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Rough Sleeping

Volume 797: debated on Monday 1 April 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will take immediate steps to tackle the issue of rough sleeping.

My Lords, the Government are committed to ending rough sleeping by 2027, with the aim of halving it by 2022. We are already taking action. Last year we published a cross-government strategy backed by £100 million of funding. The rough sleepers initiative launched a year ago has provided over 1,750 new bed spaces and 500 staff to support rough sleepers since March 2018. It is making an impact: in rough sleepers initiative areas, rough sleeping has decreased by 19% in the last year.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, but it does not add up to the figures I have. I have been told that in 2010 we had 1,786 rough sleepers, but last year we had 4,677—nearly triple the number in 2010. Even if, as a result of the new strategy, we halve the number sleeping rough, the figure will still be higher than in 2010. Why is this? There are many reasons, but one of course is loss of hostel beds. In Tower Hamlets, for example, 1,400 hostel beds have been lost in the last three years. It does not add up. I suggest that we look at this again. We should also look at the Vagrancy Act 1824, which has seen the arrest of thousands of people sleeping rough, some of whom are imprisoned. That should certainly be revoked, so I ask the Government—

I am sorry that I take too long; it is never my fault. We certainly need two things: a massive investment in those organisations that provide the beds and the end of the Vagrancy Act.

My Lords, the noble Lord referred to the statistics and said that there were 4,677 rough sleepers in 2018, but he did not go on to say that that was a fall since 2017, when there had been 4,751. The trend is in a downwards direction, which the noble Lord omitted to say. Also, he cited Tower Hamlets, which is of course receiving money as a rough sleeping initiative area, which he will be pleased to know. That money will have a continuing impact as we see those figures coming down. He is right that more needs to be done, but we are investing more money. We have just announced another 53 areas that are benefiting from the rapid rehousing pathways money, which is part of the initiative. We are looking at a review of the Vagrancy Act. I can offer the noble Lord comfort on that point.

My Lords, a few months ago the Secretary of State for HCLG acknowledged that there might be a link between rough sleeping and so-called welfare reform. He said that we,

“need to ask ourselves some very hard questions”.

What steps are the Government therefore taking to investigate and act on the links between social security cuts and rough sleeping, identified by both research and organisations on the ground?

My Lords, I know that the noble Baroness has done much work in this area. Indeed, we have done some work in a related area. I know she will be pleased about the money being invested, particularly regarding women rough sleepers, which is part of this area. There are many different aspect to this; it is across the board. Obviously in MHCLG we are focusing on money specifically for the housing aspects, but she is right that we need to look at a broader front, and we are doing so.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of a particular problem in Westminster of rough sleeping in tents? Two things arise from that. First, there is the concern that drug dealing might be going on in the tents. Secondly, although they have powers, the police are reluctant to be too aggressive in addressing the problem.

My Lords, once again, my noble friend refers to a different aspect of this. He is right that sensitive policing often helps to tackle these issues. I know that police throughout the country are very aware of that. He is also right that there is a complex range of issues, including addiction, which is very much related to rough sleeping. We are intent on trying to deal with that, as we are with other aspects. For example, a lot of people who sleep rough have come from a secure background, sometimes prison and sometimes the Armed Forces. It is a much more complex issue than just the finances, although that is an important part of it.

My Lords, I refer the House to my registered interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. In addition to the figures that the noble Lord gave about individual change from year to year, could he set out why he believes homelessness has more than trebled since 2010?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right that the figures have gone up relentlessly over a period of time, until this last year, which I think was in response to the money that has been invested and the concentration the Government are putting on this. As I indicated in my earlier response, it is a much more complex issue than just the money. It is related to addiction, mental health and people in a secure environment. We are looking at this on a broad front. As the noble Lord will appreciate, it is a very complex problem, but I am pleased that the money we are spending on the rough sleeping initiative and have invested in the rapid rehousing pathway has succeeded in bringing the figures down by assigning, for example, individuals to look after particular people who are rough sleeping to see what is the particular issue for them, because every person is an individual and every case is different.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for the answers he has given so far and for the Government’s investment. In the city of Peterborough we have seen, as in many other places, a large increase in rough sleeping. The third sector groups, including the churches, have been doing a great deal to support rough sleepers, but one of the problems we are very conscious of is how tight money is for local government. Does he agree that local government financial settlements could be part of the solution, with targeted money to local government specifically to help rough sleepers?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate makes a perfectly fair point. He will be conscious of the fact that, by a relatively small amount, the financial settlement for local government this year was an increase in resources for core funding in real terms. Also, I can offer him some very good news in relation to Peterborough, which is again a rough sleeping initiative area, as he is probably aware. The Government are also putting in direct funding related to integration in Peterborough, because it is one of our five integration areas.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, raised a point about the Vagrancy Act, which is often a point of contention with the police and those who live on the street. Can the Minister tell us when the review that he mentioned will conclude? I have been asked to chair a debate in the next two weeks about the decriminalisation of living on the streets. It is not about all aspects of the vagrancy laws, but specifically about living on the streets, and blaming a person for something that, generally, they have no control over.

A point was just raised about living in tents. I have recently heard that some people released from prison are being given a tent because they cannot get accommodation. I do not expect the Minister to be able to answer that easily, but can someone from the Government see whether that is accurate? It sounds unfair and not a good idea.

My Lords, to begin with the noble Lord’s second point—I know nothing of that. It sounds, on the surface, alarming. If the noble Lord has further information, I would be grateful if he could see me, and then certainly I will investigate.

Regarding the Vagrancy Act, again, I will have to write to the noble Lord. I do not know when the consultation and review are ending. I agree with him that there are aspects which require attention, but once again, it is probably more complex than it looks. However, I will write to him on that issue.