I beg to move,
That this House notes with concern that the number of people sleeping rough on the streets of England has more than doubled since 2010 and that the number of homeless children in temporary accommodation has risen to 127,000; further notes that the number of people dying homeless in England and Wales has risen to 726 people a year; recognises that by contrast there was an unprecedented fall in homelessness under a Labour Government by 2010; and calls on the Government to take action to end rough sleeping and tackle the root causes of rising homelessness starting by making 8,000 homes available for those with a history of rough sleeping, restoring funding for local housing allowance, and re-investing in local homelessness services, including £100m a year for emergency accommodation to save lives this winter.
This is our first Opposition day of the new Parliament, and it is fitting that we are debating the country’s homelessness crisis. It is fitting, too, that so many Members from all parties and all parts of the country want to speak. The measure of any country is the way it treats its most vulnerable citizens. We are proud of Britain, but it shames us all that tonight people will be sleeping rough on the streets in almost every town and city. Any patriot knows that the social contract at the heart of our country means that we can never accept people wanting for something as basic as a permanent roof over their head.
Last year, 726 people died homeless in a country as decent and well-off as ours; in Britain in the 21st century. That does indeed shame us all, but most of all it shames Conservative Ministers over the past 10 years. This is a Government who are failing on homelessness. This is a Government in denial about the root causes of homelessness. This is a Government with no proper plan to fix the crisis that they themselves have caused.
I thank my right hon. Friend for bringing this incredibly important debate to the House and for referring to the number of people who died while homeless. David Fuller died sleeping rough in Chesterfield at Christmas in 2017. Is it not the case that every single death of that sort is not only a tragedy but a travesty, and an avoidable travesty if only the Government would take the actions they need to take in building the number of houses we need and having a welfare policy that does not punish the most vulnerable people in our country?
My hon. Friend is right. I believe that Members on both sides of the House will tell this afternoon of some of the local and individual tragedies behind the national statistics. He is quite right that every one is a tragedy and every one is a travesty. Many are preventable. It cannot be acceptable for any of us in this House, in this day and age, that over 700 people died homeless in our country.
I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Conservatives have every wish to see the end of homelessness, just as his party does, and Ministers are now making more money available. What advice would he give Ministers on how best to spend that money to achieve our shared objective?
Wishes are not enough. The right hon. Gentleman has been around long enough to know that it is important to will the means. He has also been around long enough to remember that in 1997, when I was elected, Labour took on a country where homelessness was high and rising, mass rough sleeping was widespread, and tent cities were common in parts of central London, directly as a result of deep cuts to social security and council programmes over the preceding 18 Conservative years.
I say to those on the Treasury Bench: do what we did before—do what was done under Labour, because we turned it round. We turned it round with groundbreaking legislation, new funding, greater prevention and a taskforce led from the top by the Prime Minister. That is what led to homelessness charities describing what they said was an unprecedented fall in homelessness by 2010, with rough sleeping down by around three quarters.
One way we could stop the rise in homelessness is by addressing the concerns about universal credit. Just this week, Hull City Council published a report which says that rent arrears are at a wholly unsustainable level. Three quarters of tenants on universal credit are behind with their rent, and they are at increased risk of eviction. One way that the Government could deal with the homelessness problem is to address the failings of universal credit.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I said, this is a Government in denial about the root causes of high and rising homelessness, and she puts her finger on a very important root cause. It used to be the case that government in Britain was based on evidence—we had evidence-based policy making—but all the evidence about universal credit is that it leads to higher levels of debt and higher levels of rent arrears, and of course higher levels of rent arrears lead to higher levels of homelessness.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way; he is being very generous and making a compelling speech. As he rightly says, this issue was dealt with by the last Labour Government successfully, and the reason for the return of high levels of rough sleeping and homelessness is a return to the ideology that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) favours. Office for National Statistics data show that the average age of the estimated 641 homeless males who died in 2018 was 44. The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government is 38 years of age. I wonder how we as a country can stomach that sort of statistic.
My hon. Friend is right. This shames us all—in government, in opposition and across the country. We need a new national mission to tackle homelessness, not just a new determination from Government. It cannot be done without Government. The free market solutions that we have too often seen over the last 10 years have failed—indeed, we have seen failure on every front on homelessness over the last 10 years.
There is a real danger with political point scoring on this, particularly in venerating the previous Labour Government. In May 1997, the average home in England was worth £62,000. Ten years later, it was £188,000—a threefold increase. This is an affordability problem at root. No one is in denial about that. Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that there has been a huge and unsustainable rise in the cost of accommodation under successive Governments?
Quite honestly, I do not know where to start. For the thousands of people who will sleep out tonight, the level of the housing market is a long way from their concern. If the hon. Gentleman does not like the points that I am making and regards them as political point scoring, let me give him some straight facts. Directly as a result of Ministers’ decisions over the last 10 years, 86,000 households are now homeless and in temporary accommodation—up 71%; 127,000 children have no home—up 75%—and many are placed in temporary accommodation miles from their school, their friends and their community; and 4,600 people are sleeping rough on the streets—up 165%. Of course, every charity working in the homeless field and every expert knows that this is a huge undercount of the true scale of street homelessness. Just today, in a new report from St Mungo’s, we learn that 12,000 people who were homeless last year also went without the drugs or alcohol addiction help they needed.
At a time when perhaps some of the old certainties in politics appear to be in flux, one thing is certain and one thing remains true: the legacy of every Conservative Government is high homelessness, and the job of every Labour Government is to fix the problem.
Does my right hon. Friend also believe that the rise in homelessness is connected with the continuing fall in the number of social housing properties, which actually fell by a further 17,000 in the last year alone?
I do indeed. The Government published statistics yesterday that, in a sense, show the very scale of the point my hon. Friend rightly makes. When I stood on the other side of the Chamber as Labour’s last Housing Minister in 2009, 120,000 more social rented homes were let in that year than last year. That is an indicator of how short social housing is and how chronic the crisis that we face is.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
I am going to make some progress now because so many hon. Members on both sides want to speak.
Our homelessness crisis now, as it was in the 1990s, is the direct result of decisions taken by Conservative Ministers over the previous decade. There have been 13 separate cuts to housing benefit, including the hated bedroom tax, and the breaking of the link between the level of housing benefit and rents for private renters. Some £1 billion a year has been cut from local homelessness services. There are almost 9,000 fewer homeless hostel beds now, at a time when they have never been needed more. We see £2,200 extra a year for average private rents, with no action from the Government to protect private renters either from eviction or from huge rent hikes.
Only 6,287 new social rented homes were built in this country last year. That is the second lowest year since the second world war, with the lowest being two years before that. If anyone doubts the significance of the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck), in Labour’s last year in government, we built nearly 40,000 new social rented homes. If the Conservatives had only kept building those homes at the same rate as Labour did, we would now have in this country an extra 200,000 social rented homes, which is more than enough for every household homeless and in temporary accommodation; more than enough for every person sleeping rough on the streets; and more than enough for every individual in every homeless hostel across the country.
After 10 years, the hard truth is that homelessness is high and rising, and what the Government are doing is not working. Based on the Government’s own statistics, at the current rate of progress, Ministers will not end rough sleeping in this country before 2082. On current progress, they will not even bring the level of rough sleeping back to the level it was in 2010 for nearly 40 years. Meanwhile, the number of households that are homeless and the number of children who are homeless continue to rise.
At my surgeries, homelessness and housing dominate among the issues people come to see me about. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that, as well as building social homes, the Government also need to increase the local housing allowance?
I have bad news for my hon. Friend. I hope she was not listening to Ministers recently when they said that they are ending the benefits freeze and that housing benefit will rise again. In April, housing benefit will rise at the level of the consumer prices index, which is 1.7%. In my hon. Friend’s constituency, many people, both in work and out, who rely on housing benefit in the private sector—the local housing allowance—will have seen over the past two years the Government putting in rises of 3% through their targeted affordability fund. However, instead of a 3% rise next year, people will get a 1.7% rise; instead of an end to the benefits freeze, they will get rises at a lower rate. What the Government will not say is that that fund goes with the end of the benefits freeze, and in areas such as that of my hon. Friend, where rental pressures are highest, people in private rented accommodation will feel the tightest pinch. At best that is underhand; at worst it is simply dishonest.
The bad news for all new Government Back Benchers is that their Ministers and Government have no proper plan to fix the homelessness crisis. The good news, however, is that there is a plan that would end rough sleeping within a Parliament and start to fix the causes of the homelessness crisis: our Labour plan. It is radical, credible, fully fledged, and fully formed—you could even say, Mr Deputy Speaker, that it is oven ready. It is based on what works because we know what works; we have done it before.
I hope the Secretary of State will take our Labour plan and make it a national plan to tackle homelessness. First, we must establish a new taskforce, led by the Prime Minister, to end rough sleeping for good. Secondly, we must make available an extra 8,000 homes from housing associations for those with a history of rough sleeping. Thirdly, we must place a levy on second homes that are used as holiday homes, and use that to fund a new duty for emergency support in every area during the winter when it is cold. Fourthly, we must relink the housing allowance to rents, so that people do not end up on the streets because they cannot cover the growing shortfall. Finally, we must make good the £1 billion a year cuts to local homelessness services over the past decade. Those are radical, common-sense steps to solve our homelessness crisis.
The Secretary of State will soon say, no doubt, that the Prime Minister has pledged that the Government will end rough sleeping within five years. We have heard that before from the Prime Minister. Some of my hon. Friends, particularly those from the capital, will remember that when he was elected as London Mayor, he said:
“It’s scandalous that, in 21st century London, people have to resort to sleeping on the streets, which is why I have pledged to end rough sleeping in the capital by 2012.”
He did not, of course—in fact, rough sleeping in London more than doubled during his time as Mayor. He has a long history of making promises and letting people down. If the Prime Minister means what he says, if he does what he says, and if he wants to lead a one nation Government, he must deal with the national shame of homelessness. I say to him this: make Labour’s plan the country’s plan, and personally lead a new national mission to end homelessness for good.
I beg to move an amendment, line 1, to leave out from “House” to end and add:
“notes the Government’s commitment to ending rough-sleeping in this Parliament; further notes that the latest annual figures showed a fall in rough sleeping numbers; notes the steps already taken by the Government including implementing the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 and delivering successful programmes like the Rough Sleeping Initiative and Housing First pilots; welcomes the Government’s commitment of £1.2 billion to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping; notes the Secretary of State’s announcement this week of an extra £112 million for the Government’s Rough Sleeping Initiative, taking the total sum being invested over the next year to £437 million; notes this House’s concern that more is done to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping so that everyone has access to accommodation when they need it most; and notes the clear steps this Government is taking to achieve this.”
We are fortunate to live in a country that is widely and rightly regarded as one of the most fair, prosperous and advanced in the world. It is, therefore, a serious moral failure that we still have people sleeping on our streets and struggling to secure something so basic as a roof over their heads. That feels especially poignant at this time of year, when most of us take for granted a warm bed on a cold night. The deaths of people sleeping rough right here on the doorsteps of Parliament in recent years have been a sobering reminder of the challenges we face. That was brought home to me powerfully when I volunteered at a homeless shelter in Birmingham on Christmas day, and when I had the privilege of meeting a lady called Claire in Walsall just before Christmas, who is one of over 200 people to have been helped off the streets by the Housing First pilots. Initiatives such as Housing First give us all some hope.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
I will come to the hon. Gentleman in a moment.
The figures showing that rough sleeping fell last year, for the first time in several years, give us evidence that these policies are working, but there is clearly a lot more to be done. Everything begins with a stable home and somewhere to put down roots, which is why the Government have made it their overriding priority to reduce all forms of homelessness and to end rough sleeping during this Parliament.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I appreciate the tone of his rhetoric, but it bears no relation to the performance of the Government’s policies over the past nine and a half years. He talks about homelessness as though it remained a problem, but it is an escalating problem. It is a problem that is running out of control on this Government’s watch. When he comes back to the Dispatch Box, will he not talk about homelessness as though what we are seeing is a continuation of a longstanding problem? What we are seeing under his Government is as a result of his policies. The situation is getting—
Order. Let us make this clear from the start: we cannot have long interventions. If Members make long interventions at the beginning of the debate, those sitting here hoping to speak at the end will get only two minutes, and that is really not fair. We must have short interventions.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
As I said, the figures for the past year suggest we are seeing a reduction in street homelessness—a modest reduction, I admit, of 2%, but a reduction none the less. We will not find out the official figures for the most recent count taken in November until next month, but having been to a number of local authorities across the country in recent weeks and spoken to them it seems to me that we will see a further, more significant fall in rough sleeping when we receive those figures. I have not for one moment suggested that that is an end in itself. We need to go much further and much faster. In my remarks, I will set out exactly what this new Conservative Government intend to do.
I am glad the Secretary of State raised Housing First. I know he will join me in congratulating Councillor Yvonne Davies and Councillor Sharon Thompson, who had to take back control of delivering it to drive some of the reductions we have seen in the west midlands. The point really is this: for Housing First to work, we first need houses. The truth is that the number of social homes built in the west midlands has fallen by 17% in the past year and by 18% since 2010. Surely that must be turned around.
