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Persistent Rough Sleeping in Nottingham

Volume 644: debated on Monday 2 July 2018

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mims Davies.)

Colleagues are beetling out of the Chamber. I am sure that the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) will not take it personally, and that there will be a respectful audience for her oration.

May I begin by sending my best wishes to the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs Wheeler), and her husband? I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams), is supporting her at present, and I am sure that he will share the information from this debate with her when she returns.

According to homelessness charity St Mungo’s, the average age of death for a man who dies while homeless is 47; for a woman it is just 43. Rough sleeping is the most dangerous form of homelessness. It can be lonely, frightening and violent. For some, it is quite literally a death sentence. Holly Dagnall, Nottingham Community Housing Association’s director of homes and wellbeing, describes homelessness as a human emergency and who could disagree?

Until 2015, the snapshot figure of people sleeping rough in Nottingham was almost never in double figures, but the latest official estimate, in November last year, was of 43 rough sleepers. Six months on, that figure has not fallen. Nottingham is not an exception; the city ranks 56th of all local authorities for the rate of rough sleeping. Official figures recording a 169% rise in rough sleeping in England since 2010 will surprise no one. We have all seen the evidence of the growing crisis with our own eyes on the streets of Westminster and in many of our constituencies every night.

The hon. Lady is absolutely right that we have homelessness across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Does she agree that perhaps it is time for a dual strategy that addresses not only homelessness, but the issue of helping people to get employment? We have to give them vision, we have to give them hope and we have to give them a future. The Government need to look at both things together.

The hon. Gentleman is quite right that this is about providing people with not just a home, but the means by which they can sustain themselves in a home.

The reasons for the increased numbers are far from a mystery. Crisis cites the impact of welfare reform, rising rents and the housing crisis. People become homeless and sleep rough for many reasons, but the single biggest cause of statutory homelessness is now the end of an assured shorthold tenancy. The cost of private rented accommodation has risen three times faster than earnings in England since 2010, and real earnings are still lagging behind 2008 levels a decade on.

Although I firmly believe that the Government bear a great deal of responsibility for the rise in homelessness and fear that their target of halving rough sleeping over the course of the Parliament and eliminating it altogether by 2027 lacks the urgency that the situation demands, I do very much welcome the Homelessness Reduction Act 2018 and the Government’s decision to develop the national rough sleeping strategy. My reason for seeking tonight’s debate is to address the content of that strategy.

Concern about rising levels of rough sleeping in Nottingham was one of the drivers behind a new investigation commissioned jointly by Framework Housing Association and Opportunity Nottingham, the Big Lottery-funded programme supporting people with multiple needs. “No Way Out: A Study of Persistent Rough Sleeping in Nottingham” was produced by Dr Graham Bowpitt from Nottingham Trent University and Karan Kaur from Opportunity Nottingham, with help from Nottingham’s street outreach team.

The study sought to discover how far the recent increase in rough sleeping might have arisen

“not just from more people coming on to the streets, but also from people remaining there longer or repeatedly”.

It sought to identify

“the characteristics that distinguish persistent rough sleepers from the wider street homeless population, and any common features in their circumstances that might help to explain persistence.”

In the remainder of my speech, I will focus on the study’s key findings before commenting on wider issues in Nottingham and at a national level.

For the purposes of the report, and therefore this debate, the definition of persistent rough sleeper is

“someone who was recorded sleeping rough on at least 10% of nights between 1st April 2016 and 31st March 2017, i.e. 36 nights (the ‘sustained’), or who has been seen sleeping rough in at least three out of the six years between 2012 and 2017 (the ‘recurrent’).”

The report says:

“There were 72 persistent rough sleepers who met the above definition…7 who were both sustained and recurrent, 33 who were sustained and 32 who were recurrent. Of these…10 were women…and 62 men…58 were recorded as of White British ethnicity...most of the others being White (Other)…13 were recorded as having a disability (18%).”

According to the report, Opportunity Nottingham’s beneficiaries are recruited to the programme because they are assessed as having

“at least three of the four prescribed complex needs: homelessness, substance misuse, mental ill-health and offending.”

