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Volume 792: debated on Wednesday 12 September 2018

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to find multi-agency solutions to homelessness.

My Lords, I respectfully ask all the people contributing to today’s debate to comply with the time allocated. I know it is difficult, but your co-operation will be much appreciated.

My Lords, in 2017, on any one night, there were around 4,700 people sleeping rough in the United Kingdom. This figure was up 167% from 2010. On average, one homeless person every fortnight died on the streets. Most of those deaths went unnoticed—perhaps the one exception was the man who died just outside the Palace of Westminster, in Westminster Tube station. That, of course, hit the headlines, but the rest of the time those absolutely shocking figures are not talked about.

If we see homeless people, we might give money, walk on by or cross the road, feeling slightly embarrassed. Very rarely do we stop and engage with people who are homeless. I am of course speaking personally—other members of the Committee may feel very differently, but most people tend not to be sure what to do or how to respond. In particular, given the parallel and related but separate issue of begging, which has also been on the increase, there is sometimes the sense that we are not quite sure how to respond. When somebody says, “I need 20 quid for a hostel; I need X and Y”, if you engage them in conversation you may find that that person has not necessarily been in contact with any of the homeless services which could say, “We can provide you with accommodation; you don’t need the £20 you are claiming to need”.

In a country like the United Kingdom, with the fifth or sixth largest economy in the world, the fact that thousands of people are sleeping rough is simply a scandal. It is not acceptable.

For years we have talked about homelessness as a policy issue in the context of needing more housing and needing more affordable housing. It was in that context that back in February, I tabled a Question for Short Debate as I had failed to secure a Topical Question in the ballot. Over the summer, the Government, in their wisdom, put forward their rough sleeping strategy. I suspect that the Minister thought that this was a debate we no longer needed to have as the Government have their rough sleeping strategy and have put forward a whole set of policies. Clearly, the strategy is very welcome; it covers many of the multiagency issues that I was thinking about when I tabled a Question for Short Debate. But it seems sensible not to say, “Let’s not bother to have the debate” but rather to take this opportunity to look at what the Government are proposing and have at least a first run-through of the strategy. I am delighted that several noble Lords put their names forward without any prompting. They all have far more expertise in dealing with homelessness and housing than I have.

I am proposing not to take the whole 10 minutes allocated to me—that might allow for a little more discussion in a very pressed debate. If people are homeless, by definition that means they do not have shelter or a roof over their head. However, that is not the main problem, because we simply say that there is a solution for that: we can build more houses and create more affordable property. Oh, that it were so simple.

This is where I put my first challenge to the Minister. The strategy aims to halve homelessness by the end of this Parliament, which is understood to be 2022, but it could be sooner if there were to be a snap general election—the Minister might like to think about that. In particular, is the aim of eradicating homelessness and rough sleeping by 2027, while a fantastic ambition, feasible? It is clearly possible to say that we will create enough housing for everyone, but that seems to ignore the causes of homelessness, which are not just housing supply and demand but include a whole set of individual and social issues that need rather more attention.

Someone might become homeless because they have not been able to pay the rent. They might have become unemployed and have not been able to work their way through the benefits system, which has always been complicated, but it becomes even more so with universal credit. For somebody who is not functionally literate or numerate and certainly not IT-savvy, the process of applying online becomes very difficult. That is an issue for somebody who might suddenly find themselves in the position of losing their home, perhaps because they have lost their job—they might have been on a zero-hours contract, lacked an effective way of bringing money in and could not work their way through the benefits system. That becomes even harder for somebody who is already homeless. If they navigate their way through the system they might find their way to St Mungo’s, MEAM—Making Every Adult Matter—or one of the other charities that can help them, but if they do not, how do they navigate their way through the benefits system? It would be extremely helpful if the Minister were to tell us that.