I am very happy to praise anybody who has been involved in Housing First. As I said, a few days before Christmas I visited a Housing First pilot in Walsall and was tremendously impressed by the work there. I met a lady who had been taken off the streets in Walsall. She had been sleeping rough in a park for a long time, but was spending her first Christmas for a number of years in a home of her own and would shortly be having her children over for Christmas lunch, which she had not managed to enjoy, I think, for over decade. It is a tribute to the housing associations that are willing to participate in Housing First. I want more housing associations to do so. We will clearly need to provide both the funding and the certainty of that funding, because it is a significant endeavour for a housing association. That housing association, for example, is not only giving property and a home to that lady, but promising to provide wrap-around care, an individual to visit or phone that person, every day for up to three years. That is an incredibly sophisticated and bespoke level of care, but one that is working extremely well.
The Secretary of State must have heard me say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) that eviction rates for tenants on universal credit are three times higher than for tenants who are not on universal credit. What conversations is the Secretary of State having with the Department for Work and Pensions about how to stop the high eviction rate of tenants on universal credit?
I speak regularly with my colleagues at the DWP, including the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), who is sitting beside me. However, we do not recognise those figures. For example, the figures that I have seen most recently show that for individuals who come on to universal credit with pre-existing rent arrears we see a one-third reduction in rent arrears after four months. The statistics that I have seen are far more encouraging than those given by the hon. Lady.
I will make some progress, as I think Madam Deputy Speaker asked me to.
The question of funding seems to have been at the heart of the debate so far. We are backing our commitment to this agenda with very substantial funding. Yesterday, I announced that we will take the total sum being invested in this challenge next year to £437 million. That is on top of the £1.2 billion that has already been committed, marking a £69 million increase in funding from the current financial year, and £15 million more than we committed at the spending round a few months ago.
However, we are not stopping there. The Government have already made good on their promise to end the benefits freeze, with benefits due to rise in line with inflation from April. The majority of people in receipt of housing support in the private rented sector will see their housing support increase. In our 2019 manifesto, the Government committed to introducing a new stamp duty land tax surcharge on non-UK residents buying residential property in England and Northern Ireland, with that revenue going to support rough sleepers. No one should sleep rough on our streets. That is why we are focused on helping those living on the streets now, as well as ensuring that we consign rough sleeping to history once and for all.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that people sleeping rough quite often have drink or drug addiction problems, for example, and that we need to persuade them to get help? Are there not generous programmes to deal with those kinds of issues? [Interruption.]
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right and I do not understand the chatter from Opposition Members. The street homelessness challenge that this country faces is not simply a housing issue but an issue of addiction and mental health, and this Government intend to bring those together for the first time in a properly co-ordinated approach between our Departments.
The Secretary of State referred to the local housing allowance. About a year ago, the National Audit Office did a damning report for the Public Accounts Committee, stating that the Government had done no proper analysis of the connection between their welfare reform policies and homelessness. Will he rectify that with his colleagues in the DWP and produce such an analysis for the House?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are working together very closely—I regularly meet my colleagues in the DWP, and in fact we will meet this week. All our proposals will be co-ordinated and done jointly because we understand that this issue needs to be joined up—not just with the DWP, as I said, but with the Health Secretary, so that we get the added links to addiction and mental health, and the Home Secretary, so that the law enforcement side of this works together. We will be taking forward a co-ordinated strategy across all Departments.
As the Member for the Cities of London and Westminster, I know a thing or two about rough sleeping, with Westminster having more rough sleepers than the next three boroughs combined. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need a multifaceted approach? It is about mental health. It is about drug addiction. This is not just about homelessness and rough sleeping, particularly in places such as central London and other main cities in the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend speaks with great personal experience and she is right; we must all beware of resorting to simple explanations for this complex challenge. It is about bringing together all the relevant authorities; where homelessness has been tackled most successfully, that is exactly what is happening. The other day I visited St Mungo’s, who are excellent at bringing together the police, local councils, central Government, the NHS and others. Yesterday I was at Newham, where the council is doing exactly that, with a superb supported housing centre called Anchor House.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that St Mungo’s started the campaign on rough sleeping, in the late 1980s, with a lot of Conservatives supporting it? The initiatives that John Major’s Government put in place under Sir George Young, as he then was, were the start of the work to really try to solve the problem. [Interruption.] It is not true to say that the Conservatives did not do anything in the 1990s; I was here and they did. The right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) was not.
I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. I am very happy to pay tribute to the fantastic work of St Mungo’s. As I said, it pioneered bringing together all the parts of government, central and local. That really has an impact.
I will give way in a moment, if I may.
The strategy that we published in 2018, backed at that time by a £100 million package, is a vital step towards our shared goal. The strategy is built around three pillars: first, preventing rough sleeping before it happens; secondly, intervening at crisis points; and, thirdly, helping people to recover with flexible support that meets their needs.
I am sure my right hon. Friend is aware of the great work being done in Wolverhampton by Good Shepherd Ministry and other such organisations. What is he doing in this Parliament to end rough sleeping?
I will come on to the strategy. I know the Good Shepherd centre’s work; in fact, I volunteered there as a child, growing up in Wolverhampton.
The centre of our work is our rough sleeping initiative. That involves our team of rough sleeping advisers working closely with local authorities to deliver vital services to help people who are sleeping rough. I take the opportunity to pay tribute to those local authorities, and the charities and organisations and their volunteers, who are taking part in the RSI. Our evaluation concluded that the rough sleeping initiative was working. It is seeing an almost one-third reduction in vulnerable people sleeping rough in those areas that are funded by the initiative, compared with what would have happened if those areas had not been part of the initiative.
We are keen for more parts of the country to benefit from the initiative.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way; he has been very generous. I have had constituents living in tents, cars—one even in a cave. All those cases—I have many more, and I am not just talking about street homelessness—were related to problems with social security. Two thirds of local authorities predict that the roll-out of universal credit will increase homelessness. What are the assessments of both the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince)?
I think I have answered that question. We do not recognise some of the figures that we have heard. In fact, the evidence that I have seen has suggested that rent arrears have fallen over time, in the case of those individuals who have moved on to universal credit.
To support the rough sleeping initiative programmes such as those that I have visited in recent months, I allocated this week up to £112 million to fund the programme for a third year. That represents a 30% increase in funding for this already proven successful programme. Councils, charities and organisations throughout the country will be able to use that money to fund up to 6,000 new bed spaces and 2,500 rough sleeping support staff.
The Secretary of State is being very generous in giving way. I am pleased to hear him outline the strategy for rough sleeping, but is he aware that rough sleeping in this country is illegal, under the Vagrancy Act 1824, which is still on the statute book? We are running a campaign with St Mungo’s, Crisis and others to have it repealed.
As the hon. Lady may know, we are reviewing the Act; we are very aware of that and want to see it changed.
We are determined to build on the work of our Housing First programme pilots, which we have already heard about. The pilots, in Greater Manchester, the west midlands and the Liverpool city region, have already helped more than 200 people off the streets and into a home and provided each with a dedicated support worker. A further 800 people are due to benefit by the end of the programme.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way—he has been extremely generous with interventions. Does he agree we should commend organisations such as Dogs on the Street, which cares for homeless people with pets? Those pets very often are people’s only lifeline, yet it is difficult to get into a hostel if you have a pet. That must be addressed.
The hon. Lady makes an important point. Anybody who has spent time meeting rough sleepers, particularly those who slept rough for a longer period, will know that a dog can be an incredibly important companion, and it is true that a large proportion of shelters do not take individuals with pets, although some do—in fact most of those I have visited recently, particularly in central London, allow them. Nevertheless, I would encourage shelters to find a way through this problem, because it is a significant issue.
I turn now to the issue we have already discussed around health and the underlying causes of rough sleeping. In 2018, 41% of the rough-sleeping population in London were assessed as having a drug dependency need, 42% as having an alcohol dependency issue, and 50% as having a mental health support need. Recent figures also show that 80% of rough sleepers who died in London had mental health needs. The data is very clear: people sleeping rough with a mental health condition are significantly more likely to die than those without a mental health need.
We must not forget that behind each statistic is an individual with their own story. They all deserve the support we can give them. That is why my Department is now working closely with the Department for Health and Social Care to ensure they get the support they need. That support includes £30 million in funding from NHS England to support specialist mental health services and £2 million to help test different models of community-based healthcare, particularly focused on substance misuse and mental health treatment. I can assure the House that as we progress and develop our rough sleeping strategy we will do everything we can to co-ordinate it with the Department for Health and Social Care.
If the Secretary of State was to be kicked out of his house and find himself in the unfortunate circumstance of living on the street, of course mental health issues, depression, drug dependency and alcoholism might then result, but the Government have cut homelessness support by £1 billion a year over the last decade—this is nothing new—and cuts have consequences. I think, for example, of the 726 people—an increase of 50%—who lost their lives last year
As I have said, we are increasing funding for this issue. We are spending £1.2 billion. This year, we are adding £430 million and more—for example, the £112 million I have devoted this year to the rough sleeping initiative. That is a 30% increase, and the funding the previous year was more than the year before that, so the Government are giving this national issue the resources it deserves. I hope that meets with approval across the House.
We are also taking action by implementing the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which will play a crucial role in tackling this issue. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and all those who played an instrumental role in taking this ambitious legislative reform forward. It means that everyone, not just those deemed a priority, can get the support they need to prevent them from becoming homeless. The legislation also means that people can access support earlier, with new duties on public bodies, from the NHS to our prisons, to intervene earlier, and councils are now providing support of up to 56 days, ahead of someone needing help finding secure accommodation.
Since the Act was implemented, more than 130,000 households have had their homelessness successfully prevented or relieved, and nearly two thirds of the applicants receiving help have been single households who previously would have been less likely to have been offered support.
The duty to refer, which came into force in October 2018, is also encouraging strong local partnerships. It requires public authorities such as our prisons, our emergency departments and Jobcentre Plus to refer service users who they think may be homeless, or threatened with homelessness, to a local housing authority of their choice. That is a clear example of public services working closely together in the interests of the most vulnerable in our society.
We are also taking decisive action on the delivery of fairer, more affordable housing of all tenures, so that we can prevent and reduce homelessness and rough sleeping. The Government have delivered more than 464,000 affordable homes since 2010. Our commitment to increasing the housing supply means that we will go even further than that, delivering, on average, more affordable homes each year than the last Labour Government—and there is more to come, with 250,000 more new affordable homes due to be delivered by March 2022 through the affordable homes programme, which we have boosted with a further £9 billion.
In our manifesto we committed ourselves to a further affordable homes programme, which I hope will be even more ambitious. That commitment is underlined by our manifesto pledge to publish a social housing White Paper, which will set out more measures to empower tenants, provide greater redress and better regulation, and improve the quality of social housing.
The Minister has agreed to introduce a Bill that will, hopefully, get rid of no-fault evictions and to provide a decent redress system. Will he meet me, and some representatives of Shelter? I presented a ten-minute rule Bill in the last Parliament that would pay for some of that, protecting deposits and allowing a disputes resolution mechanism, and working out some of the details so that we do not have to do it through amendment.
I should be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman. He will not be surprised to hear that we have already met a range of stakeholders, including representatives of Shelter and other important organisations, to discuss this issue. We want to ensure that the social housing White Paper does the job that is required, and we are working closely with organisations such as Grenfell United to learn the lessons of that tragedy. We are also working with organisations such as Shelter in connection with our Renters’ Rights Bill, which will bring an end to no-fault evictions and create other important initiatives, including a lifetime deposit which will help those on low incomes and others throughout society by making it easier and cheaper for tenants to move.
We have a clear plan—backed by substantial investment and a proactive approach, and widely welcomed—to tackle homelessness and end rough sleeping for good. As the Prime Minister has made clear, that is an absolute priority for him and for this new Government. We are encouraged by the progress that we have made on rough sleeping in the last two years, and through measures such as the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, the Housing First pilots and the rough sleeping initiative we are seeing results, but we know that we have to go much further to give some of the most vulnerable people in our society the future they deserve. I believe we can do this; I believe we must do this; and, as a compassionate, one nation Conservative Government, we will not rest until we achieve it.
Before I call the spokesman for the Scottish National party, I should give notice that, as we have only two hours left for this debate and it is obvious that a great many Members wish to speak, we will start with a time limit of six minutes, but that will soon be reduced to considerably less. The time limit does not, of course, apply to Mr David Linden.
In the interests of being collegiate, I will seek to limit my remarks to eight or nine minutes in order to allow others to get in.
Let me first thank the official Opposition for tabling the motion. Understandably, because this is a devolved issue, the text of the motion refers only to the situation in England, but we all know that homelessness does not stop at the border. Even in my own city of Glasgow, homelessness is still a major concern, and that is something I will come back to later in my remarks.
Put simply, one person sleeping rough is one too many and we must always do more to eradicate the scourge of homelessness from our society. As well as acknowledging where we must improve, it is important to highlight what we are doing right in Scotland. I do not do this to give the Scottish Government a pat on the back; this is more in the spirit of sharing good practice. Having said that, I am incredibly proud that in Scotland we have some of the strongest rights for homeless people in the world. There is more to be done, though, to tackle rough sleeping, and I would like to touch on some of the Scottish Government’s actions and policies in my contribution today.