Of the 72 persistent rough sleepers, 67—that is 93%—had problems with substance misuse. Some 49 were offenders or at risk of offending, and more than half had mental health problems.

I commend my hon. Friend for securing the debate, and Opportunity Nottingham and NTU for producing the report. My hon. Friend mentioned that over half of those persistent rough sleepers had a mental health issue. Is it not hardly startling that there is a correlation with the reduction in the number of overnight mental health beds—not just nationwide, but specifically in Nottinghamshire? We have lost 176 mental health overnight beds since 2010, and that is one of the core drivers putting people back on to the streets.

My hon. Friend is quite right to highlight the way in which cuts to our health service and other services are having an impact on the prevalence of rough sleeping.

Of the 38 Opportunity Nottingham beneficiaries, 32% had spent at least two weeks in prison since engaging with Opportunity Nottingham, 42% had experienced at least one eviction from accommodation, 42% had been excluded from a service because of unacceptable behaviour, and 24% reported begging as a source of income. In each case, those proportions are much higher than among the whole beneficiary cohort.

The study also identified common themes in the narratives provided by the street outreach team and Opportunity Nottingham personal development co-ordinators in relation to those persistently sleeping rough, stating:

“rough sleepers…and those who work with them are encountering a diminishing range of options when seeking to leave the streets, arising from cuts in public funding and adverse changes in the housing market. Hostels have closed, Housing Benefit availability is more restricted, affordable tenancies are more limited in terms of quantity and quality, and the supply of tenancy support has all but dried up.”

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the powerful case that she is making on behalf of our city. I served on the council in our city at a time when we virtually eradicated rough sleeping, and now we are back to where we are today. Does my hon. Friend agree that this situation has been caused by a toxic combination of under-employment, poor housing supply, cuts to drug and alcohol services, inadequate mental health services and other eminently tackleable issues?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. These issues were preventable and they are preventable. The last Labour Government did a great deal to tackle rough sleeping and it is very disappointing that we find ourselves where we are today.

Financial issues obviously loom large in the lives of many rough sleepers. This was found to be particularly true of migrants with no recourse to public funds, but many local rough sleepers also encountered restricted access to welfare benefits. The system can simply be too hard to negotiate, resulting in a preference for begging. Of course, that is an unreliable source of income, and it puts accommodation at risk, which is particularly relevant to the recurrent group.

The high proportion of persistent rough sleepers who have been in prison find that a lack of support on discharge frequently precipitates a return to a previous chaotic lifestyle. The operation of homelessness legislation itself can act as a barrier in some cases. For instance, rough sleepers fleeing from another locality, perhaps because of domestic violence, can be interpreted as having no local connection to Nottingham, while others vacating accommodation because of intimidation may be viewed as having become intentionally homeless.

The level of complex need generates particular problems, with many specialist facilities having been lost, as we have heard. As a result, many rough sleepers carry the baggage of past evictions and negative risk assessments, leaving them barred from many facilities and making them harder to accommodate. They often miss out on mental health or other assessments that might otherwise have opened up access to specialised support.

Ambivalent relationships with hostel accommodation are frequently mentioned, with stories of evictions for rent arrears or inappropriate behaviour, perhaps because of a lack of support. There are also stories of intimidation or financial exploitation by other residents, resulting in many refusing offers out of fear or trying to avoid being lured into a lifestyle they wish to escape. Personal relationships may have a toxic effect on the lives of persistent rough sleepers. Women, in particular, can be trapped in exploitative and abusive relationships that impede solutions to their housing problems.

When those factors are combined, it can often create disillusionment with what is perceived as a hostile system, making the option to live on the streets attractive. Experiences of repeated failure, the sense of there being no alternative, and the effect of growing numbers of rough sleepers in generating a mutually supporting community create an inertia in engaging rough sleepers to pursue better options.