The benefits system does not necessarily cause homelessness, but may make it difficult for people to find their way back into a home. There are many other factors, however: marital breakdown, domestic abuse and violence, and alcohol or drug addiction can all cause people to lose their home. The problems may be temporary or more long-term, but very often they interact with each other. This is one reason why multiagency solutions are so important. Drug and alcohol dependency might lead to people losing their accommodation, or to marital breakdown. Once you have lost that accommodation and find yourself on the street, you may not necessarily find a hostel place, because many have provisions that say, “If you are drinking or taking drugs, you are not welcome here”. Mechanisms for dealing with substance abuse need to be thought through alongside access to hostel and other accommodation.

Another issue that is frequently picked up, alongside substance abuse, is mental health. Again, the number of people with mental health problems sleeping on the streets has increased. The question here is how to deal with people who need medication but are not necessarily able to access doctors. If you do not have an address, how will you get the appropriate medical care? It is bad enough when you have a physical problem, but at least in that case you might be able to present yourself to a doctor and work your way through the system. An untreated mental health problem might become much worse. When that interacts with drugs or alcohol there needs to be not just someone who can offer you a bed for the night, but people who can offer other provisions. Currently, it is the charities that can do that. Some local authorities have multiagency responses. The Government’s rough sleeping strategy appears to be an excellent way forward and to offer new money. In places the strategy says, very clearly, “£5 million of new money”. It also talks about £1.2 billion to deal with homelessness, which I assume means new houses. How much of the budget mentioned in the rough sleeping strategy is actually new money and when that money comes from the NHS—the Government are saying that £30 million will come from it—is the NHS signed up to that?

I realise that I am going to take my full 10 minutes, so I apologise to other noble Lords. How much of the money is new and to what extent have other departments bought into the process? The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, who is an excellent Minister, speaks on behalf of housing, communities and local government, but as the LGA has suggested, the strategy also needs to be adopted by justice, health and social care, the Home Office, the Department for Education and the Department for Work and Pensions. Can the Minister speak on behalf of all of those departments and, if he cannot do so, can he speak to them and undertake to come back and tell us whether they have all bought into the rough sleeping strategy? That is essential to put in place the multiagency solutions that are needed.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, for securing this debate. I will focus on women’s homelessness and the role that domestic abuse plays in it. About 700 women are sleeping rough at any one time, while 13,000 annually go to a refuge and 36,000 single women with children are in temporary accommodation—almost half of all those who are housed in that way. I also thank the women who over many years have shared their stories with me. It will not surprise noble Lords to learn that those stories are dominated by women’s experience of trauma and abuse. It is trauma from childhood and domestic abuse which has left some women with mental health and substance misuse problems, which then leads to their homelessness. Meeting those needs requires a great deal of multiagency work.

For example, the Green Room, a specialist women’s housing project here in London, last year worked with 18 different agencies to meet the needs of the women they support. Homeless women need good provision, good policies and good attitudes from those they encounter. Good provision starts with choice—giving homeless women options that support all their needs. The Mapping the Maze report from the charities AVA and Agenda showed that only one-third of areas in England offer more than refuge accommodation as a form of specialist accommodation for women. Good provision would be simple to access and sensitive to the trauma that women experience. It would combine dedicated support and co-ordination of the multiagency partners. With that in mind, I warmly welcome the introduction of the navigators in the rough sleeping strategy and the intention to pilot new approaches for homeless women. I hope very much that that will include housing provision first for women. Noble Lords will have seen the results of the Threshold housing project in Manchester, which works with women with histories of offending, 80% of whom still had a secured tenancy at the end of two years.

Good policy would mean alignment between this policy area and others, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, mentioned. Recently I spoke to a practitioner who works for the charity Pause, which works with women who have had multiple children removed from them into care. She told me the story of a woman whose child was removed. She then suffered the bedroom tax because of the extra room. Her benefits were reduced and she ended up homeless. That is far from the spirit of the policy that my noble friend the Minister has worked so hard to deliver. Good attitudes would see staff across all agencies recognising and responding to domestic abuse at an early stage to avoid homelessness. This is set out clearly in the standards set out by the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance. A recent report from Women’s Aid, Nowhere to Turn, highlighted that more than 50% of women in its survey who approached a local housing team were prevented from making a valid homelessness application.