A couple of years ago, it was an honour to hear from Josh Littlejohn, the founder of Social Bite and a leading homelessness campaigner in Scotland, when he spoke passionately about the Housing First model in his address to the Parkhead Housing Association’s annual John Wheatley lecture. I was struck by the Secretary of State talking about Housing First earlier, but most people in the Gallery this afternoon and most people watching at home might not know what Housing First does. For their benefit, let me tell the House that it is based on the simple premise that accommodation should be provided as the first step in tackling homelessness, in order to create the stability required to deal with other complex needs and issues that a person might have.
The Housing First model derives from Finland, where it has delivered significant positive outcomes for people, so it is not hard to see why Social Bite threw its weight behind it. The Scottish Government have backed Social Bite’s Housing First programme, which is now starting to bring welcome results. Between April and December last year, 186 people were housed through the scheme, 91% of whom continue to sustain their tenancies. That is a remarkable figure that speaks for itself. It must be highlighted that this model truly shows that there has to be a different way of doing things to break the cycle of homelessness. The Conservative manifesto in December committed to expanding its own Housing First pilot, and the Government should be in no doubt that there are many Members on these Benches who will hold them to that promise. There needs to be a lot more than lip service and words in a manifesto, so we will certainly hold them to that.
Most of us know from our casework that many people who become homeless or end up sleeping rough have complex needs that require specialist support as well as a house. The usual approach—which has arguably failed—has been to provide support to get a person tenancy-ready before giving them a house, but that can mean that they spend long periods of time in temporary accommodation, making it harder for them to address the other issues they face. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) said, for example, a number of people cannot get into temporary accommodation because they have pets.
At this juncture, I want to pay tribute to the Bethany Christian Trust, which has a project in my constituency that is supported very ably by Shona Howard, its community resettlement worker. At the end of October last year, I was privileged to be able to join Paul and Colin, who had been housed by the Bethany Christian trust in flats in the Tollcross area of my constituency. One of the things that I was most impressed by when I visited Paul and Colin at the New Charter was the fact that Bethany was not only housing them but proactively helping them to develop other life skills. For the guys in that case, it was through a cookery course. We know the benefits of that kind of wraparound support, not just for housing but for the wider community.
The Scottish Government’s £50 million Ending Homelessness Together fund is helping to deliver the actions recommended by the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group, because we recognise that we have much more to do to end rough sleeping in particular. Now, 39 of the 49 actions in the 2018 Ending Homelessness Together action plan have already either commenced or been completed, and plans for the remaining 10 are in place for this year. But we are under no illusion: the work is not finished. As the Secretary of State said, winter is always a particularly challenging time for homeless people, and that is why over £350,000 of extra funding has been provided to help people to stay safe and warm. This also involves a new multi-agency one- stop hub in my own city of Glasgow to support people who are sleeping rough and those who are at risk of homelessness.
Getting people off the streets and into warmth and safety is imperative, and we cannot do that without the support of the Glasgow Night Shelter, which is hosted by colleagues at the Glasgow City Mission. Last year, that centre provided beds for 691 people, and I commend the many churches—including my own, the Parkhead Nazarene church—that are taking turns to provide volunteers to staff the night shelter. We also need to provide accommodation for people on a permanent basis, and the solution to that is clearly to build more social rented affordable homes. That is something that the Scottish Government are committed to, with their record investment of £3.3 billion to deliver on the ambitious target of getting 50,000 affordable homes by 2021.
We cannot have a debate on homelessness without looking at supply issues and social housing. In the four years to 2019, the SNP Government delivered five times more social rented homes per head of population than were delivered in England and almost twice the number of affordable homes delivered in Wales. Meanwhile, under the Tories, we know that council house building in England has fallen to its lowest level since the 1920s, evictions are at record levels, and a mere one in five council homes has been replaced when sold. That firmly tells us that this Government have learned nothing from Margaret Thatcher’s disastrous right-to-buy policy, which left a lasting scar on my constituency of Glasgow East.
Homelessness can be triggered for a multitude of reasons, including mental health and addiction, but there can be no doubt that the spike in homelessness has not been helped by the austerity agenda imposed by the British Government over the past decade. Whether it is the swingeing cuts to social security or the punitive bedroom tax, people losing their homes or ending up in extreme poverty can be attributed to all those things. In Scotland, we have acted to end the punitive bedroom tax, but that comes at a cost of £150 million a year to the Scottish Government, so I guess that raises a broader question about the purpose of devolution and devolved budgets. For example, is devolution merely to act as a sticking plaster for bad policy made here in London? On so many occasions, Scotland tries to tackle issues such as homelessness only to have one hand tied behind its back while being hindered by bad law made in this place. Regardless of the constitutional settlement in these islands, Scotland will play its part to eradicate the scourge of homelessness in 2020, and we intend to work flat out until that is achieved.
As I said, I do not want to speak for too long, because I know that other colleagues want to contribute tonight, but I end by quoting Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, who said in September last year:
“Making sure that everyone has a home where they can begin to rebuild their lives benefits all of us. Once again Scotland has shown it is a world leader in tackling homelessness and this commitment is a major step forward towards it being the first nation in Great Britain to end homelessness for good.”
That is the mission, and we are intent on accomplishing it in the coming months.
Order. We now have a formal limit of six minutes.
I shall be fairly brief. Over the years since the early 1990s, I have spent several months living undercover for television programmes on the streets of London, Birmingham and New York. Between when I first did it in 1992 and the last time I did it last year, I observe that almost nothing has changed. We still have the scandal of people with the most difficulties in our society—the untreated mentally ill and the drug addicted—prowling the streets of our cities. I therefore entirely agree with the Secretary of State—this is also my own experience—that street homelessness is primarily a health issue, not a housing issue.
I remember in the 1990s seeing a guy drinking like a dog from a puddle by Charing Cross station. I saw a similar thing last year. Things have not changed. Last year, I was sleeping next to a guy called Andy by the goods-in entrance of McDonald’s at Victoria among all the people smoking Spice. Andy was probably drinking 30 cans of beer a day, but he was not actually homeless. It was extraordinary. He had a flat—he showed me the keys—but Andy was living in Westminster for two reasons. First, he was lonely in his flat in north London. Secondly, how on earth is an alcoholic going to generate enough money to buy beer if not from begging on the streets?
I did not meet him, but a friend of mine reported that a guy who had been a heroin addict in Covent Garden for many years—he eventually had his leg cut off—absolutely maintained that if the public were not so generous and did not enable people to buy heroin and alcohol, he would have got off the streets an awful lot earlier. The reality is that many people choose to be on the street—[Interruption.] Before anyone stands up in outrage, let me say that there is a reason for that. People like Andy who are addicted to a drug have a problem: they need money. They cannot get money from begging if they are sleeping on the floor of one of the Government’s “no second night out” hostels, and they cannot get money to buy heroin if they are sitting in their council flat; they get it by being out on the streets.
When I was taken off the street under the “no second night out” policy, I was whisked off to a warm, safe place, but if I were a drug addict, there is no way I would have wished to be there. I would have felt safer and freer going back to my place on the Covent Garden piazza.
The reality is that, overwhelmingly, these are ill people. There are about a dozen rough sleepers in my constituency and, according to the excellent Gravesham Sanctuary homeless charity, the majority of them are addicted to drugs or alcohol. [Interruption.] This is my experience. Members who are shaking their head should intervene.
If this debate is really about street homelessness, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care should be at the Dispatch Box as this is a health problem. I know the Government are genuinely determined to do something about it. In fact this guy here, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, came and spent a night out on the streets of Covent Garden with me last year. He did not make a big song and dance about it, and he did not issue a press release. My friend Chris, a former crack addict, took him round and showed him how the begging works and how, when people have the money, they go off and hunt for drugs before the cycle starts all over again.
I am convinced that this guy, the Secretary of State, has got the message that we will not deal with rough sleeping unless we see it as a health problem. We need to be honest about this. When people give cash to a beggar —not in every case, but in the vast majority of cases—they are buying heroin, alcohol or zombie Spice. We have to stop giving money to beggars. We need wet accommodation where people can take drugs and continue to drink, and we need good emergency psychiatric assessments.
If the hon. Gentleman thinks we should have wet accommodation, does he support consumption rooms or shooting galleries so that we can also help people to ween off these awful drugs?
The truth is that I do not know, as I have not looked into it.
There is no point spending all this money if none of it gets to the tip of the spear—to the people in real need and in real crisis. There needs to be drug rehabilitation when people need it and when they are ready for it. I had one guy who decided he wanted to come off crack, and it took three months for him to get a place in rehab. We have to make sure that people are put in accommodation in which they want to stay.
My hon. Friend mentions homes, but does he agree with the Secretary of State that recruiting support workers would be a good way of spending money? Does he agree that having a key worker, a mentor or, perhaps, some peer support is a good way of helping people not only to get into a home but to stay in that home once they are there?
Absolutely, and it is another hard reality. We cannot have groups of young people in what starts as a street party but soon descends into a ghastly cycle of addiction. We have to be more robust about moving people on to prevent them from falling into addiction.
I say it again: we will get absolutely nowhere in helping these people at the very bottom—why on earth do we have social security if we cannot deal with this?—until we do what this Government are doing and understand that this is a health problem. I congratulate the Secretary of State.
I have a very different set of prescriptions for some of the problems set out by the hon. Member for Gravesham (Adam Holloway).
Debates in this place are always political, but they sometimes touch on the personal, too. I am the adult son of an alcoholic. Since I lost my father to a lifelong struggle with alcohol five years ago, I have sought to campaign for those in my home city of Birmingham who are self-medicating trauma with drugs and with alcohol. The reality is that what we see on our streets is that the safety net in this country—the social insurance system of which we were once proud—has now so comprehensively collapsed and the holes in that safety net are so big that anyone now hit by a twist of fate without a family to help them will fall straight through and hit the pavement, where in my region, on average, they are now dying every 10 days. That is why I say to this House that the subject of this debate is a moral emergency, which is why the response we need from Her Majesty’s Government is an awful lot stronger than what we heard today.
In cities such as Birmingham, we may have planes in the sky but we have homeless people dying in the doorways. Having this in the second city of the fifth richest country on earth is not a morally acceptable situation. I could give the House a barrage of statistics—
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
I will come on to Walsall in a minute. I could give the House a barrage of statistics about how rough sleeping in my city is up by 1,000% since 2010; about how the number of homeless children has trebled; and about how we now have a crisis of overcrowding, with one in five homes in inner-city Birmingham and the Black Country now overcrowded. But I do not want to talk about statistics. I want to talk about a story. It is the story of a man I met in an underpass next to Birmingham New Street station when I was out on a Sunday morning last year with an amazing team of people called Outreach Angels. We saw a man lying on the floor in acute distress—a double amputee next to his wheelchair. This was in an underpass that stank of urine. He had been there for three days, and he was still dressed in his hospital gown with a hospital tag on his wrist. It took us nearly two hours to get that man an ambulance. How on earth have we come to this in this country?
Thank God across our region we now have a coalition of kindness that is fighting back, with extraordinary people and organisations, including Hope into Action: Black Country; Matt Lambert, who does great work in Wolverhampton; Nobby Clarke, the Coventry night shelter and Hope Coventry; Langar Aid and Khalsa Aid International; SIFA Fireside; the outreach teams across the west midlands, which are doing extraordinary work; and Councillors Yvonne Davies and Sharon Thompson, who do extraordinary work and who have taken back control of the Housing First programme in our region, because they understand that for Housing First to work we first need homes. Can we guess the grand total of the number of social homes built last year in the hon. Gentleman’s borough? It was zero. The number of social homes built in the west midlands last year fell by 17%, and is down by nearly 80% since 2010. So I will take his intervention, but will he at least agree that we cannot bring together a shared agenda to tackle this problem unless we start building council homes again?
I am just disappointed that the right hon. Gentleman did not mention the excellent work of YMCA Birmingham, where I was assistant chief executive until I came to Parliament. That organisation has been given about £3.5 million over the past five years by this Government to provide accommodation for homeless people in Birmingham.
I would add to the hon. Gentleman’s list, because not only does the YMCA do an amazing job, but so do St Basils, with the work of Jean Templeton; Tabor House; the Good Shepherd Ministry in Wolverhampton, which the Secretary of State mentioned; Homeless One; and the Ummah Care Foundation, where I used to work in a soup kitchen on a Sunday night. This coalition of kindness is basically the last bastion of civility in our country. Thank God for them.
What we now need in our region is the biggest council house building programme since the second world war. What we need is a private sector, region-wide licensing scheme to stamp out bad practice. What we need are street teams delivering 24/7 addiction and mental health support. We need to radically expand the shelter that is available from places such as Tabor House and the Good Shepherd Ministry—places that provide not only shelter, but sanctuary, not just a house, but a home. But we need a Government who help, too.
We need the Government to start by abolishing the Vagrancy Act 1824. I cannot be the only person in this House who thinks that homeless people do not need handcuffs—they need a helping hand. We should replace that with Kane’s law. We should bring together the Department for Work and Pensions, the Prison Service, the health system and local government, and create an obligation on them to collaborate not only to remedy homelessness, but to prevent homelessness. I have met too many people fresh out of prison at 4 o’clock in the morning in Birmingham. I have met too many people who have been sanctioned on to the streets by the DWP. Let us end this injustice once and for all.
