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Volume 774: debated on Monday 17 October 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment have they made of the level of hidden homelessness in England.

My Lords, I beg to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I refer Members to my entry in the register of interests. I am a councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham and a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

My Lords, measuring hidden homelessness is inherently difficult, as there is no agreed definition or reliable method of data collection. Therefore, the Government have made no assessment of hidden homelessness.

My Lords, we live in one of the richest countries in the world. Does the noble Lord agree that the increase in homelessness over recent years is nothing short of a national disgrace? What assessment have the Government made of the Homelessness Reduction Bill introduced by Bob Blackman MP in the Commons, which seems very welcome and deserves cross-party support?

My Lords, I share the noble Lord’s feeling that homelessness is something that we need to take action about. He will know that it is a very high priority for the Prime Minister and the Government. I agree with him that the Bob Blackman Bill is worth serious consideration. He will know that it has gone through pre-legislative scrutiny by the Communities and Local Government Select Committee, and the Government are considering it closely.

My Lords, will the noble Lord tell us what he defines as homelessness, and particularly hidden homelessness? Does he include all these young people who are forced to remain in the family home who would dearly love to move on and have property, or at least a small dwelling, for themselves?

My Lords, my noble friend has put her finger on the nature of the problem. As I said, it is difficult to define hidden homelessness for the reasons that she just gave. Many people may be staying with friends or relations for six months, perhaps having come down from a village or town to London, before finding permanent accommodation, for example.

My Lords, does the Minister deplore the fact that 100,000 children are living in homeless accommodation—temporary, insecure accommodation—in this country, the highest level since the early 2000s? When do the Government anticipate that the number of homeless children will begin to decline?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right: young people being homeless is a matter of concern. The Government have contributed a significant amount of money to the positive pathways framework—two-thirds of local authorities are benefiting from that—and £15 million has gone into the fair chance fund, helping 1,900 homeless young people with complex needs. Yes, there is a challenge; the Government are rising to it.

My Lords, can the Minister explain the increase in people living in our streets over the past few years? What does he think is the driving reason for it?

My Lords, the last figure taken was taken on a night in the autumn of 2015, when 3,569 people were found to be sleeping rough in England. That is a serious position, there is no doubt; it has been at that sort of level over a period of time. The noble Lord will no doubt be pleased about the £40 million worth of assistance announced today in relation to helping with housing.

My Lords, there has been an increase in the number of direct access hostels, resulting in waiting lists. There is a logjam because there is no supported accommodation for people to move on to; even when people manage to find accommodation, it cannot be sustained, because there is no support for them. That results in increased rough sleeping. Does the Minister have statistics for the numbers of people affected?

My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware that there is a sum of money— £100 million in this Parliament—to help vulnerable people to move on from hostels and refuges into low-cost permanent accommodation. We are pursuing that with a vengeance, with a view to getting those unacceptable numbers down.

If the Government are not looking into hidden homelessness, could they look into the predictability of homelessness? There is a situation whereby people are coming out of care, out of the Army and out of prisons. It would be a very interesting exercise to head off homelessness before it becomes entrenched in the lives of our young people.

My Lords, the noble Lord is right. He will no doubt be pleased that £20 million of the £40 million package that has been announced was specifically for homelessness trailblazer areas, which include Southwark, Greater Manchester and Newcastle, to deal with people who are in danger of losing their homes and ensuring that we do it in a preventional way, which is clearly the best way in which to tackle the problem.

The Minister said that dealing with this problem had a high priority, but will he explain to the House precisely what is meant by “high priority”? In conjunction with his colleagues in other departments, will he put a list in the Library of all those issues considered by the Government to be a high priority?

The noble Lord is in danger of appearing like a Dickensian undertaker praying for a severe winter. I have indicated that £40 million worth of assistance, which I would think that most people would welcome, has just been announced. That indicates that it is a high priority to deal with the homelessness issue. It is clearly a complex issue—nobody is suggesting that it will be solved overnight. But the £40 million worth of assistance announced by the Prime Minister today is something that we should all welcome.

My Lords, will the Minister join me in congratulating Shelter on a brilliant new report, published today, entitled Living Home Standard? Will he undertake to meet Mr Campbell Robb, the chief executive, to discuss the specificities of the report?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to address our attention to the excellent and helpful role that Shelter performs; we work very closely with it, and of course we will take up the report with it and have an early meeting to pursue its findings.

My Lords, will the Minister please take back to his colleagues in government the fact that one of the major problems of underachievement by children is the underachievement of those who do not live in settled homes, who move around and whose education is disrupted? Returning to the 11-plus will not help at all, because those are precisely the children who have failed because the Government of the day have not given a high priority to providing housing, particularly in areas such as seaside towns, where children move all the time and have their education disrupted because there is no permanent accommodation.

My Lords, the noble Baroness asks something of a pantechnicon of a question, encompassing many different areas—but I can certainly share with her, in relation to housing, that it is clearly vital and that the lack of housing contributes to social problems, ineffective education and health problems. There is no doubt of that.