I finish by saying that if we really want to move the dial on the number of women who are homeless—and my sense is that in your Lordships’ House that is very much the case—we have to challenge the assumption that it is always the woman with her children who need to move for their safety. Research from SafeLives, where I was chief executive, shows that almost 40% of women needing housing support had to move, compared with 3% of their partners, who were evicted. That is more than 10 times as many women who had to move, with all the disruption that brings to them and their children. This is 2018, not 1975. I hope my noble friend the Minister will consider these points, both as this policy develops and in the upcoming domestic violence Bill.

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, on securing this timely debate. The seventh annual report of the independent homelessness monitor shows starkly the huge increase in rough sleeper numbers, up 169% since 2010. It also shows that the vast bulk of the increase in statutory homelessness arises from a quadrupling of numbers ejected from the private rented sector, where the evidence suggests that reforms in local housing allowance are the main cause.

Jean Templeton, CEO of St Basil’s, a housing association which addresses youth homelessness, says that LHA levels,

“don’t come anywhere near the levels of rent expected in the private rented sector”.

I declare an interest as chair of the National Housing Federation, the voice of housing associations in England. Our members provide over 2.6 million homes for around 6 million people. Housing associations have always played a key role in supporting and housing vulnerable and homeless people. They support individuals at every potential crisis point, both preventing homelessness and supporting those who have experienced it. The National Housing Federation has been working with our members and with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to explore how we can contribute to the successful implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act, and how associations can collaborate with their local authorities on the duty to refer households at risk of becoming homeless. One awful element of this is that we have 120,000 children living in temporary accommodation, often a long way from family, friends, and support networks. When Ken Loach made “Cathy Come Home”, there were 60,000 children in temporary accommodation—half the current number. That number had reduced substantially over the years, but has grown hugely since 2010.

The Government’s strategy document is an important first step in tackling rough sleeping, but it is essential that the root causes of homelessness are addressed, including through the provision of genuinely affordable homes. NHF research shows that we need 90,000 new social rent homes a year, yet the strategy will provide only another 879 bed spaces, through the reannounced Move On Fund. Nor does the strategy really address the impact of welfare reform on the prevention and recovery of homelessness. The cumulative impact of benefit changes, such as the freezing of working age benefits, the spare room subsidy, and the design of universal credit, has made life harder for tenants and for social housing providers. To see an end to homelessness, the social security system must create a more secure environment for tenants and for social landlords.

Some welcome changes have been made: the recently announced review on housing-related support is an encouraging move towards a more joined-up approach on supported housing. The removal of the LHA cap for social housing, rent certainty for social housing providers, and an additional £2 billion for affordable homes, will all help. But the £2 billion will deliver only around 25,000 homes for social rent over the next three years, less than 10% of the social rented homes needed each year. Does the Minister agree that to build the genuinely affordable homes the country needs, we need to see muscular action on the availability of affordable land, including prioritising the sale of public land for social housing, finding ways to reduce the cost of private land, and capturing land value uplift for community benefit?

I was pleased to see the announcement of a feasibility study for a model to assess the effect of government intervention on homelessness. Can the Minister tell us when that feasibility study will take place? My hope is that it will generate a vigorous evaluation of the reasons for the astonishing rise in homelessness and the human misery that goes with it, which we can all see with our own eyes on our streets.

My Lords, poignant points have already been made. Homelessness is indeed a personal disaster for those whom it affects, but it is also a national tragedy and is one of the most visible signs of the nation’s housing crisis. I give credit to the Government for recent initiatives such as the rough sleeping strategy and the Homelessness Reduction Act but want to use my brief minutes to outline areas where I believe that, despite their genuine intentions, there is still work to be done.