My right hon. Friend is making a valid point. I am sure he recognises that we tried to amend the Homelessness Reduction Bill in Committee to place a responsibility on other public agencies to address homelessness. What we got was a duty on them to refer people to housing departments, not to address it themselves.
What we need is what I have called Kane’s law, in memory of Kane Walker, who lost his life on the streets of Birmingham last year: a duty on public agencies to collaborate to prevent homelessness from happening in the first place. Let us put alongside that the restoration of housing benefit for young people, who do not pay lower rents than anybody else; let us make sure that we take off the caps on housing benefit, which cover only two thirds of the average rent in a city like Birmingham; and let us end the shame of “no recourse to public funds”, which means that those who come to our country to seek sanctuary are ending up on the streets.
The great tragedy of this debate is that if we summoned the will, we could, together, make homelessness history. We on the Opposition Benches are determined either to find a way or to make a way. We want to know whether the Secretary of State is with us or against us.
It is a pleasure a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne). He spoke with great passion, which I share and I am sure the whole House shares. We want to end homelessness. It is a shared goal.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests: I am a director of a shared-ownership property portal, so I have a great interest in the issue of first-time buyers. In fact, when I was involved in the business day-to-day, before I became an MP, we used to give part of all our mortgage commissions to the Broadway homelessness charity, which is now part of St Mungo’s. From my experience of working with Broadway and meeting many homeless clients, I can say, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Adam Holloway) did, that one should resist the temptation to generalise about the reasons why people have found themselves in very difficult circumstances. It was often drugs or alcohol, in particular it was family breakdown, and many times it was a combination of them all. I therefore very much welcome the additional £112 million that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has announced. It will include £30 million for mental health, which is very welcome. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham said, health is a significant issue in this context.
Having said all that—that we cannot generalise on the individual factors and that each case is different—we must all be concerned about the worrying underlying structural trend in causes of homelessness, which is that there has undoubtedly been a significant increase in the number of people becoming statutorily homeless because they have reached a certain point in an assured shorthold tenancy and been unable to renegotiate it, the rent has then been pushed up, they cannot afford it, and the property has been re-let. That is incredibly worrying, because more and more families are now in rental accommodation because of the affordability crisis that I referred to earlier in an intervention on the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey). The price of homes has gone up hugely under successive Governments. It is a widespread problem, particularly in our largest cities. So, what can we do about it?
When we talk about high rents, the other side of the coin is of course wages. There is no doubt that this period in which the end of an AST has become a factor in rising homelessness has coincided with a period of flat wages and significant rising rents, particularly in London and the south-east. The good news is that wages are now rising at their fastest rate in a decade—that is an incredibly important part of the issue—but on the other side of rents, the Government are entirely right that we need more supply. We cannot get around that. If a tenant finds themselves at the end of their tenancy, having to renegotiate, and the landlord knows that they can easily re-let—that there is an under-supply in the market —we know who will be wearing the boot on which side of the equation, and that will mean pressure on the tenant to accept a higher increase than they otherwise would. We need more supply and more choice.
I wish to make two points on how we can move forward. There is no easy solution, but what is called the build-to-rent sector offers a potential solution. Build to rent is generally institutionally funded and there is huge potential finance available for it from City institutions and so on. It is growing significantly: there was a 20% increase in build-to-rent development last year, and I believe that 148,000 units have been developed in the UK under build to rent. The key thing about build to rent is that under the national planning policy framework, tenancies should be offered of at least three years—what are called family-friendly tenancies. If we were to see a widespread increase in the supply of these types of properties in the market, with better-quality tenancies, it would force those in the sector who may not offer such good tenancies to improve their offer.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, in addition to his suggestions around build to rent, the Government need to hurry up on their proposals to end section 21, so that we can put an end to no-fault evictions? In my borough of Enfield, the no-fault eviction rate is the highest in the capital and the second highest in the country. The way to end that is to ask the Government to hurry up with their proposals that they have been sitting on and talking about for several years now.
That is a very fair point, but the Government are, of course, looking at it, and we await further details. None the less, it is a perfectly valid point. I was simply arguing that, ultimately, the best thing that can happen to those tenants in that position is for them to have choice—to have more supply. Here we have a sector with build to rent that can bring significant extra supply. When we talk about supply, the key thing is additionality, which is a terribly technical word. In other words, it really is additional stock that has come about as a result of an intervention in the planning or funding system, and that additional stock would not have happened without that intervention. It is an incredibly important point.
I also want to talk about regeneration. If we look at the NPPF, we will see that there is encouragement for that type of tenure, for build to rent, where there is large-scale urban regeneration. Something that concerns me about the current housing dialogue, particularly in some Labour-controlled London boroughs, is that, let us be honest, regeneration has become something of a dirty work. It is seen as enforced gentrification by some. Actually, there is a point in that. There have been urban regeneration schemes in some areas, particularly in London, where, arguably, some of the people who lived in the development before the regeneration lost out compared with what happened afterwards. It is difficult, because, in theory, the great thing with regeneration is that greater density brings more supply and improvement to the current stock for those who already live in the development. It is about regenerating and improving an area. That is something that has been supported by parties from across the divide, but we need to see much more of it and more joined-up support from Government for it. We can build on greenfield, on brownfield or on existing stock through regeneration. There is nothing else available unless we reclaim the sea through polderisation, and I do not think that that is about to happen any time soon.
If we do not have significant urban regeneration, we see disproportionate pressure on the countryside, and easy planning decisions of just building more and more on greenfield sites. Brownfield sites come under pressure when we need economic development—when we need land for industry and so on. Regeneration is the key, and that combination of large-scale build-to-rent developments in densely populated urban areas is one part—only one part—of delivering that increased supply so that there is less pressure on rents and, as wages increase, we can reduce the number of people becoming statutorily homeless at the end of an assured shorthold tenancy. There is no easy single answer, but those factors can form a joined-up, holistic, one-nation Conservative housing policy.
I am delighted to call Abena Oppong-Asare to make her maiden speech.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech on an issue that has such huge importance for so many in my constituency and beyond.
I start by praising my predecessor, Teresa Pearce. Many in this House will know her as a fighter, a socialist and a feminist. She served our community with passion and distinction first as a councillor and then as a champion in this place. Many of my newly elected colleagues have big boots to fill, but none more so than me. I am sure that the whole House will join me in wishing her a very well earned and happy retirement. I also pay tribute to Teresa’s predecessor, John Austin, who has given me fantastic support. He now spends time with his family and his allotment. John, if you are watching this, I am still waiting for my jam.
Each of us has travelled our own path to represent our constituents in this House. This morning, I travelled by tube and train—just in case you were wondering, Madam Deputy Speaker. In all seriousness, I stand here along with my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy) as the joint first female MP of Ghanaian descent. My journey into politics has not been easy. I did not come from a political background. I remember telling a careers adviser that I wanted to get into politics and learn more about working for an MP. I was laughed at and literally told that the chances of someone like me getting a job in Parliament were very slim, and to not even bother trying. I will not misuse parliamentary privilege by naming him, but I hope he is watching me now. When I see injustice, I always turn anger into action. That feeling of unfairness drove me to challenge the barriers that I faced as a black woman. I became the first ever black chair of the Labour Women’s Network, and I mentor and train many women like me, who do not normally get a chance in politics. It is also why I became a Unison grassroots trade unionist.
I am able to represent my community in part thanks to the trailblazers who came before us: Lord Boateng, Bernie Grant, Baroness Amos and, of course, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott). Their legacy in the House can be seen throughout the Chamber today, and they remain an inspiration to those of us who follow them. I also stand here on the shoulders of a century of sisters who came before me, and I am delighted that the parliamentary Labour party now reflects the gender breakdown of the country—51% female. As the chair of the Labour Women’s Network, building on the work of my predecessors Liv Bailey and Jo Cox MP, I could not be prouder of the role that the Labour Women’s Network has played in training hundreds of women for public office, introducing and defending all-women shortlists, tackling sexual harassment and abusive language in politics, ending the scourge of all-male panels, and introducing parental leave arrangements for councillors and MPs.
My constituency of Erith and Thamesmead is diverse, beautiful and fascinating. Erith pier offers stunning views of the Thames. Crossness pumping station, built by Sir Joseph Bazalgette, is a Victorian engineering masterpiece that is described as “a cathedral of ironwork”. The ruin of the abbey at Lesnes is a scheduled ancient monument that is haunted by the ghost of one of its former monks. Why not come for a visit, Madam Deputy Speaker? I will treat you to a fry-up at Zehra’s Café in Plumstead, some chips from a from the Frying Pan in Belvedere, or a cheeky cake from Crumbs bakery in Northumberland Heath. You can come to see the mighty Erith Town football town, and I will bring along some Ghanaian jollof rice—accept no imitations. There is one thing that I admit my constituency is sadly lacking; it contains one of the only parts of London without a train station. Simply put, that must change. I will be campaigning with local people to ensure that Thamesmead is put well and truly on the transport map.
I am here today to debate homelessness—an issue that, sadly, all too many of my constituents have experienced at first hand. Across the country, the numbers of people forced to rely on temporary accommodation are stark, but it is the stories behind the statistics that are truly heartbreaking: the family placed in accommodation two train journeys from their children’s school, travelling for hours to and from, desperately trying to ensure that their children can make it to school while they try to get to work; the mum and her infant daughter placed in a hotel that has no fridge for her to store milk; and the family with a young child placed by another borough in a shared property with someone on the sex offenders register. All of us in this place will have our own litany of examples—each harrowing, and each a stain on the reputation of this Government.
The Government must step up to end homelessness, rather than stepping over the homeless to get into this place. The housing crisis is one of the great injustices of our time. The people of Erith and Thamesmead have put their faith in me, and I will always fight to ensure that they have a safe and secure place to call home. When I see injustice, I always turn anger into action.
What a great pleasure it is to be called so early in this debate and to follow the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare), who spoke with poise and with passion. She mentioned that she does not come from a political background. She will find that many of us in this place, including me, share that with her. I am disappointed not to have been invited for a cheeky cake. I hope that she remedies that in due course. I look forward to her future contributions in this place.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) also mentioned passion, but I want to start by mentioning compassion, because there is no doubt that there is no lack of compassion among those on the Conservative Benches, just as there is no lack of compassion among those on the Opposition Benches.
The debate so far has focused on rough sleeping, and I too will devote a large portion of this short speech to that issue. As the Secretary of State himself set out, it is encouraging that, according to the latest count, the number of rough sleepers count, has decreased, but of course it is only a very small step in the right direction. I welcome it, but far more needs to be done. I am encouraged that locally in my constituency, Dorset County Council has reported that the number of rough sleepers, while still too high, has fallen substantially, from 38 to 18. I commend the council and its partners for the excellent work they have done. I think there are two main reasons for the decrease: first, there is no doubt that the Housing First programme has made a difference; secondly, the Navigator scheme does simple things such as signposting the most vulnerable people in the right direction. The Housing First programme is helping those who have experienced multiple homelessness.
Perhaps one of the most important pieces of legislation was mentioned by the Secretary of State: the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) that became the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. I was delighted and honoured to be asked to serve on the Committee that considered that Bill, and I remember well going through it clause by clause over a period of weeks. The Act, which had support on both sides of this House, has been referred to as the biggest change to homelessness legislation in a generation, but while there have been some encouraging signs of improvement, it is clear that to fulfil both the spirit of the Act and our manifesto commitment, more still needs to be done. I am encouraged that the Government are pressing on with the consultation and looking at how to make the best use of prevention.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Adam Holloway) rightly mentioned drug addiction. There is no doubt that many rough sleepers are unwilling or unable to take up offers of accommodation because of addiction or substance misuse; alternatively, as the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) mentioned, there may be practical issues, such as having a beloved pet. By taking a more pragmatic approach in relation to Housing First and providing sufficient support for councils, clearly more can be done to support the most vulnerable into housing. The Secretary of State mentioned funding, and of course I welcome the £470,000 that Dorset County Council is to receive, as well as the £1.4 million for Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council.
I must mention a number of local organisations. Routes to Roots, a charity in Poole that I have supported, does excellent work in supporting some of the most vulnerable people who are on the streets—yes, even in Poole. Many of those threatened with homelessness are young people, often from chaotic backgrounds. Waverley House in Wimborne is an organisation run by Bournemouth Churches Housing Association. I have had the privilege of meeting residents and staff, who provide, in particular, peer support, with key workers or mentors who can work alongside these young people and help them to manage their lives—not just to get accommodation but actually to stay in it once they are there. Housing is, of course, essential, but ongoing and consistent support from schemes such as Waverley House is also vital. I encourage the Government to look at those successful schemes—to look at what has worked—and to ensure that money is channelled to them. All young people need a stable home, but they also need consistent boundaries and guidance from supportive adults. That is exactly what support workers, key workers and mentors give. The additional funding is welcome, but I encourage the Government to look at schemes that are already successful, even if they are small-scale, to see what works and what can be scaled up. The Government have shown a clear desire and they have shown their will through increased funding, and together we can end the scourge of homelessness.