While this was a limited study of rough sleeping in one locality, I hope that it will prompt the Minister to consider initiatives that are worthy of further research and experimentation. The report recognises how an ambivalent relationship with hostels can leave rough sleepers stranded, calling on the city council and other social housing providers to adopt schemes such as Housing First that bypass hostels and accommodate rough sleepers straight from the streets with appropriate support. Housing First is being piloted in Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool—places with a devolution deal. What resources exist to develop Housing First as part of the solution in areas with high levels of persistent rough sleeping where there is not a directly elected mayor?

The complexities of human relationships should be acknowledged when drawing up personalised housing plans. For example, requirements such as a local connection and intentionality rules should not be applied too harshly to people who have a genuine need to escape a damaging relationship. Couples in a valued relationship should be able to be accommodated together.

As has been said, mental health problems have been shown to feature prominently among Nottingham’s homeless population. The Care Act 2014 was introduced to make social care assessments more readily available, but there is evidence to suggest that homeless people struggle to access this provision. Some councils have taken the view that rough sleepers with poor mental health or alcohol and substance-related problems have no entitlement to a needs assessment under the Care Act because, it is said, their need for care or support is caused by “other circumstantial factors” such as homelessness or rough sleeping rather than an underlying health condition. Can the Minister confirm that that interpretation of the Act, which has the effect of excluding rough sleepers from an entitlement that exists for the rest of the population, is incorrect? Will the Government issue guidance to clarify that people sleeping rough are entitled to a needs assessment under the Care Act on the same basis as everyone else? Does the Minister agree that when an individual who appears to have support or care needs presents to a local authority for assistance under the Homelessness Reduction Act, a referral should be made to the appropriate authority for a care needs assessment, with the outcome of that assessment taken into account when developing any personalised housing plan?

The correlation between persistent rough sleeping and recent spells in prison reflects a failure in offender rehabilitation. That was supposed to have been remedied by the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014, but there is evidence that despite the passing of this Act, short-term prisoners are still being discharged to no fixed abode. What measures will the Government take to ensure its more effective implementation?

I first started applying for my Adjournment debate on this subject many weeks ago but, as so often happens in this place, the timing of today’s debate has proved incredibly fortuitous, because earlier today St Mungo’s launched a new report here in Parliament entitled “On my own two feet”. That peer research, which I am sure the Minister is aware of, examines why some people return to rough sleeping after time off the streets. It identifies a range of factors that can push people away from housing or services, and also pull factors that can draw people back on to the streets. When push and pull factors work together, they can lead someone to choose to return to rough sleeping or to see no alternative when a crisis comes along. The research also considered how holes in someone’s personal safety net can put them at greater risk. I hope the Government will look carefully at the recommendations in the St Mungo’s report before publishing their rough sleeping strategy next month.

I do not have time to talk at length about the excellent work being undertaken in Nottingham to tackle homelessness over decades. Since 2010, the Framework street outreach team has been identifying rough sleepers and linking them into assessment, support and accommodation. In 2016, Nottingham was successful in bidding for the Government’s £40 million homelessness prevention programme, and it used that to extend the reach of the outreach team across the rest of the county for two years.

Nottingham City Council and Framework have continued to resource and implement a “No second night out” policy after Government funding ended. Since 2016 the city council has committed more than £240,000 in additional funding to enhance its winter measures and ensure sufficient provision to meet the council’s pledge that no one needs to sleep rough in Nottingham. Their co-ordinated approach has formed part of the sound basis for their bid for the new £30 million rough sleeping fund announced by the Department in March 2018 for enhanced year-round support. I hope that the Minister can clarify whether the £30 million announced can only fund emergency measures, or if it can be used to support long-term resettlement for persistent rough sleepers. Is the fund a one-off measure to produce a short-term temporary outcome, or will there be further allocations for future years?

In the 2016 Budget, the Chancellor announced £100 million of capital funding to assist with the cost of developing Housing First and move-on units for people who have been sleeping rough. Some £50 million of that was allocated to the London Mayor, who now has the programme up and running. The other £50 million was for the rest of the country, where rough sleeping has risen more quickly than in the capital. When will it be possible for providers outside London to bid for some of the remaining £50 million, and what is the process for them to do so?

