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Homelessness: Emergency Housing

Volume 787: debated on Thursday 7 December 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to support councils to provide emergency housing to help those who have been made unintentionally homeless.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and remind the House of my interests as declared in the register.

My Lords, homelessness prevention is at the centre of our approach to protecting the most vulnerable. That is why we are implementing the most ambitious legislative reform in decades: the Homelessness Reduction Act. We have also allocated more than £1 billion to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping through to 2020. This includes providing more than £402 million in flexible homelessness support grant, which local authorities can use more strategically to prevent and tackle homelessness, including for the provision of temporary accommodation.

I welcome the announcement that the Minister has made, but I am very concerned about the loss of housing in London. The Mayor of London wrote last year to the Home Affairs Select Committee raising concerns that letting properties in the capital on a short-term basis all the year round could lead to a loss of accommodation. We admire the work done by organisations such as Crisis and The Passage and those that look after people for Christmas only, but does the Minister agree that this is a much greater problem than just at Christmas? Homelessness has become desperate. I have come into contact with people recently and tried to help them, and I know that it is extremely difficult.

My Lords, my noble friend is right about some of the particular challenges faced by London. She is also absolutely right to pay tribute to Crisis and Shelter, both of which are represented on the advisory board that we have just set up in relation to tackling the problem of rough sleeping. We have put £28 million into that and are funding three pilots in the country, as well as the £20 million rough sleeping grant that already exists.

My Lords, I have by sheer coincidence this week been approached by a young woman in my ward in Newcastle, a 22 year-old with a small child, who has been the tenant of a property for three years, paying her rent regularly and actually improving the property. She has now received notice to quit within three months from her landlord. What advice does the Minister suggest that I give to her and what action will the Government take to protect tenants in such a position from landlords taking action of this kind?

My Lords, I am not acquainted with the case that the noble Lord mentioned, but I would be very happy to have a look at it if he wants to share the details with me. We are spending an awful lot of money on homelessness prevention, which is important in this regard. We have trailblazing areas—I think from memory that Newcastle may be one of them. Certainly Gateshead is—but that might not be music to the noble Lord’s ear. I will gladly look at the case that he refers to if he would like to share it with me.

Is it possible that we could do something more along the lines of an emergency? Wherever you go in our cities, and whatever Crisis and Shelter do, there are people out there who are distressed and many of them are mentally ill. It is an absolute disgrace and it has nothing to do with human rights. We really have to move very quickly because these people are dying before our eyes.

My Lords, first, I pay tribute to the massive work that the noble Lord does in this area. He and I visited Sheffield together to see some project work that was going on there—the Cathedral Archer project and others are considerable projects. I agree that there are complex problems attached to this; it is not straightforward. Some of these pilots will look at the complex nature of the problem, with wraparound help for example for people who have left the armed services, who are often homeless. We are working with the Ministry of Justice as well in relation to ex-offenders who have a homelessness problem and are often rough sleeping. The noble Lord is absolutely right in the points that he makes.

My Lords, I remind the House of my registered interests. May I remind the Minister that in the Budget, the Government committed themselves to eliminating rough sleeping only by 2027? Why will it take 10 years?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right about that. We have committed to halving it by 2022. It is a massive and complex problem, as I have indicated. I think it is a realistic timetable for a national problem—it is not just associated with our cities—but obviously we will be watching it. The noble Lord will hold our feet to the fire to make sure that we have halved it by 2022—but it is a realistic timetable.

My Lords, we have heard a great deal about urban areas in cities and the capital, but what about rural areas? What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to address the issue of homelessness in the countryside, where there has been a 52% increase in rough sleeping in our rural areas?

My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for mentioning rural Britain. He is absolutely right that it is an important issue outside the cities and suburbs. We have trailblazer areas in relation to the prevention of homelessness throughout the country: I can think, for example, of Ryedale in Yorkshire and Uttlesford in rural Essex. There are certainly pockets—more than pockets: they are areas—of rural England where this is a real problem. We are putting in resources and are well aware of the problem. I thank the Church and in particular the cathedrals for all that they do in relation to homelessness and for the help that they provide. I have had the opportunity to see that at first hand over the last year and I thank the right reverend Prelate for his question.

As the Minister who set up the rough sleepers’ allowance almost 30 years ago and, as it happens, having helped to set up Crisis—Crisis at Christmas as it was then called—around 50 years ago, I must confess that I have reservations about our policy of giving out cash on the streets to almost anybody who asks for it. Will my noble friend therefore say what controls there are on this policy? Who gets the money, how much and why?

First, my noble friend will be aware that the why is because there are many people who are homeless or rough sleeping who need it. The projects are very carefully monitored and chosen. The projects that have been selected for the rough sleeping grant, for example, are very carefully monitored. They are providing a good service in helping people who are, through no fault of their own, sleeping rough to ensure that they get somewhere on a temporary, and then hopefully a permanent, basis. I applaud the work that the noble Lord did in setting this up, particularly in London where it was first a problem before it spread more nationally. Some of that early pioneering work has helped us concentrate resources and improve on what was done initially.

Does the Minister agree that one of the major causes of the rise in homelessness is the shortage of supply of housing and the huge rise in the cost, particularly in the rented sector? Will the Government try to address at least that part of the problem by engaging in a programme of massive building of prefabricated housing? As someone who was brought up very happily until my late teens in a comfortable and affordable prefab, I strongly recommend to him that that is a rapid and effective way of addressing a fundamental problem of this 21st century.

My Lords, I certainly agree that it is a factor. It is a very complex area, as the noble Lord will appreciate, so it is not simply a question of supply. Very often people are coming out of a secure environment such as the Armed Forces or prison and seeking somewhere permanent. The noble Lord is right that it is part of the issue. He will be aware that we are engaged in the most ambitious housebuilding programme for a generation, with a target of 300,000 new homes per annum by the middle of the 2020s. He is right about the importance of modern methods of construction—as we prefer to call these homes now, rather than “prefabs”. About 15% of new homes use modern methods of construction—but he is right that we could get that up and we are looking at doing that.