I give notice that, after the next speaker, the time limit will be reduced to three minutes. [Interruption.] Yes, three minutes, because there is only one hour of debate left. It gives me great pleasure to call Mick Whitley to make his maiden speech.
Thank you for allowing me to speak on this important subject, Madam Deputy Speaker. I congratulate you on your appointment and all the other Members who have made their maiden speeches during this session.
It is one of the greatest privileges of my life to have been elected to represent the place where I was born and spent my formative years, and I would like to thank all those who placed their faith in me last December. As I stand here, I am conscious of the fact that a Member for Birkenhead has not delivered a maiden speech in this House for over 40 years.
My predecessor, Frank Field, was a long serving and greatly respected presence in this House, and he served the town of Birkenhead well. He was particularly noted for his powerful campaigning on the issues of poverty, hunger and the deep failings of our welfare system. He also moved Members of the House to tears by highlighting the misery endured by many people claiming universal credit. He would no doubt have had much to contribute to this debate.
I applaud my party for choosing homelessness as the subject of this Opposition day debate. Homelessness is—I doubt anyone would disagree—one of the most pressing issues of our time. Certainly it is a real and growing concern in my constituency. Birkenhead Park, a proud reminder of Birkenhead’s prosperous and industrious past, now regularly hosts rough sleepers seeking sanctuary and a safe night’s sleep. As a volunteer at Charles Thompson’s Mission every Sunday, helping to serve hot breakfasts to homeless people and families suffering in-work poverty, I see at first hand how homelessness devastates people’s lives.
Charles Thompson’s Mission is one of many community initiatives in my constituency attempting to fill the cracks. Every night, homeless people seek shelter at Wirral Ark or the YMCA on Whetstone Lane. These projects embody the very best of Birkenhead—our sense of solidarity and community spirit—but the truth is that they should not have to exist. For far too long, the Government have failed to address the crisis of homelessness with any seriousness at all. Since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, homelessness has risen by 165%, and over £1 billion has been cut from homelessness budgets across the country.
While the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 mandated local authorities to take action to prevent homelessness, many councils and third sector organisations are still struggling to provide basic support for homeless people due to massive demand and sweeping cuts in funding. The announcement yesterday that local authorities would share £112 million in rough sleeping initiative funding was rightly described by the shadow Housing Secretary as a “paltry sum”. It is simply too little, too late.
If we are serious about tackling the homelessness crisis, we must also begin to address the economic factors that have given birth to it. In my constituency, the skilled and dignified work that my generation took for granted is largely gone. Unemployment in Birkenhead now stands at nearly twice the national average, and everywhere I see the potential and promise of younger generations being stifled by a low-pay economy dominated by zero-hours contracts and precarious employment. So too do I see families and young people struggling to secure the kind of quality, affordable housing in which I was able to raise a family. As the recently redundant Thomas Cook workers said so clearly, those out of work find themselves victims of universal credit, lost in a bureaucratic maze designed to make their lives more difficult, not to provide them with a much-needed safety net.
The consequences of this low-pay, precarious economy are chilling. Last year, Shelter revealed that 3 million people—half of all working people living in privately rented accommodation—are now only one paycheque away from homelessness. The average person is only two paycheques away. Right to buy, the failure of successive Governments to build adequate social housing and the inability of local councils to regulate the rental sector effectively mean that many tenants are now too scared to speak up against rogue landlords for fear of losing their homes.
Even on my short walk from Westminster tube station to Parliament today, I passed, as I have done each day since being elected to this House, a line of homeless people on Bridge Street between Portcullis House and the Palace of Westminster. Even here, at the very heart of our democracy, in one of the five richest boroughs in the richest city in the sixth richest country in the world, we are still faced with the outrage of homelessness, and that should shame us all into taking action.
The homelessness crisis has no easy solutions. We must commit, as Shelter and other housing charities have so often urged, to a radical and ambitious house building programme that will create 90,000 new social houses. We must also end the right to buy and preserve our existing social housing stock, ensuring that it is available for those who need it. We must pledge far greater investment in our crumbling health and social care system so that the most at risk of homelessness are properly looked after and so that their needs, in their complexity, are fully addressed. We must also build a fairer economy so that we can provide security and stability for all. We can end homelessness in Britain.
Order. We now have a time limit of three minutes.
It is an absolute honour to follow the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) and to listen to his maiden speech. I worked very closely with his predecessor on various issues. He was a very passionate man, and I can see that the hon. Member is already following in his footsteps.
I welcome the opportunity for this House to discuss homelessness and rough sleeping, and I thank the Secretary of State for the tone of his speech. I had the privilege of sitting on the rough sleeping and homelessness reduction taskforce as a junior Minister, when it was chaired by the then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, David Lidington. He passionately believed that to support those who find themselves facing homelessness or rough sleeping on our streets not only did we need an understanding of the complexity of the issue, but we absolutely needed Departments and agencies working together as one team. Homelessness can be prevented in most cases, and in every case it can and should be ended. Other countries, such as Finland, have shown that to be the case.
I want to thank the brilliant charities and organisations that help support those who are homeless. Many are super-local—we have them in our own constituencies—and they are run by dedicated volunteers. I want to thank the brilliant advocacy organisations, such as Crisis, Shelter, St Mungo’s and Porchlight, which reach out to us as policy makers to make changes that make a difference. I also want to thank the teams in agencies and local authorities that work really hard to provide accommodation and support services, often with little recognition for doing so, including those in Medway, Maidstone, and Tonbridge and Malling Councils.
Chatham and Maidstone town centres border my constituency, and this is where most people will visibly see homelessness. I need to focus my remarks on rough sleeping, but if we had more time I would touch on homelessness as a consequence of the demand for housing.
One of the factors that I think people do not consider is that if we add a couple of hundred thousand to our population every year and fail to build new homes, at some point that will inevitably impact on the people at the very bottom.
I thank the hon. Member for his point, and I also think it is really important for those of us with constituencies in the south-east that at some point we discuss the problem of having people who are normally housed in London boroughs being moved out of London and into other councils. Last year, 20,000 households in London were offered alternative accommodation outside the local authority that accepted their homelessness application. This is an important issue on which we need to have a debate.
I am a fully subscribed member of the official counting method does not quite work gang. It is a one-night snapshot in November, and it is subject to being skewed by various factors. I know the figures are not out yet, but unofficially I hear that in Medway, Maidstone, and Tonbridge and Malling, the figures have declined. But just one person sleeping rough on our streets is one too many. Medway Council has received a significant chunk of the money that the Government have distributed, with £1.1 million to spend on specific activities. Measures introduced by the council included a Somewhere Safe centre, an assertive outreach team, a designated rough sleeper co-ordinator, 11 units of supported accommodation, and so on—exactly the holistic approach we need.
My hon. Friend mentioned supported accommodation. Does she agree that such support is a vital part of this mix? This is not just about providing a home; it is about providing support once people are in a home.
I concur entirely. People need a health worker, a mental health worker, and a private sector brokerage worker—all those holistic issues.
Time is running short, so let me list a few things we need to do. First, we must ring-fence an allocation for rough sleeping, so that Housing First and other schemes can be planned over a whole Parliament, rather than being planned ad hoc or for short periods. Many of those who sleep rough have severe mental health conditions, so NHS England should prioritise mental health services to complement the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 and the rough sleepers initiative.
We need much better working between the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to support those released from prison and help them to have a roof over their heads. It is ridiculous that we release prisoners at 4 o’clock on a Friday and are surprised when they find themselves on the street. We must expand social impact bonds, deliver a proper empty homes strategy, and scrap the blunt instrument that is the Vagrancy Act 1824. There is no place in our modern society for criminalising those who live on our streets. Most of all, however, we need compassion, co-ordination, and to tackle the root causes of homelessness if we are to end it in all its forms, and we need to do that now.
I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) and for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) on their excellent maiden speeches. I am sure that the warm tributes they rightly paid to their predecessors were recognised by many Members across the House.
The Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 is the only Act to have involved pre-legislative scrutiny of a private Member’s Bill by a Select Committee, and the benefits of that were shown by the involvement not only of the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), who introduced the Bill, but by that of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, the Government, Crisis and the Local Government Association. They produced an Act that is good in so many respects, as it concentrates on the prevention of homelessness, while also dealing with the issues faced by those who are not a priority for housing provision, but who still need appropriate advice and assistance.
I wish to consider how the Act might be made to work better. At the beginning of the process the Committee was concerned about a lack of funding, and the LGA still expresses those concerns. At Sheffield City Council, the Director of Housing and Neighbourhoods, Janet Sharpe, and cabinet member Paul Wood, told me that generally speaking they have had good working relationships with Government officials. Indeed, I think Sheffield is now regarded as something of a model for how the Act should be implemented, and I receive virtually no complaints from constituents about homelessness—a real change from where we used to be.
The Director of Housing and Neighbourhoods also told me that the council is having to take on more staff to deal with the 56-day extension to the prevention requirements in the Act, and to offer extra advice and assistance to people in non-priority categories. However, those staff are not covered by the extra money provided by the Government. She also said that, as opposed to previously when the supporting people programme provided all the money, the council now has to apply for a whole range of different funding streams to get the necessary resources to deliver on the Act. Those schemes must be applied for, monitored, and contracts drawn up. Indeed, the council is employing an officer just to do that applying and monitoring. Can we not change that and make it simpler?
Secondly, because of the extra demand, and the extra requirement for temporary accommodation with the 56-day rule, in order to avoid increasing the number of families in bed and breakfasts, the local authority wants to build two new projects for temporary accommodation. I support that good and positive move, but Homes England’s policies are not flexible enough to recognise the difference in funding needs and requirements for temporary accommodation, compared with ordinary residential accommodation. Will the Secretary of State look again at that?
Those are two proposals from Sheffield’s housing department for ways in which the Act, and its delivery, could be improved.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), with whom I worked on supported housing issues. He took a less political line than the opening speech by the shadow Secretary of State, which I personally felt rather overlooked the fact that homelessness and rough sleeping is a major social issue for all of us in this House, particularly those of us with urban constituencies. It is what we have to tackle. We have to take ownership of it in our own patch.
How are we trying to tackle homelessness in Gloucester? It is worth noting that under successive Labour MPs during the previous Labour Government from 1997 to 2010 not one additional unit of social housing was built in our city, so although it is fine to talk about making 8,000 homes immediately available, I am afraid that that is not what happened when the shadow Secretary of State was a Minister for eight of those 13 years. I am glad that today, after good work done by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer in writing off all of Gloucester’s housing debt, we now have Gloucester City Homes building new social accommodation. We need to do more of that—I am in no doubt about that.
Let me highlight one particular issue that I suspect others will also face in their constituencies. The major issue for us in Gloucester at the moment is the number of EU nationals with no recourse to public funds. I am afraid it will be the reason why the number of rough sleepers on the statutory count, when the results are announced publicly, will have risen from eight in 2018 to probably close to 20 in 2019, which is not what the Secretary of State wants to see. He wants those figures to come down. He has provided us with funding, but the truth is that two thirds of our rough sleepers are EU nationals in that situation. I know that for London and Birmingham, he has waived the no-recourse situation. I would be grateful if the Minister, in replying to the debate, could say a little bit about what more can be done, or whether he believes this issue will just fade away at the end of the year after we finish the transition period and people coming from the EU will have to have longer term jobs. That will undoubtedly have an impact on the problem for us and I suspect elsewhere in the country.
It is also worth highlighting the fact that the money given by the Government to help us with rough sleepers has made a huge difference. We have been able to house 100 people through the “Somewhere Safe to Stay” hubs and I welcome the additional funding that has been announced this year. It will make a difference to maintaining the hubs and expanding the outreach. I am convinced that we can get on top of these things.
Lastly, I would like to highlight the work done by a new charity, HaVinG – A Voice in Gloucester. We aim to try to provide a pathway not just for housing but for skills and, later, jobs. That is the long-term solution to this problem.
In the brief time I have available—I am very sorry the Secretary of State is leaving, just as I am starting to speak—I want to focus on the Government’s approach to delivering directly funded services for rough sleepers. I am sure we could all talk a lot about the drivers of rough sleeping, but I want to focus on the approach to directly funding those services, which is very problematic. It is based on a very short-term approach, which is failing many people who need those services. I will set out why in the time I have left.
I welcomed the stamp duty surcharge, especially once the Government had resiled from their previous decision to slash the amount coming from it by two thirds. At least it has been put back to the previous amount. I welcomed it because I thought it would lead to a situation where we would not have a bidding-led system of a pot into which different bodies have to bid for very short-term funded projects. But no, we seem to have the same approach now. The problem is that it does not lead to reliable support for projects that we know work. For example, in Oxford we have received funds from the rough sleeper initiative and the rapid rehousing pathway. I am really grateful for them—of course I am—but they are only for a year or 18 months. We have had absolutely brilliant projects— the hub at Bonn Square and the Trailblazer project—but they were funded only for the short term. Virtually by the time staff had been taken on and services got going, the funding was evaporating.