From my time as mayor of a local authority and patron of a homeless charity—New Hope, Watford—it is apparent to me that two main factors exacerbate the problem of homelessness and remain the biggest barriers to the Government meeting their laudable aim to end rough sleeping by 2027. They are the impact of the frozen local housing allowance and associated welfare issues and the lack of appropriate social housing—in particular, supported housing. Were those two variables to change positively, it would result in fewer people reaching crisis point and becoming homeless.

Although the picture is different in different parts of the country, in high-cost areas, the local housing allowance cap means that even full housing benefit does not cover the rent—in some cases, nowhere near—and we know that eviction from the private rented sector is still the main cause of families presenting as homeless. It also makes private renting unaffordable ever for many low-income households.

The combination of this and the massive reduction in social housing means that councils cannot move these families on, and the average stay in temporary accommodation is increasing. This means that other families have to go into hostels or B&B accommodation, or even move out of area, at additional cost to the council and emotional and social cost for the families.

It is not just homes at social rent levels that are needed. That would indeed help families in temporary accommodation, but for rough sleepers, the right kind of accommodation with specialist support is much needed but in short supply. At New Hope, Watford, two-thirds of our service users have mental health issues. My experience has shown that there is simply not enough support for people with serious mental health and addiction issues.

Councils and the voluntary sector working together know what works and can get it right. We received government funding in 2016 to create an intervention team working with those in greatest need to address the issues raised by my noble friend Lady Smith. It is in the nature of how the Government fund such schemes that our number one problem is that the funding runs out in 2019 and there is the real prospect that the team will have to be disbanded. Bids are already going in to every available source to continue this proven work. Does it have to be this way?

Finally, the Homelessness Reduction Act has on the whole been a good thing. It has forced councils to put a stronger focus on prevention—although, to be fair, the best councils were already doing that. Councils have embraced this new role: we all want to work together to reduce homelessness. But it costs, largely in the number of staff needed to do the up-front intervention work. My authority received £35,000 from the Government for this work, but that does not even cover the costs, including on-costs, of one additional member of staff, and at the moment we employ four.

The LGA is asking that in the Government’s funding review, they should commit to address any shortfalls. This will ensure that the legislation is successful across all areas of the country. I sincerely hope that this happens.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, for initiating this important debate. I declare my interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and a member of an advisory board of the charity Crisis, which does great work to end homelessness.

Homelessness is not only the source of profound misery for those who suffer its consequences but a huge burden on society as a whole. A freedom of information request last month by Inside Housing magazine revealed that around £1 billion was spent last year just on the cost of providing temporary accommodation, mostly in low-grade bed-and-breakfast hotels and poor-quality private rented flats. But direct expenditure on temporary accommodation is a relatively small part of the total spending that homelessness triggers: for health and social care, for example, since ill-health and homelessness go hand in hand, and for the criminal justice system, since those leaving prison with nowhere to go are very likely to reoffend.

I welcome the range of measures that the Government are taking to address this social evil, including their new rough sleeping strategy, their decision to drop potentially disastrous plans for funding specialist supported housing, their overarching objective of increasing the supply of new homes and the renewed interest in social rented housing provision. It is good to see progress, too, in supporting the use of Housing First, which gets people who are long-term homeless and have complex needs off the streets and into a decent home where real help can be offered.

The best approach to homelessness is to prevent it in the first place. I had the privilege of taking the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 through your Lordships’ House. In the medium to longer term, the preventive measures introduced by the Act will reduce homelessness and save money, for sure. But will the resources currently available be insufficient to get hard-pressed local authorities up and running on this agenda? A comment on this from the Minister would be very welcome.