Alongside the city council and housing associations, including Framework and NCHA, there are many voluntary organisations and faith groups that make a huge contribution to supporting fellow citizens in Nottingham via food banks, day centres, night shelters and many other support services. We would not be without them. For some rough sleepers, particularly those with few options, they are a lifeline. What advice does the Minister have for local authorities dealing with long-term rough sleepers who have no recourse to public funds? What accommodation and support options are available to them, and how can they be funded?

Homelessness is a human emergency, but ending it is not an impossible task. The Government say they have a target to reduce rough sleeping by half by 2022, and to eliminate it entirely by 2027. If they are not to fail, Ministers must ensure that their strategy addresses the needs of all rough sleepers, including those who are hardest to identify, reach, support and sustain.

First, I would like to commend the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) for securing such a worthwhile debate. I am sure the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs Wheeler), will have heard her kind words.

Homelessness and rough sleeping is an issue that I am sure is close to all our hearts. It goes to the heart of who we are as a people and as a society. The Government recognise the challenges in Nottingham and across the country in tackling rough sleeping, and we are absolutely committed to tackling it. That commitment is enshrined in our manifesto pledge to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and end it altogether, more importantly, by 2027. The hon. Lady rightly mentioned the report by Dr Bowpitt and Karan Kaur about the persistent rough sleeping in Nottingham, and I know that our officials will have noted it with interest. I will certainly be following that up with officials with some form of response.

As many right hon. and hon. Members will be aware, we are doing a significant amount of work in this area, and we will be publishing the strategy shortly. First, if I may, I will outline some of the work we are doing in this area nationally, as well as what we have been doing in Nottingham, to tackle rough sleeping. This March, we announced our new rough sleeping initiative, which has been mentioned. It comprises tried and tested measures designed to bring down the levels of rough sleeping in the immediate term. A key part of this is the £30 million that the hon. Lady mentioned, which we have provided to the 83 local authorities that are the most challenged by rough sleeping.

I know that the hon. Lady and other hon. Members from that fine city will welcome the fact that, as part of this fund, we have allocated it just over £420,000 from the rough sleeping initiative. This will enable the council to bring down rough sleeping numbers this year, before the annual count, and we are providing help through our new rough sleeping team. The team is made up of experts from the sector, as well as from charities and local authorities. It is part of our initiative to ensure that our ambition comes to pass. Nationally, the rough sleeping initiative funding will allow local authorities to recruit over 500 new staff focused on the problem. Crucially, that will include more outreach workers to engage with people on the streets, specialist mental health and substance misuse workers—they have been mentioned—and dedicated co-ordinators to drive efforts to reduce rough sleeping in their areas.

I want to record that I did not include in my speech reference to a new service in Nottingham, Edwin House, set up by Framework and the Recovery Nottingham Network. It is specifically providing residential detox, but also residential care in a controlled environment for people with a record of substance misuse. Would the Minister like to come and visit the service, which has opened only very recently, to see for himself the work that is being done in Nottingham?

I certainly would—any excuse to go back to Nottingham. I remember going there very often as a child to visit family, and I would very much like to do so. I am sure my diary secretary will be scribbling down something to ensure that we get it in the diary in the near future.

This initiative will also provide over 1,700 new bed spaces, including in both emergency and settled accommodation. As I mentioned briefly, another key part of the initiative is the rough sleeping team that we have established. It comprises experts from local authorities across the country, Government agencies and charities. They will support this work and ensure that resources are applied effectively. They are continuing to work in partnership with staff in each area to support local authorities, voluntary sector partners and others to ensure this work delivers the real change we need.

We were delighted to announce recently that the rough sleeping initiative will be led by Jeremy Swain. I am sure the shadow Minister, the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), is very aware that he brings with him 30 years of valuable in the sector, most recently as chief executive of Thames Reach.