Oxford City Council has just set up a brilliant facility, Floyds Row, investing £2 million in capital—of course, it is not the authority that should be funding it in the first place, but it has done so because of the rough sleeping crisis we have in Oxford—but it will now be at the behest of finding different pots of short-term funding to deliver the running of that facility, as is St Mungo’s, which will be helping with it. So much effort is going into chasing around after short-term funds—I could not have agreed more with what my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) said about the situation there. This is really problematic not just for the staff who are trying to deliver excellent services without knowing whether they will be employed in the future, but for the users. We have the data and we know the evidence. We know that when the same workers are delivering services, especially to those who are hardest to reach, they are far more effective. I would be delighted to send the Minister evidence from the Old Fire Station, working with Crisis, which shows that clearly in black and white. We need that continuity of provision. If he reports back on anything at the end of the debate, please deal with the issue of the funding being too short term.
It is a pleasure to follow the maiden speeches from Opposition Members. The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) was incredibly generous to his predecessor, who was clearly very well thought of by Members on both sides of the House, and the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) was passionate and sincere—I am sure I join everybody else in this place in hoping that her careers adviser saw her speech.
There are 48 rough sleepers in Milton Keynes—that is, of course, 48 too many—but the really shocking statistic is that there are 2,244 people in temporary accommodation. This is a complex issue. Each of those statistics has an individual behind it who will have complex needs, such as domestic violence, adverse childhood experiences, substance misuse—be that alcohol or narcotics—poor school attainment and attendance, family breakdown, debt and mental health issues that are either underlying and exacerbated by homelessness or caused by homelessness and other issues.
The extra money does help. Earlier this month, Milton Keynes received £1.7 million more to tackle homelessness and only this week it received £870,000 to target rough sleeping. Obviously, however, there is a correlation between the number of people who are homeless and the number of homes that are available, so I welcome the Government’s record and the Secretary of State’s commitments to delivering more affordable homes.
Planning is a complex and devolved issue. At this point, I should declare my interest as a district councillor on Aylesbury Vale District Council, which deals with planning activities, but Milton Keynes is the area that I have been elected to represent in Parliament and Milton Keynes Council has been Labour-run since 2014. It recently released a plan to double the size of Milton Keynes—I say plan but it is more of a land grab, complete with a map with “Dad’s Army” style arrows going north, south, east and west into other boroughs. While it plans to double the size of Milton Keynes, a shocking 24,000 existing planning applications have currently not been built out.
We need to build not only more houses, but the right kind of houses in the right places, so that our homeless people can have somewhere that they can practically expect to live. I welcome the Government’s commitment to building more affordable houses and I look forward to voting for the next housing Bill.
As I am sure we all agree, even one person sleeping rough in this country is one person too many. I am delighted to hear that the Government are going to make sure that this does not happen by the end of this Parliament, but I want to ensure that everything that we can do now is also happening. We can do one thing immediately: scrap the Vagrancy Act 1824. That would encourage all agencies to take a much more holistic approach to the problem.
For those who do not know, only sections 3 and 4 of the Act are left, and the Act makes rough sleeping illegal. This growing body of opinion has been formed on the back of a campaign in Oxford run by the students, who could see with their own eyes how fast the number of people affected was increasing in our city centre. I brought the matter here and I am delighted to see how many Members from across the House have now taken it into their hearts, because the legislation does not, I believe, reflect our values. The stance is also popular; a new survey from Crisis shows that 71% of people do not believe that sleeping rough should be illegal.
I found myself in violent agreement with the thrust of the points raised by the hon. Member for Gravesham (Adam Holloway), who argued that in the case of many of the rough sleepers he has met, rough sleeping is actually a health issue. That is what we need to focus on.
It is all very well, in this room, to say that we want to change the law and take a different approach, but people also judge us by our actions. I draw attention to what happened last year, when the homeless gentleman died on our doorstep in the Westminster tube entrance. The answer to that from this place was to evict the group of homeless people who were there, and put up a gate. For shame! It means that now, as we walk in, we do not have to be bothered by that in the same way; they are slightly further down. I do not think that that reflects the values of Members in this House, and I think we need to do things as soon as possible to show what does.
The Government insist on a review and are waiting for that to conclude, but it is not necessary. Crisis, which I have been working with, has done that. It can show how it is possible to repeal not just section 4 but also section 3. To those who say that the Act is not used, I say that it is. In 2018, 11 people were prosecuted for sleeping rough. That is not right; it must be stopped. Let us make this the year that we scrap the Vagrancy Act.
I applaud the earlier maiden speeches, which were excellent. They showed that the next few years will be very tough on all of us, newbies or not, because of the fantastic challenges those Members made.
As time is tight, I want to take a few moments to mention two things. In Watford, as in many urban areas, we have our challenges with homelessness; but we have a fantastic community, and charities, especially, that are really working hard to reach out to everyone and ensure that no person is lost in the system. New Hope is a charity that reaches out to people on the streets and makes sure that they get repeated support. Recently, I spent time at Wellspring with Tim and Helen, who have a coffee area designated specifically for people to come in and spend time together; in many cases they are rough sleepers.
In the time I have left, I want to raise a subject that I do not think many people are aware of—the bizarrely named issue of “cuckooing”. Increasingly often, especially on county lines and where drug gangs and organised crime are involved, somebody who is vulnerable on the street will get somewhere to stay and then be befriended by someone who says, “Let’s have a coffee.” Then they will say, “May I leave something in your new flat?” It might be just a little bag. Then they will leave some drugs—“Do you mind if we just leave a few more things?” It gets worse and worse. Over a period of time that “friend”, just as a cuckoo takes hold of another bird’s nest, will take hold and live in that space, and usually will have gangs operating out of there, leaving the vulnerable person in a state of absolute despair, not knowing where to go for help.
Ultimately, once the vulnerable person—and especially their new home—has been used and abused, the “cuckoo” will leave, but the person whose home it is has to deal with the fact that their home has been trashed. So what happens? They get kicked out, they go back on the streets and the cycle starts again.
I would like to raise that as an issue, because I am not sure whether it has been mentioned in the House. It may well have been, but we need to look at it, because it falls into a crack between the areas of organised crime, housing and mental health. Organised crime, especially on county lines, is taking advantage of poor, vulnerable people who are rough sleeping, or in many cases homeless, and then taking them into a situation they cannot get out of—and the cycle continues.
I want Government Members to understand the root causes of much of the homelessness in West Ham. More than a third of my constituents work hard for less than the London living wage. A month’s rent for a cheap two-bedroom property in Newham is £1,300. If someone has one of the lower quarter of pay packets locally, they will earn just £1,266 to pay the bills. It is less than the rent alone. For many, it is a choice between food and rent, between buying new shoes for their children and the rent, between paying the bills and avoiding debt and the rent. Most people choose the rent because they know in their hearts that nothing is more damaging for them and their children than becoming homeless, and yet homelessness is rising and rising.
The Government have chosen to increase housing payments by 1.7% this year, and that is good. It is better than zero—even with my maths, I get that—but it will do nothing to repair the damage, and in a huge part of London, including Newham, not a single extra two-bedroom home will be made affordable by this increase. For us, it is actually worse, because rents in Newham are so unaffordable that we received a little extra help: a 3% uplift in housing support for people on social security. We are now losing that 3% and getting 1.7%. The Government’s decisions are making rents less affordable, not more affordable, in Newham. Newham—which has the second-highest child poverty rate in the country. Newham—which has the highest homelessness rate in the country. Newham—where one in 12 of our children are without a safe, secure, warm home. It beggars belief.
Newham now has only 17,000 council properties, which is 10,000 fewer than the number of people on the waiting list alone. The only way we will reduce the cost to people’s lives and to the public purse is through building social homes with social rents for all that need them. West Ham needs a Government who will commit to that, and any Government who do not must live with the responsibility for the continued poverty and homelessness that is completely and utterly blighting the lives of the people I represent.
We all need to do more to address homelessness. That is quite clear from this debate. To their credit, the Government have come forward with a range of initiatives and policies to address the challenge we face. In the past few weeks, the Secretary of State has announced his Department’s allocations of funding to address homelessness and rough sleeping. The feedback I am receiving from Lowestoft in my constituency is that this funding is adequate but that the way it is provided needs to be reviewed. It is not easy to plan and bring about sustained improvement if funds are only confirmed a few weeks before the start of the financial year and are then only there for one year. Longer commitments of three years should be provided to enable meaningful and lasting results to be achieved.
Some specific issues need to be addressed. First, the Homelessness Reduction Act is very welcome, but to achieve its objectives local authorities need to be adequately funded and housing associations need to be more fully involved in its delivery. Secondly, we need to look closely at the impact of universal credit on homelessness. To my mind, the five-week wait for the first payment is making the situation worse and does need to be changed. Thirdly, at the forthcoming Budget, the Government need to consider seriously restoring the local housing allowance rates to at least the 30th percentile of the local market.
Once people are off the streets, we must do all we can to get rid of the revolving door back on to the streets, and this means building more social rented homes. The affordable homes programme will achieve this, but it needs to be introduced immediately so that housing associations can get on with acquiring the land on which to build these homes. I am also mindful of the vital role played by supported housing. From 2016 to 2018, Parliament, in both Chambers and on both sides, spent a lot of time reforming the policy framework. We now need to ensure that the sector can play its full role in alleviating homelessness. I ask the Government to give careful consideration to the National Housing Federation’s campaign for £1.4 billion in the forthcoming Budget for supported housing providers.
I believe that the Government have introduced many of the policies and initiatives that are required to address the blight of homelessness, but there is a need to get on with it, and to provide greater long-term certainty in funding commitments. That will enable those who work night and day with the homeless to make a sustained and lasting difference.
I am glad that my right hon. and hon. Friends tabled this motion, because I believe that homelessness is one of the most significant issues facing our country. I do not doubt the Secretary of State’s sincerity. He addressed many of the relevant issues, and I think we began to sense that the Government’s position was moving towards a recognition that this is not purely a question of housing, but a much broader question. However, I think we need to go much further, and recognise the extent and significance of the impact of welfare policy on the level of homelessness. While I welcomed the Secretary of State’s tone to some degree, the test will be whether the means of putting a stop to this catastrophe are willed as well as the end, and whether the Government can ultimately accept the reasons for the current level of homelessness.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) was right to refer to the amazing reduction in homelessness that occurred under a Labour Government. A couple of people have said that the issue should not be politicised, but I am afraid that it is a political issue. Housing supply is a political question, as are welfare policy and the often catastrophic impact that sanctions have had on people, the reduction in the number of hostels for the homeless, the reduction in local government funding, and the fact that people who are incredibly vulnerable feel that they are not being supported. In fact, it often seems to be the Government’s policy to be tough on benefits because they think that there are votes in that toughness, which, ultimately, has led to the homelessness that we are now seeing.
Homelessness used to be a city issue. Back in the days of the last Tory Government, we were used to the appalling level of homelessness in London, but we did not have it in Chesterfield. We do now, and that is why there is such a drive throughout our communities to get something done about it.
I hope that the Minister who responds to the debate will answer our questions about the Government’s housing policy. It is dreadfully disappointing that only 6,000 new social homes were built last year, a reduction from 40,000 in the year in which Labour lost power. I also hope it will be recognised that this is a health issue, an alcohol and drug support issue, and a welfare policy issue. If the Government adopt a collective approach, they will certainly have my support for their efforts to tackle the problem.
I begin by congratulating my hon. Friends the Members for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) and for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) on their excellent maiden speeches. I was particularly pleased to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead, who in his previous life did an awful lot to help working people in my constituency and throughout the north-west. If he shows the same passion and determination to fight for justice here, he will serve his constituents proudly.
During the four years I have been here, I have noticed—as I am sure other Members have—a significant increase in the number of people sleeping in doorways on my walk into work. This morning, as on most mornings, there was clear evidence in many of the streets that people had been sleeping there the night before, and this morning, as on most mornings recently, there were people sheltering in the subways outside this place. I feel ashamed that people are sleeping rough outside the corridors of power in one of the richest countries in the world. We must do better. We also know that rough sleeping is only the most visible form of homelessness, and that there are many people whose homelessness is less visible.
My hon. Friend is right to speak of the sense of shame that I think we all feel when we see people sleeping outside Westminster tube station, but they are not just sleeping there. Someone actually died outside Westminster tube station. How much should that shame all of us?
It is a complete shame. I am going to talk about the number of deaths in a minute or two.
I want to say a bit more about the invisible homelessness: those living in temporary accommodation or relying on families and friends and sleeping on sofas. Many, including in my local authority, are in temporary accommodation far away from their families, their work or their school. Children are sometimes missing out on their education because they cannot get to school from where they have been placed. That accommodation is better than nothing, but this shows just how much pressure there is on the system.
It has not always been this way. In 2010, the end of rough sleeping appeared to be in sight. It is not inevitable; it can be prevented. Indeed, the Government seem to accept that rough sleeping can be prevented by setting a target to eradicate it by 2027, but even one night out in the cold is one too many, and seven years is a very long time for those currently experiencing homelessness. The Government have said that that is also the year by which this country will have full 5G coverage. I know which one I would like to see delivered sooner.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins) said, the number of people who have died while sleeping rough or in emergency accommodation is a terrible, damning statistic. It is up by 51% in the last five years, rising to 726 people in 2018. That is the equivalent of two people dying almost every night. That is more homeless people dead in one year than there would be Members in this Chamber if it were full. Yet, according to the Government, ending rough sleeping is as much of a priority as dealing with 5G. These are real men and women, who are on average younger than me. Their deaths are premature and entirely preventable, and it is a stain on this country that we do not do more to stop this happening every night of the year.