The real interdepartmental problem, as noted by other noble Lords, is the undermining of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s good intentions by the Department for Work and Pensions. The latter’s cuts to help with housing costs are now a direct cause of the growth in homelessness—in particular, its freezing of rental support, or local housing allowances, while rents are rising leads to not only debt arrears and evictions but, on a much wider scale, to landlords ending tenancies for all those who depend on housing benefit help, replacing such tenants with those who can pay the full market rent. I heard on Monday from the National Landlords Association that 91% of the landlords it surveyed in London will not let to anyone on housing benefit, and the NLA’s prediction is that that number is set to get worse. Since there is a chronic shortage of social housing, this simply leaves the poorest with nowhere to go. Sadly, a new report from the Chartered Institute of Housing shows that the Government’s targeted affordability funding, which I had hoped would bridge the rental gap, covers only a few areas and in these places covers only 10% to 30% of the shortfall between the housing benefit and the market rent.

In conclusion, I endorse the plea from the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for multiagency interdepartmental action on homelessness. I urge the Government, in particular the MHCLG, to engage with the DWP since it is fuelling the rise in homelessness.

My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for introducing this important and timely debate. Almost wherever I go in the country, I see someone living on the streets. This of course is only the visible sign of homelessness compared with those people, families and children, who are living in temporary or substandard accommodation, often with no end in sight.

In the short time we have, I wish to make only a few brief points. Can the Minister tell us whether the department might look again at standardising the yearly count of rough sleepers? I was pleased to see that all councils took part in the 2017 count but this has not always been the case. Also, while some councils have teams which go out and physically count, others estimate their numbers. I believe that some standardisation in method would be the right decision, and give the right direction, to achieve a better understanding of the scale of this problem.

Turning to housing, we know that the lack of appropriate housing is a central issue. I am pleased that the Government are making homebuilding one of their highest priorities, investing £9 billion in affordable housing and £1 billion in flexible funding to help enterprising councils which wish to borrow more in order to build more. There has been £50 million made available to the Move On Fund for new homes outside of London, £19 million of new funding for supported lettings, £28 million for Housing First pilot schemes and £135 million from dormant accounts to support home financing innovations, to name but a few initiatives. More than 1 million new homes have entered the housing stock since 2010 and last year we had the biggest overall increase in housing supply in almost a decade.

In spite of this, Crisis has identified a “sharp” rise in the number made homeless from the private rental sector, from 11% in 2009-10 to 31% in 2015-16. Private landlords are reluctant to lease to people in receipt of benefits or people deemed homeless. What work is the department doing with the private sector to encourage more stability in their leasing and to encourage them to provide more leases to people who have been, or would be, homeless?

Private businesses are beginning to grasp the benefits of helping people who are homeless. I must declare an interest in the hospitality sector, as set out in the register, since one of the initiatives that is heavily involved in is area is the Only a Pavement Away campaign, which assists homeless people into hospitality careers. The charity is currently running trials with a number of pub and bar operators to coach and guide the homeless and more vulnerable in our society through their transition into the world of work. Full training, together with a network of support from companies, underpinned by a 12-month post-engagement support package, ensures that each individual has the best chance of success in turning their life around and boosting their self-worth and self-esteem.

There are many similar initiatives created by businesses without any government funding or encouragement at all. They have done this of their own volition and they should be applauded. Support into training and employment is such an important part of a homeless person securing independence and eradicating his or her homelessness for themselves for the long term. Could the Minister tell us how his department is working with other agencies and stakeholders to encourage them to employ and train people who are homeless?

Finally, does the Minister think more can be done to help people who have no fixed address to have better access to bank accounts? I know that there is an official recommendation from the Government to financial institutions that they can be more lenient with their identification requirements in this scenario, but is this happening in practice and is there more that can be done to promote this practice more widely?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Smith of Newnham for raising this all-important debate. As rehearsed by other speakers, whatever the technical wording deployed by the Government about homelessness, rough sleeping is rising, by 15% in the last year alone. To talk about the peak in statutory homelessness is a fig-leaf that has frankly reached its autumnal days, as the UK Statistics Authority has made clear. While homelessness is significant and important, I hope that the Minister will share his responses on the undisputed crisis at hand, with people sleeping rough on the streets of our apparently advanced nation, and how agencies across the public and voluntary sectors in particular can be supported to end this.

