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Homelessness: Local Authority Spending

Volume 797: debated on Thursday 2 May 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the decrease in local authority spending since 2009 on homelessness and the number of deaths of homeless people.

My Lords, every death of someone sleeping rough on our streets or homeless is one too many. We have committed to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and end it by 2027. It is for this reason that we are undertaking a significant programme of work to address this issue, backed by over £1.2 billion-worth of funding. We believe that our approach is working and we will publish a full evaluation of the rough sleeping initiative in the summer.

I know that the Minister shares my deep concern about those sleeping rough and so on, but the loss of billions of pounds over the past decade has affected the work that local authorities have been able to do. I have the figures; we shared them the last time we discussed this. In 2010, we had 1,786 rough sleepers; by last year, there were 4,677. There is something wrong here. We also have the figures for deaths of rough sleepers on the streets. In 2014, there were 475 deaths; in 2017, there were 597. This is not progress. Can we have a pledge that when the comprehensive spending review is undertaken it will restore the benefits that are so necessary for local councils to meet this need?

My Lords, the noble Lord and I did indeed exchange views on this previously. The difference in the way spending is dealt with is that the ring-fence was taken off in 2009—actually under the Labour Government. It carried on like that through the coalition years, with which the noble Lord will be familiar, and still remains the case. We need also to focus on the fact that money is spent centrally, in addition to what is spent locally. The £100 million announced in August last year is beginning to have an effect. To take an example of an authority, in Brighton and Hove there were 178 rough sleepers in 2017; in 2018, there were 64. Admittedly there are nuances of difference in the way the figures are calculated, but not enough to account for that significant difference. That spending is going on, and we have a Minister dedicated to this area of activity.

My Lords, the Minister will agree that one of the most important things with regard to homelessness is churn. If people fall homeless then they should be moved on. Has the Minister looked at the possibility of adopting the PECC method, which I have talked to him about? It is about prevention, emergency, coping and cure. He could then look at the money spent on the projects: is it keeping people lingering in the limbo of homelessness, preventing them becoming homeless or helping them to get out? We have to use something like the PECC method. It is free to the Minister—I invented it; there is no cost.

It is good to hear from the noble Lord. I pay tribute to what he does on the rough sleeping advisory committee; I know that he is doing very worthwhile work. There is much to commend PECC, as he says. Yesterday, I was in Redbridge, which is adopting Project Malachi, which we are helping to fund and which is connected with work. This sort of thing is the way forward. It is not the total answer, as I am sure the noble Lord will agree, but it certainly makes a big difference.

My Lords, could the Minister confirm that one of the real problems underlying the Question from my noble friend, which he replied to in terms of funding, is the massive cuts in local government funding since the coalition and the Labour Government? This has been seen in the last week with a large care home going into administration. Other care home firms have gone into administration. The main reason for that is the discounts on care home fees that local governments have to have. The care home’s financial plan therefore does not work because of the cuts in local government.

My Lords, the noble Lord refers to a particular area where there is certainly a problem: social care. We await the social care Green Paper, which will helpfully inform us in this particular area. He will acknowledge—as will many other noble Lords across the Chamber—that this year, for the first time in a long while, there has been an increase in local government core spending. It is welcome, and I hope it will continue as austerity comes to an end.

My Lords, what progress have the Government made in their assessment of the impact of social security cuts and restrictions on levels of homelessness and rough sleeping?

My Lords, as always, the noble Baroness raises a very valid point. It is important to look at the link between different government departments and different areas of activities. This is a complex area. It is not just about spending; there are issues of addiction as well. I will write to the noble Baroness on that particular point, and copy it to the Library.

I welcome the significant sums that the Government are investing in this area. Can the Minister indicate what progress is being made in securing hostel beds in London for men and women with drug and alcohol problems, and in securing move-on accommodation for them?

My Lords, the noble Earl is right about the particular challenges in relation to addiction. He will know that we have designated 83 areas that are receiving assistance in relation to rough sleeping, which helps with hostel spending. They include all of the London boroughs and all of our big cities. I will write to him so that we can share it more widely, and ensure that the list of money going to those local authorities is in that letter and is copied to the Library.

My Lords, today we have local government elections, so it is important to recognise that the £16 billion that has been lost in the reduction of core funding to local government since 2010 cannot be matched by the £100 million—welcome though it is—that the Government intend to spend centrally. That will not solve the problem of homelessness. What will solve it is our local authorities having sufficient funding to be able to reduce homelessness, as we did during the Labour years.

My Lords, I repeat to the noble Baroness that the ring-fence came off under the last Labour Government. She is right about reductions, but it is not simply about local government spending. A lot of spending has come from religious and faith institutions, which we are helping with—and I cited the example I saw yesterday. A lot of good work is going on in authorities up and down the country, with money being spent on, for example, hubs to help with homelessness in Brighton and Hove. It is also important to make this distinction: I was speaking about rough sleeping, not homelessness. Homelessness is a much broader issue, as the noble Baroness will know, and presents very different challenges from the issue of rough sleeping. The figures we have been looking at are largely on rough sleeping, not homelessness.