While the initiative is focused on bringing down rough sleeping numbers this year, there is an existing project, now in its second year—the hon. Member for Nottingham South referred to it—which has focused on Nottingham and neighbouring local authorities. The £20 million rough sleeping grants, announced in December 2016, have seen 48 local authorities take forward bespoke projects that are relevant to their area’s needs. In Nottingham, the city council has received £371,000 to establish a rough sleeper prevention service. As we have heard, this includes the roll-out of “No second night out” beyond the city and multi-disciplinary outreach services, such as the provision of health support. This has enabled support for more entrenched rough sleepers with complex needs. As hon. Members from the city know, the programme in Nottingham is now in its second year, and I am delighted to say that it supported more than 300 rough sleepers in the first year.

More broadly, to support local authorities to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping generally, we have committed £617 million in funding in the form of our flexible homelessness support grant. This ring-fenced fund gives local authorities more control and flexibility in managing local homelessness pressures. The hon. Lady will be encouraged to hear that, as part of that support grant allocation, Nottingham City Council has received £623,000.

As I have noted, tackling rough sleeping is a key priority not only for me, but for the Prime Minister and her Government. In order to meet our manifesto commitment to end rough sleeping for good, we are developing a cross-Government strategy that will make clear how we will achieve that. The development of the strategy is being overseen by a ministerial taskforce comprising relevant Ministers from across Whitehall. The taskforce is being support by a group of experts, in the form of our rough sleeping advisory panel. We are grateful to St Mungo’s for being part of the panel—I had the pleasure of speaking to its representatives this afternoon at the launch of its latest report. The strategy will set out the Government’s course of action for working with local authorities, the voluntary sector and the wider public sector to meet our aim of eliminating rough sleeping by 2027. We will be setting out further details shortly, but I can tell the House that our focus will be in three core areas—prevention, intervention and recovery—so that by 2027 nobody should have to sleep on our streets.

Before moving on to the other action that the Government are taking to tackle rough sleeping, I want to draw Members’ attention to the recent decrease in the number of people recorded as sleeping rough in London. Data from the combined homelessness and information network shows that there has been a decrease of more than 600 since last year. That is an encouraging sign, and we are committed to ensure that it continues, and at an increasing rate.

In pursuit of that objective, to support some of the most entrenched rough sleepers off our streets, we have announced three innovative Housing First pilots, to which the hon. Lady referred. The pilots will focus on around 1,000 of the most entrenched and persistent rough sleepers, making sure that they get the bespoke support and care they need to make a long-term recovery from their homelessness and rough sleeping. The £28 million fund that we have made available to support the pilots will provide individuals with stable, affordable accommodation and, importantly, intensive wrap-around support. That will hopefully help them recover from complex issues, such as substance abuse and mental health difficulties, and also sustain their tenancies so that they can stay in their homes. We expect the first people to move into the accommodation in the autumn, and I very much look forward to the positive impacts of the pilots being realised.

The hon. Lady asked about widening the Housing First programme. We will be analysing the results extremely carefully as soon as we get them. She asked whether there will be additional funding for the rough sleeping initiative after this year. We will announce the funding for 2019-20 shortly. She asked whether we will review the allocation of the Care Act 2014 in the strategy, and we will be looking at that—she made her arguments incredibly well, but I ask her to be a little patient. She also asked about the causes of homelessness and rough sleeping. We are certainly doing lots of work across Departments to ensure that we understand the causes fully. We will be commissioning a feasibility study to determine how we can carry out robust and useful research in that regard. She asked what we are doing about migration, with regard to people who are not entitled to benefits. The controlling migration fund provides local authorities with funding for projects to tackle rough sleeping by non-UK nationals, and funded projects are working with non-UK national rough sleepers in a range of ways, including supporting them to secure regular employment and accommodation, or facilitating a voluntary return to their country of origin.

The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which came into force in April, will fundamentally transform homelessness service delivery. I have seen some fantastic results in the borough of Southwark, where the provisions have been implemented for over 18 months. We are working closely with local authorities to examine the data on this, and we will be supporting them to implement the Act.

I thank the hon. Lady once again for bringing this worthwhile debate to the House. I hope that I have gone some way towards assuring her, and other Members representing Nottingham constituencies, that the Government are absolutely committed to tackling rough sleeping, and not just in Nottingham South but across the country.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.