If the Government are to reach their target of halving rough sleeping by 2022 and ending it by 2027, they must address the key drivers behind homelessness, including spiralling housing costs, lack of social housing, insecurity for private renters and cuts to homelessness services—all the things we have touched on in the debate. Let us not forget that we have had a net loss of 60,000 social homes through sales and demolitions in the last few years, despite the totally hollow pledge from David Cameron for the one-for-one replacement of houses lost through the right to buy. That has been one of the failures of this Government, and it has to change.
Shelter tells us that the leading cause of homelessness is the loss of a private rented home, and I have concerns about the way that people in that situation are not given much help. They are given no special priority and they have to wait until an eviction order is granted by the court, which puts more costs, pressure and stress on them. We also know that those extra costs make it even harder for them to get a new home of their own. We absolutely need to do more, and I am glad we have debated this subject today.
I speak as a co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on ending homelessness, which I got involved with in 2016 because of the very visible rise in homelessness in my community in Southwark. Southwark Council deals with the highest number of homeless applications in London. It has 11,500 households on the waiting list and nearly 2,500 households in temporary accommodation, but despite significant problems and severe cuts to Southwark’s funding since 2010, the council also has the largest council house building programme in the country, with 11,000 new homes in the pipeline. Today, its information line is showing the 172 sites across the borough where those homes will appear. My first ask is that the Government should match Labour’s ambition in the national council house building programme.
On local housing allowance, the main problem is affordability. There are almost no properties in Southwark that are affordable at the current LHA rate or at the rate it will reach in April. The Government must reflect local prices in rates. At the extreme end of homelessness is rough sleeping. The Secretary of State described it as a serious moral failure, but there is no accurate measurement of rough sleeping. The local authority headcount is an insufficient estimate. Ministers say that they will end rough sleeping by the end of 2024, but in 2018 the total reduction in the number of rough sleepers was 74. At that pace, it will take until 2081—57 years behind schedule. It would take the Government six decades to tackle a problem that they have created in one. They must develop a robust measure of the problem.
In 2018, a ministerial taskforce on homelessness and rough sleeping was created, but the Department refuses to reveal when it meets. It claims that that information cannot be disclosed because it involves confidential communications. Only under this Government has tackling homelessness become a state secret. I hope the Minister will agree to be more accessible and transparent about those meetings.
The Office for National Statistics has revealed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) just mentioned, that two homeless people died on our streets every day last year. That is unacceptable, but what is worse is the normalisation of those deaths. None of them is investigated and no one asked whether they could have been prevented. I want the Minister to ensure a safeguarding review of every death of a homeless person. That would help to identify the interventions that could have prevented the homelessness and the premature deaths.
Does my hon. Friend agree that more needs to be done to advocate for the people who lose their lives, as he says, to understand what led them to that sad situation in the first place?
Absolutely. As the Secretary of State mentioned, there is often an overlap with mental health issues, but we are not going to identify the cause if the deaths are not investigated.
My final request today is that we use the Domestic Abuse Bill to help the 2,000 people last year who fled domestic violence and were provided an immediate refuge but did not qualify for long-term accommodation. The A Safe Home campaign aims to break the link between homelessness and domestic abuse. No one should be left facing a choice between returning to a violent, dangerous partner or being made homeless, and the Bill should ensure that everyone fleeing domestic abuse who is homeless is automatically considered in priority need. I hope that the Minister will agree today to meet representatives of that cross-party campaign to see how we can make that happen in the Bill.
Homelessness is the manifestation of a society that is not working. The soaring numbers of rough sleepers and people living in unstable accommodation should shame this Government, because it betrays a policy agenda that has utterly failed people. The housing crisis has made it difficult for anyone facing relationship breakdown to get a new home, and the crisis in social care has made it difficult for anyone with mental health problems to access services. People can wait months or even years to get help, by which point their health has deteriorated to such an extent that their problems compound and become even more difficult and costly to treat or they lose their jobs and become unable to pay their mortgage or rent.
While I am pleased that the number of people sleeping rough in Bedford has fallen thanks to a number of initiatives, including Bedford Borough Council’s “Assessment & Somewhere Safe to Stay” hub, the SMART Prebend Centre, the King’s Arms Project’s night centre, and the work of the Salvation Army and other charities, levels of homelessness continue to rise. From my constituency inbox, I know that the homelessness problem is not so much on the streets but hidden in temporary accommodation. More and more people and families are living in totally inadequate, unstable accommodation.
This month’s brilliant report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that only five of the 200 two-bed homes in Bedford are affordable to rent on housing benefit. The rise in the allowance from April under the Government’s new proposals will mean that only two more homes would be affordable. The allowance in my area is set to rise by just £10, but the report found that local housing allowance would need to increase by £225 a month to allow people to afford the cheapest 30% of homes in Bedford. These barriers must be removed, and the stigma attached to homelessness that leads to hostile policies must end if we are to stop such practices. We require a long-term, common-sense strategy, a radical and progressive approach to social housing, and an end to piecemeal funding to give children, families, individuals what is surely a basic human right: a safe and decent place to live.
I call Fleur Anderson.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in a debate that is important for my constituents in Putney, Southfields and Roehampton. I pay tribute to Glass Door, a charity which runs night shelters in local churches. There are no homeless shelters run by the state or the council in Wandsworth, so Glass Door is making up the shortfall.
I will focus on the hidden homelessness of temporary accommodation and what that really means for so many families in my area and across the country. The latest figures show that 3,070 children are living in temporary accommodation in Wandsworth—just one London borough —and that 35% of them, meaning nearly 700 from my constituency, are housed out of borough.
Does my hon. Friend agree that out-of-borough housing, often in seaside towns, means that people move away from their communities and support networks?
I absolutely agree, and I will share the story of one family to illustrate how the benefits and housing system are failing. I have been working with the family for several years as a councillor—I am also a Wandsworth councillor.
The hard-working dad of three children works on the buses, so he is suffering from in-work poverty. At their lowest point, the family, including the three children, had been evicted and were sleeping in their car. One council provided help, providing them with temporary accommodation and storage for their possessions, but that is a postcode lottery; most councils do not provide storage for possessions at a time when people need it most. The temporary accommodation they were offered was in Colchester—miles away—and the dad had to spend his income on commuting back to London for work. The children had to move schools.
The family were then moved to other temporary accommodation, where they did not have enough room even for a table for the children to do their homework or to have a TV. They are now in other accommodation in my constituency, but the three children have to travel for two hours on three buses to get to school, and then two hours back. This is making them so tired that they cannot do their best at school.
There are families criss-crossing London, with children sleeping on their mother’s laps. Parents are having to wait near their children’s schools because they do not have time to go home and come back again, so they cannot seek work. That means they cannot save money for a deposit, so they cannot get out of this cycle.
Temporary accommodation is a symptom of a failing housing and benefits system, and the details of it really matter to parents. They need storage and they need funding for school journeys, and they should always be a priority. There should be a duty to place families closer to their children’s schools.
This system is failing hundreds of children from Putney, Roehampton and Southfields, and the 127,000 children across the UK who are in temporary accommodation tonight. The Government have had 10 years to fix this scandal, and it is shocking that this is happening in 2020. I hope they will finally take action.
The street count system is not working, and people do not trust it. When they see the increasing number of people sleeping on our streets but the statistics say the numbers are going down, something is wrong and the Government need to review it.
Despite Labour-led Brighton & Hove City Council creating 50 new rough sleeper move-on beds and the country’s first 365-day emergency shelter, hundreds still remain on our streets and in our emergency accommodation every night, and it is costing lives. Five people have died in two months at one local emergency accommodation. The staff of another emergency accommodation call the basement room the “suicide room.”
I have already mentioned that Wandsworth does not have emergency accommodation, so does my hon. Friend agree that there should be more emergency accommodation and that it needs to provide services, not just rooms?
Exactly, and that might stop some of the deaths, but the deaths are not just in emergency accommodation; they are on our streets. In the past year Robert Bartlett, aged 30, died on 29 October. Robert was sleeping rough and died of an overdose.
William Morrow, aged 45, died on 4 April. He was described as an extremely likeable person. He had been living rough for a little while, and the inquest found he died of a heroin overdose after detoxing—a very familiar story.
Arna Bud-Husain, 49, died on 11 April. Arna was a resident at one of our homeless hostels. Andrew O’Connell, 54, was violently attacked for being homeless and died on 8 August while sleeping rough.
There are those who have not been named but are confirmed as having died while sleeping rough in Brighton. In October, a 39-year-old man died sleeping rough and a 60-year-old died while living in emergency accommodation. In November: a 34-year-old man who died from sepsis; a 41-year-old woman; and another 41-year-old who had been evicted from their emergency accommodation only the day before. In December, a 35-year-old woman. In January, a 50-year-old died in temporary accommodation. The year before: in March, a man in his 50s and a 33-year old-man died; in April, a 45-year-old man died; and in July, a 36-year-old man died. Those are just the people who have died in Brighton up until July 2019—many more have died in the past six months on our streets, in our city. Three of the men’s bodies were so badly decomposed when they were discovered that forensic testing was needed to identify them.
The failure to address the rising tide of homelessness under the Conservative Government is not only causing an increase in rough sleeping; it is literally causing the deaths of my constituents. We are talking about a 51% increase in the past five years alone, and the average age now for someone on the streets is 44. Being homeless is in itself a vulnerability and many councils up and down our country treat it not; they say, “You have to be vulnerable within the street homeless community to get support.” That must change, and I hope we can change it.
I am grateful for being called to speak in this incredibly important debate. Parliamentarians must grapple with many vital issues, but none is more important than the safety and welfare of the people we represent up and down the country. We cannot and should not forget that the national shame of high and rising homelessness is a direct result of decisions made Conservative Ministers. The past decade of Tory austerity has seen a steep drop in investment in affordable homes, crude cuts to housing benefit, reduced funding for homelessness services and a lack of action to help private renters.
Those on the Government Benches like to make reference to the last Labour Government, so I will as well. We need to remember that the last Labour Government inherited high and rising homelessness in 1997, after 18 years of the Conservative party being in government, and took decisive action to turn that Tory legacy around. It did not happen overnight, but Labour’s action led to what Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have called an “unprecedented” decline in homeless in the 13 years of good Labour government.
In contrast to our legacy in government, homelessness has dramatically increased under the Tories since 2010. We must do whatever we can to end the scourge of homelessness, and we must all be genuinely committed to taking action and addressing the disgrace that is homelessness. I pledge to play my part, on behalf of all the people in Newport West, to right this wrong. I volunteer at a local night shelter, Eden Gate, in Newport West. I do not do it for political reasons—most definitely not; like many other people I do it because we cannot walk by on the other side. We cannot continue to see people reduced to seeking shelter and somewhere to sleep in doorways, parks and other public places, and then turn away and do nothing. I encourage all colleagues in this House to think about volunteering at their local night shelters; the stories and experiences of people they will meet there will inspire, sadden and amaze all those who find time to do it. I will continue to volunteer until we see clear, emphatic and coherent leadership from this Government. The time to act came a long time ago, but we have a chance to act now—and act we must.
Homelessness is a crisis and it has been a growing crisis under successive Tory-Lib Dem and Tory Governments in the past 10 years. Members from across the House have articulated well the causes of and potential solutions to that crisis, none more so than my hon. Friends the Members for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) and for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare), who made their maiden speeches this afternoon. My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead was right to praise the feminist socialist Teresa Pearce, who once honoured me by calling me “sister”. My hon. Friend spoke of her Ghanaian heritage and the fact that she was told that she would never make it in politics. Clearly the message bearer did not have quite the measure of the lady who is sitting behind me today. My hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead is representing the place he calls home, where he was born. It had been 40 years since somebody from Birkenhead had made a first speech in this place, and he was right to praise Frank Field and his work in tackling poverty. No one can speak with authority better than people who work with homeless people. I am sure that my hon. Friend will bring great knowledge to future housing debates.
The hon. Member for Gravesham (Adam Holloway) said that homelessness was a health problem and that people should not give to beggars as the vast majority of them buy drugs with the money. I disagree. He is right that the failure of all manner of services is to blame, but it is under his Government that they have collapsed.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will not, no.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) lost his own dad to alcoholism. We heard a longer speech from him on this subject in Westminster Hall just a few months ago. He spoke of a homeless person in his area dying every 10 days, which he said was a moral disgrace. No wonder he was angry.
The hon. Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) highlighted the crisis created by high rents and the need for a greater housing supply. He is right. As the shadow Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), said in his opening remarks, if social housing building had been maintained at Labour’s 2009 levels, the hon. Gentleman would have that supply.
The hon. Members for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) and for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) agree that the Vagrancy Act should be scrapped, so instead of a review why does the Secretary of State not just get on and do it? He should scrap it, and while he is at it he should deal with section 21 as well.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) used his usual concise approach in a targeted speech that offered solutions to the Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds) focused on directly funded services, the short-term approach to which is failing so many rough sleepers.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Ms Brown) spoke about a third of her constituents working for less than the London living wage, with many people earning less than the total cost of their rent. What a disgraceful set of circumstances.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins) talked about homelessness being one of the most important issues facing the country, and today’s speeches have illustrated that. He went on to say that we need to recognise more and more of the impact of welfare policy on homelessness, yet it appears that Government Members are in denial as far as that is concerned.
