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Volume 777: debated on Wednesday 21 December 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their latest estimate of the number of people who will be homeless or living in temporary accommodation over the Christmas period.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and to remind the House that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

My Lords, we do not produce estimates for future homelessness levels, but we publish statistics every quarter. The latest statistics show that between 1 July and 30 September 2016 local authorities accepted 14,930 households as being statutorily homeless. Statutory homelessness acceptances remain less than half the 2003 peak.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. However, the figures that the Government published last week reveal that we now have 74,630 households in temporary accommodation, which is an increase of 9% in the past year. They also show that 124,090 children across Britain are homeless, an increase of more than 10% in the past year. We also know that rough sleeping is rising particularly steeply in our cities. Does the Minister agree that these figures are a disgrace, that they reveal a national crisis and that it is essential to build more social homes for rent to meet demand?

My Lords, the number of children living in temporary accommodation, which the noble Lord referred to, is indeed a challenge, although it is down from its peak in 2006. I have no doubt that, following our announcement of extra money in relation to homelessness, the noble Lord will want to welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement this morning in Southwark of tailored support for housing throughout the country, with 225 local authorities due to receive help.

My Lords, given that all the housing charities cite housing benefit cuts as a key factor in this alarming level of homelessness, what steps will the Government take to ensure that low-income people, in and out of work, are able to pay their rent?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right about the serious challenge that we face. Key to this, of course, is building more, and she will know that we are committed to that, with 400,000 affordable homes and a target of a million new homes in this Parliament. That is part of it, but I acknowledge the importance of working with charitable partners, which we are committed to doing and are doing, as I saw yesterday on a visit to Chelmsford.

My Lords, in eagerly awaiting the forthcoming Homelessness Reduction Bill, can I ask the Minister how many children are currently in bed and breakfast accommodation? Am I right in thinking that there has been a 15% rise in the number of families in bed and breakfast accommodation this year? Does he recognise the huge cost for local authorities and the public purse of placing such families in temporary accommodation? Surely we need to work with local authorities to help them build more homes for those they have a statutory duty to house.

My Lords, the noble Earl is right to draw attention to the challenge that we face. We are, of course, working with our partners to ensure that temporary accommodation is just that—although it is valuable to have a roof over the head. It has been brought down from a peak in 2006 and we are seeking to address it.

My Lords, in the West End, last night, I saw a large number of rough sleepers, which I think the whole House will agree is a stain on our society. But I understand that a large number of them are in fact people from eastern Europe and elsewhere who of course do not have a statutory right to rehousing. Will my noble friend tell me roughly how many of the rough sleepers and homeless in this country are considered to be from overseas?

My Lords, we seek to address the issue of rough sleeping wherever the people are from, but clearly we recognise that not all of them have a statutory right to housing in this country. The latest figures we have taken on a one-night basis, from memory, are that some 4,600 people are homeless on any given night. This is a particular challenge in winter and we seek to address it in various ways. For example, we are working with our partners in the charitable sector, especially if there is severe weather on three consecutive nights, when they are engaged as well. But it certainly remains a challenge.

My Lords, 70% of the users of homelessness services have been found to have mental health needs. A recent report from Crisis indicated that, if you are homeless, you are twice as likely to have a mental health problem. What more can be done to assist mental health trusts and GPs in reaching out to this particularly vulnerable group?

My Lords, I pay tribute to the work that Crisis does in this area, particularly at Christmas. I am sure that we have all seen the great efforts that it makes. The noble Lord is right that often these complex housing needs are met by complex health needs as well, particularly in the field of mental health. We are seeking to address these issues across government by working with our partners in other government departments as well as with the charitable sector. But the noble Lord is absolutely right, there is a very close allied problem in relation to mental health.

My Lords, is the Minister confident in his figures? Are they robust? Is he convinced that it is accurate to compare today with 2003 in the way that he has; or, one year on from being asked to take urgent action, can DCMS still be accused by the UK Statistics Authority of potentially misleading on homelessness? Is the Minister confident in his figures, yes or no?

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the Housing Justice Night Shelter IMPACT report, which was published this week? It found that of those in night shelters, 14% or roughly 268 were migrants with no recourse to public funds, support or indeed, of course, housing. Will the Minister tell the House what the Government are doing to speed up the process of resolving these difficult cases, which are causing such anxiety and suffering?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate draws attention to that very important report, which we are studying, and we will be working with our partners in government to address what is, admittedly, an urgent need in relation to refugee migrants, particularly at this time of year.

My Lords, homelessness often goes hand in hand with food poverty. Do the Government have any estimate of the number of people who, this Christmas, will be dependent on food banks? I declare an interest as I represent a ward in Newcastle that has the busiest food bank in the country.

My Lords, I will have to write to the noble Lord with the specifics on the food bank figures. I recognise the importance of food banks throughout the country and pay tribute to what volunteers do, both in giving to food banks and in ensuring that food gets to the people who need it.