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Homelessness: Temporary Accommodation

Volume 787: debated on Tuesday 19 December 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they plan to take to address increasing homelessness and demand for temporary accommodation.

My Lords, we are embarking on an ambitious programme in relation to homelessness which places prevention right at its heart. We are implementing the most ambitious legislative reform in decades—the Homelessness Reduction Act—and we have allocated over £1 billion to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping, through to 2020. This includes a flexible homelessness support grant, which local authorities can use strategically to tackle homelessness in their areas, including for the provision of temporary accommodation.

I thank the noble Lord for his Answer. Night shelters and homelessness charities in my diocese are speaking about the huge pressure they are currently under. National Audit Office statistics suggest that the problem has increased nationally from 1,800 rough sleepers in 2010 to 4,000 this year. Given that rise, do Her Majesty’s Government consider that local authorities will have sufficient funding to meet their legal obligations under the Homelessness Reduction Act, which the Minister just spoke of, when it comes into force next year?

My Lords, first, I thank the right reverend Prelate for all that he does in his diocese. I know that the St Albans Sleepout on Friday 1 December—which was not actually at the cathedral this year because of building work—does much to publicise and tackle this problem in St Albans. He is absolutely right that this has become a more serious problem. It is now affecting rural as well as urban areas of England. That is why we have put this very much at the centre of the Government’s and department’s thinking, with the aim of reducing homelessness by 50% by 2022 and eliminating it totally by 2027. We have put resources into this: £50 million was announced very recently.

Can Her Majesty’s Government look at the human rights abuse that allows people to sleep on the streets? Maybe we need to revisit the old legislation whereby we do not allow people to sleep on the streets but provide places for them off the streets, rather than putting them in prison as we used to. We have an emergency on our hands; we need to remove people from the streets and put them in a place of safety. That should be at the top of the Minister’s list.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord very much indeed for his contribution in this area—not just in the House but very much outside it. I take his comments seriously. As he rightly says, prevention is at the heart of this complex issue. It is clearly not a simple issue: this country has faced this problem over a period of time. As I say, it is very much at the centre of the Government’s thinking and all agencies contribute to it. We have trailblazer areas looking at this, and Crisis and Shelter, for example, are on our advisory committee. Rough sleeping is something that the Government are very much committed to ending.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister will recognise that some of us are deeply underwhelmed by the ambition to reduce homelessness by only half by 2022. We were able to reduce rough sleeping by two-thirds between 1998 and 2000, and we know what needs to be done. There needs to be proper accommodation for rough sleepers, and he should know every night what is available and how many more rough sleepers there are than beds available. There also needs to be mental health and detox support. This is not unknown territory or a secret. We know how to sort it. Why do the Government not just get on and do it so that people are safer?

My Lords, as the noble Baroness went on, she began to exhibit just how complex an issue this is. It is not simple. It is an issue partly to do with addiction and with mental health, and partly about people coming out of secure environments such as the forces and prisons. We are working with the Ministries of Defence and Justice, which are central to this. It is not a small ambition to halve homelessness by 2022 and eliminate it totally by 2027. I look forward to seeing support and ideas from around the House on how we can tackle a very complex issue.

My Lords, does the Minister agree with the UK Statistics Authority that a complete picture on homelessness must include prevention and relief in addition to statutory homelessness? Will he commit to include in any future change in data people who are in work but sleeping rough or in temporary accommodation—as astonishing as those the figures are, as shown on Channel 4 last night?

My Lords, I very much regret that I did not have the privilege of seeing that programme last night but I will try to catch up on it. It is a complex issue, as the noble Baroness rightly says. It is not just about looking at the statistics, as she will know, but at what is happening in communities up and down the country. Last Friday, I was in Chesterfield seeing what is happening there, a town that is not a metropolitan area, and finding that agencies are engaged in tackling it, as is the faith community. Interestingly, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, will be pleased to know that the vicar of Chesterfield was formerly a Catholic and has become a Protestant. The noble Lord might like to engage with him to find out some of what he has been doing. It is important to engage all the institutions. I will certainly go back and have a look at the point that the noble Baroness made about the statistics.

My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant local government interests in the register. On entering this Palace from Westminster tube station, you will see homeless people. When walking from Victoria and Waterloo stations, you will see homeless people sitting in doorways. Every evening, opposite Charing Cross station, you will see hundreds of homeless people being fed soup and bread. Homelessness has risen by 50% in the last two years. Does the noble Lord not accept some responsibility for this tragedy which is occurring in one of the richest countries in the world? It rests with this Government and the policies they have pursued.

My Lords, first, the noble Lord is absolutely right: this has been a problem in the centre of the capital for some time, as he will appreciate. I am not minimising that but it is not new; what is new is the spread of this problem throughout the country, as I have indicated. It now affects many rural communities and smaller towns up and down the country. I certainly acknowledge that this problem needs to be tackled, as I have indicated. It needs to be tackled at local authority and governmental level and demands all of our attention, including the noble Lord’s. Certainly I take my share of the blame but I think this is something to which we can all contribute. Faith communities and the voluntary sector are helping, the Government have a role, and so do local authorities. It is something with which we all need to engage rather than finger-point.