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Volume 797: debated on Tuesday 21 May 2019


Asked by

My Lords, tackling homelessness and rough sleeping is a key priority for the Government. The Government are already undertaking a significant programme of work, backed by £1.2 billion, to tackle homelessness. This includes supporting local authorities in the implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act and increasing access to the private rented sector for families in temporary accommodation.

I thank the Minister for his Answer. Can he confirm the number of children living without a home in temporary accommodation? My understanding is that it is around 120,000. If that number is correct, it is an increase of 70% since 2010. Why does he think that there has been such an increase and, more importantly, what are his Government going to do to tackle it? If we in this House would not allow our children or grandchildren to be homeless, why do we allow other people’s children?

My Lords, the figure that I have to hand for the number of people who are homeless—as opposed to rough sleeping—is 58,660. That is the first count under the particular way we calculate figures. New figures are out this Friday, which no doubt the noble Lord will want to look at. Spending on homelessness is a key feature of tackling it, but it is not the only thing, as I think that he would acknowledge. The issue is much more complex than that. As I indicated, we are spending £1.2 billion on this. We are also spending money specifically on rough sleeping, as there is a particular issue there. However, many other things are involved, such as family breakdown, addiction issues, coming out of prison or coming out of the armed services; it is a much more complex picture than he perhaps indicated.

My Lords, given that the Minister sees the private rented sector as part of the solution, does he accept that the shortfall between the local housing allowance and rent has more than doubled since the benefit freeze was introduced in 2016? Does he also accept that, as a result, and because they are in debt by more than £100 a month, people are now having to choose between food and rent? Surely simply not extending the benefit freeze is not enough, and it should be ended as soon as possible.

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right about the interface between benefits and housing provision; there is obviously a link between the two. We spend around £23 billion a year to help with housing costs, which is a significant amount. Perhaps I can just mention one project. She highlights the importance of private sector accommodation, which I absolutely acknowledge. As of recently, we are spending £37.8 million of government funds on a system for the 13 London boroughs that have signed up to a collaboration project called Capital Letters. The scheme gets people into private accommodation, which helps significantly.

My Lords, will my noble friend bring us up to date on what is happening with new towns and green towns? The whole concept of new towns was to take pressure away from the inner-city areas, where this problem is. Have we any plans to bring forward some new towns?

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right: this is a key feature of our housing provision, not just to take pressure off London and the big conurbations but because of the need for housing generally. There is significant development in the Oxford-Cambridge arc, where we are spending a lot of money, and elsewhere as well. If I may, I will update him and ensure that a letter on the current progress of all the towns and villages is placed in the Library.

My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my relevant interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. My noble friend Lord McNicol has raised a really important issue. What are the Government doing to tackle child homelessness, as living in insecure accommodation as a child will negatively affect their mental health, emotional well-being and schooling?

My Lords, the noble Lord raises a fair point. He is right about the issues around child poverty and child homelessness, which is a particular concern for the Government. That is why, in relation to welfare spending, we are keen that money is directed to those households with children, to make sure that they are able to gain a home. It remains a key priority. If I may, I will write to him on the suite of policies to tackle this across other government departments, because it is an area where we have concerns.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are an enormous number of mental health problems on the streets, and that we should see young people—and not-so-young people—on the streets as an extension of our A&E department? As soon as we try to direct some energy towards the health issues of those people, we will be able to get them off the streets.

My Lords, as I indicated in one of my previous answers, there is very much a link between homelessness and mental health. I am pleased that as a general provision we are looking much more seriously at mental health. We marked Mental Health Week recently. This pervades all government policy, and certainly pervades housing spending. The noble Lord will know because he serves on the rough sleeping advisory panel—I thank him for that—that we are keen to address this issue. We have referenced this with various charities, local authorities and metro mayors—Andy Street and Andy Burnham serve on that panel—to try to get advice on some of these issues.

My Lords, I note the Minister’s acknowledgment of the link between homelessness and benefits. Evidence of the ways in which the Government’s social security policy undermines their homelessness strategy is growing. Most recently, a group of organisations including the Local Government Association, Crisis and the Chartered Institute of Housing called on the Government to restore the local housing allowance rate to at least the 30th percentile of the local rental market as a matter of urgency, because it is too low to cover private rents in most parts of the country. Will he convey that message to his colleagues in the Treasury and DWP?

My Lords, I regularly do so. There is spending in this area, some targeted at assistance, and that is having some success. I accept what the noble Baroness says about this area of spending, and no doubt the Chancellor will look at it in the spending review as we come out of austerity, because it is money well spent.