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Homelessness: Homewards Initiative

Volume 831: debated on Tuesday 4 July 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to tackle homelessness following the launch of the Prince of Wales’s Homewards initiative.

We welcome the Prince of Wales’s Homewards initiative and his interest and support in tackling homelessness. The Government have made the unprecedented commitment to end rough sleeping. In September 2022 we published our cross-government strategy, setting out how we were investing £2 billion over three years to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping.

I thank the Minister for that helpful response. Sheffield is one of six places where the Homewards initiative is being piloted, and in South Yorkshire it seems to us that two things make this new venture distinctive and highly promising. The first is that funding is secure over the medium term, and the second is a partnership approach which encourages local agencies to co-produce solutions with built-in flexibility to allow for ongoing learning. Does the Minister think that this longer-term and partnership approach is one from which the Government might learn in their own support for homeless people?

The right reverend Prelate is right; Sheffield City Council has been allocated over £4 million through the rough sleeping initiatives, which will run from 2022 to 2025, to help end rough sleeping in the city. It has also been allocated £2.4 million through the rough sleeping accommodation programme, again until 2025. So these are not annual nor short-term amounts of money. The right reverend Prelate is right; these things cannot be done by government alone. We know that individual local authority areas have specific problems and that is why we are asking them to deal with these issues. I will also say that the third sector, in particular churches and community groups, are absolutely necessary in a city such as Sheffield.

During Covid, there was a massive reduction in the number of homeless people on the streets. Why does the Minister think that this has been reversed?

I think that over Covid, the issue was that people were frightened, scared and did not want to stay out. Since Covid, we have gone into a further economic downturn, particularly because of the dreadful war in Ukraine—

No; it has affected the economic stability of the whole world. We are working continually to try to get back to those Covid levels.

My Lords, like the right reverend Prelate, I very much welcome the commitment of the Prince of Wales to help end homelessness, particularly as the numbers of those sleeping rough are beginning to creep up again, having been reduced to near zero during Covid. I particularly welcome the commitment to make Duchy of Cornwall land available for affordable homes. Is this not an example that could be followed by government departments and other public bodies that have surplus land available?

My noble friend is absolutely right, and I welcome the Prince of Wales’s initiative. Maybe other larger landowners across this country could also look at those initiatives, as well as government. We have been working to release public land for new houses through the Public Land for Housing programme which ran from 2011 to 2020. By March 2020 over 60,000 homes had been brought on to the market on surplus government land. In October 2022 the Cabinet Office published the Government Property Strategy, which intends to drive efficiency in departments’ estates to look at surplus land that can be used for housing, particularly affordable housing.

My Lords, it is great that the Prince of Wales has turned the spotlight on this very important issue. Pilots are all well and good but is it not a damning indictment of this Government’s failure to tackle the housing crisis that between July and October last year, 1,210 homeless families spent longer than the six-week legal limit in hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation—the highest figure in six years? How will the Government respond to this growing crisis across the country and the impact it is having on children’s development?

We are responding by offering support through initiatives such as spending £500 million on rough sleeping initiatives between now and 2025. Under the ending rough sleeping for good initiatives, £2 billion is going to local authorities over three years to look at their issues. Your Lordships need to understand that the increasing numbers are only in 5% of local authorities in this country. We need to target and help those local authorities, both with support and with money, which is what we are doing.

My Lords, last year, 129,000 young people facing homelessness, aged between 16 and 24, tipped up at their local council asking for support—which is undoubtedly an underestimate. Currently, universal credit levels for young people living independently are more than a quarter lower than for those aged over 25. Can the Minister say by what logic we financially penalise young people, whose bills, including rent and essentials, cost exactly the same regardless of their age, and does she agree that this shortfall will make them even more susceptible to eviction and homelessness?

The noble Baroness is right, which is why, in the Government’s strategy Ending Rough Sleeping for Good, which was backed by £2 billion last year, we recognise the particular challenges facing young people with regard to homelessness. We have a single homelessness accommodation programme, which will have delivered nearly 2,500 homes by March 2025. There is also the £2.4 million for rough sleeping initiatives going towards youth services in local areas that have an issue with youth homelessness.

My Lords, there is a very high proportion of hidden homelessness—hidden but none the less very real—among Gypsies and Travellers, who do not have enough authorised sites to camp on. What are the Government doing about encouraging local authorities to fulfil their obligations to assess the lack of sites and to act on that to provide enough?

I thank the noble Baroness for that—I know her passion for that particularly vulnerable community. Local authorities do have a responsibility to find those sites; we will continue to ensure that they do so. However, I will look at the latest figures and let the noble Baroness have them, and will let her know what we are doing extra to make sure that they are being delivered.

My Lords, in April, 8,000 Afghans were still living in hotels, 18 months after they were evacuated from Afghanistan. They have now been told that they have to leave that hotel accommodation and find private rented accommodation. If they are unable to find rented accommodation, will they be homeless, and if so, what are the Government going to do about them?

We have announced £35 million of new funding to enable local authorities to provide an increased amount of support for Afghan households and to move them from hotels into settled accommodation. At the same time, we have announced a local authority housing fund of £750 million, which will provide capital funding to councils in England to allow them to look at creative ways of getting more housing stock in, which will help the Ukrainian and Afghan arrivals. Together, therefore, we hope that we can get Afghanis into proper suitable accommodation as soon as we possibly can.

My Lords, this is a welcome initiative. Has the Minister suggested to the Prince of Wales that he should allocate some of his extensive landholding to help this initiative, and possibly a little of his £24 million-a-year income?

My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that the Prince of Wales announced at the same time that he would undertake to make some of the Duchy of Cornwall land available for affordable housing.