support and homes to those who are homeless? Has she been able to give any support to that initiative?

I thank my noble friend for raising that question, because I certainly have. Crisis has been absolutely invaluable in providing, for example, underwritten tenancy deposits for homeless people. The programme has seemed to be very successful, with 90% of those people adhering to the tenancy and making it work.

My Lords, the whole House ought to be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Spicer, for raising this matter successively at a number of Question Times, because we have had a much more detailed answer from the Government in their initial response today than ever before. Many of us suspect, on anecdotal evidence, that the real problem is in London. Can the Minister tell the House the estimated numbers of rough sleepers and available hostel places in London?

My Lords, this increase in homelessness is a national scandal. Will the Minister set out the target figure for reducing that over the next 12 months?

My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, we do not focus particularly on targets but on initiatives that will help reverse some of the trends that we are seeing. Nobody is denying that homelessness and rough sleeping are a problem, which is why we have protected and maintained central and local funding to deal with it, as well as the Homelessness Change programme which I have spoken about.

My Lords, has any study been done to find out how many of these rough sleepers are under the age of 30 or over the age of 60, for instance? How many were born in this country, and are there many immigrants?

I do not have any information about how many rough sleepers are over 60 or under 30 but if such information exists, I will get it to my noble friends. Statistics have been put out in the press showing that one in five rough sleepers is a migrant. I will look at government figures to see whether that can be confirmed.