We are not going to get anywhere in helping these people in dire need if we continue to conflate street homelessness with some of the other things the hon. Gentleman is talking about. Street homelessness is primarily a health problem, and unless we accept and understand that we will get nowhere. We are no use to those people if we talk like that.
Health is of course an element, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that the most recent Labour Government, which left government in 2010, had almost eradicated homelessness, but we now see increase upon increase upon increase. Members have talked about the number of people who are dying homeless. Yes, we need to tackle all these things, and it is not all to do with drugs.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield also talked about how the reduction in benefits has affected homelessness, along with the reduction in funding for hostels and, of course, the lack of new social housing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) talked about rough sleeping being the most visible form of homelessness—and don’t we know it? Every day that I walk into this place and every night that I leave, I see them in Westminster station, and if I walk along the way I see them there, too. I do not see any of them shooting up, to be perfectly honest.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) talked about no properties being affordable when people depend on the local housing allowance. There is just insufficient income for them to pay their rent. He talked about the need for a robust measure of homelessness, and said that such measures appear to be a state secret, because the Government will not tell us how they measure homelessness. My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) agreed with that, and went on to name young people who are dying on our streets—on the streets of his constituency.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin) talked about the collapse of social care and mental health services, which has meant that people are not getting the support they need. Like others, he praised the charities and other organisations that work with homeless people. We could list 20, 30, 40 or 50 of them, as they were probably named in this debate and in previous debates, but, of course, they all need one very important thing, which is resources.
My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson) talked about the hidden homelessness of families in temporary accommodation, highlighting the fact that 700 people in her area live in temporary accommodation, but they do not have that specific accommodation in the area where they should have it, which is in their home town. She also talked about the stress caused to children who actually end up living well away from their schools, and have to struggle to get there.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones) talked about homelessness being a direct result of the decision-making of the Conservative Government and also that lack of support to help private renters. I just hope that, tonight, we have a Government prepared to listen to my hon. Friends and to those on the Conservative Benches who share our concerns over failure and inaction. Knowing that there are thousands of children out there without a home to call their own should keep us awake at night. It is easy to play the blame game, which successive Governments have done, particularly over the past decade, but it is time that the Government took some responsibility for their failure.
In 1997, Labour took action to tackle homelessness, and we achieved what organisations such as Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have called an “unprecedented” decline in homelessness. I can only conclude that, after nearly 10 years of Conservative-Lib Dem and Conservative Governments, this has never been, and still is not, a priority of this Government. Homelessness has dramatically increased since 2010 on every measure. No matter how the Minister tries to spin it, the Government have failed and they will continue to fail until they start taking tough action to tackle what is a tough issue. They will spout chosen statistics such as rough sleeping falling last year by 2%—2%! Can Members believe that we almost had the Secretary of State boasting that that was some form of success? It is a small drop that can be accounted for by a range of reasons that have nothing to do with Government action. The number of rough sleepers on the streets has more than doubled since 2010, but that is not a slight change. It can therefore be directly attributed to Government inaction on tackling homelessness and the devastating cuts to local authority services.
Despite the funding the Government have thrown at homelessness, it is not enough to fill the funding hole that they have created. We know all too well that it is not simply about getting people off the streets, incredibly important as that is. It is about all the other things that can lead to people becoming homeless: income; private renting; tenants’ rights; social care; local authority funding and resource; and mental health. They are all areas with fundamental problems that the Government have simply not done enough to address.
The Secretary of State spoke about a death being a sobering reminder of what we face today, but there have been an increasing number of deaths over the past 10 years under his Government, and we have still not had the action that is necessary. If they do not take action, the problems will not get fewer, they will grow and then they will take even more resources to address.
I met representatives of AKT—formerly known as the Albert Kennedy Trust—last year. I also met some young LGBT people who had difficulties with housing. House sharing can be more difficult for a young LGBT person. They may have experienced a family breakdown, which forces them to leave their family home, yet support from cash-strapped local authorities is limited for such people—if it exists at all. None the less, we cannot let it just be a case of handing out some cash in the hope that the homelessness crisis can get better.
We need strategic and concentrated efforts to ensure that housing works for everyone in this country: for young adults who currently spend two thirds of their income on rent; LGBT people who may have experienced family breakdown and need secure housing; veterans coming out of the armed forces, who may have little support in getting back into daily life, including getting a roof over their head; older people who need housing suited to reduced mobility, particularly some help to make it easier for them to downsize if they want to; survivors of domestic violence who feel that they have nowhere safe to live if they leave an abusive partner; children who should not be living in B&Bs or temporary accommodation after temporary accommodation; and lower-income families who need the grounding of a family home, so that they can get on in life. Right now, I do not really know what the Government are doing for these groups. You have to up your game, Secretary of State. We need solutions to this crisis, and we look forward to you finding them.
I thank the Opposition for bringing this debate to the House today. On the whole, we have had a constructive debate in which we have talked about many of the issues facing homeless people and rough sleepers in this country.
I congratulate the two Members who made their maiden speeches today. The hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) made a passionate speech about her journey to this place. It was incredible to hear that her careers adviser told her not to bother even applying for a job in the House of Commons; I am sure that he will be hanging his head and wondering what sort of advice he is giving. The hon. Member gave us an incredible tour of her constituency; I would be delighted to take up her offer of chips in the Frying Pan in Belvedere. Of course, I am happy to meet her to discuss homelessness in her constituency as well.
The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) started by paying tribute to his predecessor, and I join him in that. Frank Field was an excellent Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, and a fantastic advocate for working across the House. I hope that the hon. Member will follow his predecessor in that regard.
In 2020, it is unacceptable for anybody to have to sleep rough, particularly at a time of year when those on the streets are enduring sub-zero temperatures, on top of the enormous strains being placed on their physical and mental health. I do not have too much time, so I want to start by putting on record that the cold weather fund that we have doubled this year, and extended by a further £3 million, is still open and available for people to apply. I am around if any colleagues want to speak to me about how to apply for this fund, and would be delighted to have those conversations.
A number of colleagues, including the hon. Members for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) and for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle), have put on record their concern about deaths of homeless people on the streets. Every premature death of someone who is homeless is one too many. We take this matter extremely seriously, and are working closely with the Health Secretary to ensure that rough sleepers get the health and care support they need. That is why, as part of the rough sleeping strategy, the Government have committed £30 million of NHS England funding to address rough sleeping over the next five years.
Will the Minister give way?
I will not at the moment, I am afraid—just because of the limited time.
We are working to implement test models of community-based provision across six projects that are designed to enable access to health and support services for people who are sleeping rough, with both physical and mental ill health, and substance dependency needs, being managed by Public Health England. All these projects are being informed by people who have lived experience of rough sleeping to ensure that rough sleepers receive the right support. In Portsmouth, Westminster and Newcastle, these projects include placing nurses and other specialist staff in homeless services to provide wraparound and intensive support.
Will any of the pilots introduce a safeguarding review of any of the deaths in those areas, to try to identify possible interventions that could have prevented each death or the homelessness itself?
We are holding safeguarding reviews where appropriate, but I am happy to continue that conversation with the hon. Gentleman, and to take up his offer to meet the domestic abuse charity that he mentioned.
In West Sussex, people who sleep rough will be directed away from A&E, and supported to access more appropriate and suitable healthcare services.
A number of colleagues from across the House raised the issue of social housing, including my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), with whom I enjoyed visiting some of these services over the Christmas period. My hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) put on record his experience on the matter, and spoke passionately about the importance of choice and supply. The hon. Member for West Ham (Ms Brown) was a passionate advocate for her constituents and the issues they raise. I am always happy to speak to her about those issues in more depth. We have committed to increasing the supply of social housing, and have made £9 billion available through the affordable homes programme to March 2022, to deliver approximately a quarter of a million new affordable homes in a wide range of tenures, including social rents.
Will the Minister give way?
I am afraid I will not at the moment.
Since 2010, we have delivered more than 464,000 new affordable homes, including 331,000 affordable homes for rent. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Ben Everitt) raised his concerns about temporary accommodation. Temporary accommodation means that people are receiving help and support, but of course we want to see those individuals and their families moved into settled accommodation as soon as possible, and on a permanent basis. We recently announced £263 million of funding for local authorities to support the delivery of homelessness services—an increase of £23 million on this financial year. That funding will also support prevention programmes to help those who are at risk of becoming homeless.
Will the Minister give way?
Will the Minister give way?
I will not at the moment, but I will come back to some of the issues that have been raised in the debate.
A number of colleagues, including the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins), raised concerns about welfare and the local housing allowance. We have of course delivered on our commitment to end the benefit freeze, and the majority of people in receipt of housing support will see their support increase as a result.
Will the Minister give way?
In a second.
We have also committed an additional £40 million in discretionary housing payments for 2021 to help those facing affordability challenges in the private sector. We understand the importance of this issue in tackling and meeting our ambitious target to end rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament, but we are always happy to come back to this matter.
We have talked a lot about substance misuse. My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Adam Holloway) put on record his experience in this matter and talked about the importance of substance misuse needs. My hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Dean Russell) spoke eloquently about his experience of cuckooing. We know that many rough sleepers have substance misuse needs and can struggle to access the support they need to tackle substance dependency. Indeed, data collected in 2018-19 identified that the second most prevalent reported support need among people seen rough sleeping in London related to alcohol, at 42%, while 41% of rough sleepers were assessed as having a support need related to drugs. Through our rough sleeping strategy, we have made a number of commitments to address this issue, including new training for frontline workers to help them to support rough sleepers under the influence of new psychoactive substances such as Spice. We are also working with the Home Office on the development of the cross-Government job strategy, as well as working closely with Dame Carol Black’s team to provide evidence and data to support the forthcoming independent review of drugs policy.
Will the Minister talk to his health colleagues who, in the public health grant to local councils, do not require a minimum standard of substance misuse services, meaning that it is a postcode lottery? Please, please sort that out.
We are providing specialist funding. I am happy to go into that in more detail with the hon. Gentleman.
We understand that enabling access to and better outcomes from services that prevent mental ill health, improve mental health support recovery and promote good mental health will contribute to our ambitions to end rough sleeping. That is why, as part of our strategy, the Government have committed £30 million of funding from NHS England over the next five years for specialist mental health support for those who are rough sleeping.
I will now address the point that the hon. Lady raised about the review of the Vagrancy Act. I know that she has written extensively about this issue and raised it in the House before. My hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) also raised it today. They both put on record their experience in and work on this issue. Our rough sleeping strategy committed to reviewing the Act, as they know. We are clear that nobody should be criminalised for simply having nowhere to live and sleeping rough. Because of the engagement with stakeholders that we have undertaken, we know that this is a hugely complex matter with diverging views between charities, the public sector, police forces and local authorities. That is why we believe that this review is the right course of action for now.
I want to address some of the wider points that have been raised on rough sleeping. This issue has been highlighted by a number of Members across the House, including my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson), who talked about the £470,000 rough sleeping initiative grant funding going into his constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford referred to the encouraging signs that her local authority is seeing through the funding. Our commitment to tackle this issue is demonstrated very clearly by bringing forward by three years the commitment to end rough sleeping altogether by the end of this Parliament.
Our strategy sets out a far-reaching £100 million package to help people who sleep rough now and to put in place the structures that will end rough sleeping completely within the next five years. This means preventing rough sleeping before it happens, intervening at crisis points, and helping people to recover with the kind of flexible support that meets their needs. Across Government, we are working with a renewed ambition to scale up our successful programmes, such as the RSI, and to devise new interventions to meet this important manifesto commitment. We are providing a further £437 million in 2020-21 to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. This marks a £69 million increase in funding from the current year and builds on the £1.2 billion that we have already invested over the spending review period to April this year. We have also expanded the Government’s support through the rough sleeping initiative this year, with £46 million of funding, including £12 million for areas joining the initiative. We expect that to deliver 750 staff and 2,600 bed spaces this year.
This has been an important debate on what we all understand to be a complex and challenging issue that the Government are determined to permanently address. We are glad to have had the opportunity to explain our considerable ambitions—
claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 36).
Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.
Question agreed to.
Question put accordingly (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the original words stand part of the Question.
29 January 2020
The House divided:
Question accordingly negatived.View Details
Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the proposed words be there added.
Question agreed to.
The Speaker declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to (Standing Order No. 31(2)).
That this House notes the Government’s commitment to ending rough-sleeping in this Parliament; further notes that the latest annual figures showed a fall in rough sleeping numbers; notes the steps already taken by the Government including implementing the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 and delivering successful programmes like the Rough Sleeping Initiative and Housing First pilots; welcomes the Government’s commitment of £1.2 billion to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping; notes the Secretary of State’s announcement this week of an extra £112 million for the Government’s Rough Sleeping Initiative, taking the total sum being invested over the next year to £437 million; notes this House’s concern that more is done to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping so that everyone has access to accommodation when they need it most; and notes the clear steps this Government are taking to achieve this.