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Rough Sleeping and Homelessness

Volume 746: debated on Monday 4 March 2024

1. What steps he is taking to support rough sleepers and homeless people to move into accommodation. (901760)

We are investing almost £2.4 billion over three years to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping, which is an unprecedented amount. That includes over £1.2 billion through the homelessness prevention grant, which councils can use flexibly to prevent homelessness and help families to move out of temporary accommodation. Last week, an additional £107 million was allocated to councils through the single homelessness accommodation programme, providing 808 homes for people sleeping rough.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, but the number of people in temporary accommodation has risen by 10% over the past year, and the number of rough sleepers has risen by 27% across the country. Clearly, the money is very much needed—all London councils report that they are spending more than the temporary accommodation money that has been allocated. Equally, the pilots for Housing First have been outstandingly successful, so can we ensure that Housing First is introduced across the country and more investment is made, in order to take people off the streets and provide them with a permanent home, as they deserve?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for everything he has done in the homelessness space. The other day, I was looking at the figures from the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017—we have supported 708,000 families courtesy of that Act, in order to prevent homelessness. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we have seen an uptick in rough sleeping and homelessness, which is disappointing. However, with rough sleeping we are still 9% below pre-pandemic levels, and 18% below the highs in 2017. I agree with him about the success of Housing First. We have invested £42 million in those pilots, and we are investing a further £30 million through the rough sleeping initiative.

There are 142,000 children living in temporary accommodation—a record high that is costly to taxpayers, but devastating to the lives of children and families—and the Government’s own data shows that they have utterly failed on their 2019 manifesto commitment to end rough sleeping by 2024. As the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) has just said, rough sleeping has risen by 27% in the past year, and I remind the Minister that it is 120% higher than in 2010. Is she happy for children and families to be paying the price for 14 years of Tory failure on housing?

This Government have made a concerted effort to tackle homelessness and eliminate rough sleeping. I am not happy with the numbers in temporary accommodation, which is why the last autumn statement contained a series of measures to address the issue, including an additional £450 million for the local authority housing fund—taking that to £1.2 billion—in order to improve the quality of temporary accommodation. We have also uprated the local housing allowance to the 30th percentile, which is worth £800 per family.

Southend has an abundance of accommodation that is deemed inexpensive by local authorities, and our city is picking up the tab for social care, education and long-term housing when other local authorities are not informing our city council that they are placing people in the city. Under section 208 of the Housing Act 1996, all local authorities should give prior notice when placing people for homelessness within 14 days. Will my hon. Friend assist me and Southend-on-Sea City Council in dealing with this issue?

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct: if a local authority places people into temporary accommodation outside the borough, it should notify the relevant local authority. I am very happy to assist in getting that message across.

Analysis by London Councils shows that, on average, the equivalent of one child in every classroom is homeless and that London local authorities are now spending a staggering £90 million a month on temporary accommodation for those who are homeless. What conversations has the Minister had with colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions and the Treasury about raising the cap on the housing benefit subsidy for temporary accommodation and also supporting local authorities to buy up property, as Richmond Borough Council is doing, so they can rehouse people locally in decent accommodation?

As the hon. Lady will understand, I cannot talk about any discussions that we may have had with the Treasury, but clearly the Budget is on Wednesday. However, I would point to the increase in the local housing allowance rate, which will take effect in April, and the local authority housing fund is intended specifically to help local authorities to buy properties for temporary accommodation.

I hear what the Minister says about the housing fund for temporary accommodation, but what we need to be doing is reducing the number of families in temporary accommodation. Four years have passed since the Government first promised to end section 21 evictions, and now 70,000 children are coming home from school each night to sleep in temporary accommodation. For a child being brought up in a hotel room, doing their homework on the bathroom floor and eating their dinner perched on the bed, the opportunity to make the most of their life is out of their control. So I ask the Minister how many more children must face eviction before she meets the promise?

We are absolutely committed to repealing section 21—there is no question about that. As I have said, the numbers for those in temporary accommodation are disappointing but we do have a very holistic approach: building more housing, building more affordable homes, and enabling local authorities to go out and build and purchase temporary accommodation.