Mental health, substance abuse, sexual abuse, immigration, leaving care and leaving prison are a few of the issues faced by agencies working to help people get off the streets. When I visited the St Mungo’s excellent facility in Shepherd’s Bush, the complexity of need was most striking. Some 73% of individuals it surveyed had a mental health need, 55% had substance abuse and 44% had physical health problems. That is why the rough sleeping strategy and the Homelessness Reduction Act are both welcome steps, but to end rough sleeping the Government need to go further and faster. For example, speed is required to support vulnerable groups such as victims of domestic violence. Will the Minister share any of the Government’s plans to provide swifter, more specific emergency accommodation and move on options for those victims?

Many agencies are already working tirelessly to provide support for rough sleepers. I will mention one example run by the charity Depaul. Its Nightstop scheme is highly innovative and involves volunteers across the country. It provides a same-night emergency accommodation service, linking young people in crisis with trained volunteer hosts who put them up in their own home, give them a hot meal and help them to wash their clothes. In 2017, 1,388 young people were placed with a host. Restful sleep, a restored sense of hope and a feeling of safety are all things that we take for granted, but which young people say they particularly gained from this service. Evaluation of the project suggests that, if Nightstop can help an individual avoid depression, then it can claim credit for resource savings of £530 per year for the NHS and £50 per year for local authorities, and a social value to the young person of more than £1,700. Will the Minister support extending these kinds of volunteer schemes?

This October, I will be doing the annual Depaul sleepout. How do people get up after a night on a pavement and then go to work? As we know, thanks to a recent Channel 4 “Dispatches” programme, many rough sleepers are now doing that. I do not know about the rest of your Lordships, but that is beyond my understanding. One night of rough sleeping every year for Depaul is a mere glimpse into the stress of that existence.

Finally, I commend to the Minister the work that Homeless Link and others in the Making Every Adult Matter coalition are doing to co-ordinate front-line organisations. Any noble Lord who has participated in outreach knows just how important that initial contact is and also how different every single person can be. Providing a package around an individual and understanding their immediate need, therefore helping them to take more control, is critical to ensuring that rough sleeping is never ever accepted or normal on our streets.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, was quite right to put “multi-agency solutions” in the title of this debate. I want to identify two groups that are much at risk of becoming homeless and for which central government has a responsibility. The armed services should check that those leaving them have sustainable accommodation when they come to the end of their service contracts. The risk in these cases is greater because they have been provided, sometimes for many years, with military quarters and have thus become unable or unused to coping with civilian life.

Prisoners may also become institutionalised by the time spent in custody. They may have little or no savings or may have been abandoned by their spouses and families. With 83,000 people in prison now, many are therefore discharged every single year. Co-operation by the Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Justice is therefore essential. Agreement in principle to care for those leaving the forces or prisons will not be enough in itself. It will be essential for instructions to be passed down to individual military units and to the governors of particular prisons.

I hope that I have shown that responsibility for preventing rough sleeping and homelessness is not exclusive to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. It is yet another area where joined-up government is greatly needed. Health was mentioned, I think by the noble Baroness, Lady Grender. It will be essential to have the full support of voluntary organisations and charities that care for those from the services, for prisoners and for the families of both. The Cabinet Office has a major role to play in ensuring that this co-ordination and co-operation between departments takes place.

My Lords, I remind your Lordships that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association, to which I should add that I am a patron of Street Pastors in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which does some excellent work in supporting homeless people in Newcastle and in Tyneside more broadly. I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, for enabling us to have this debate. Many varied and important points have been raised and I hope they will all prove helpful to the Minister.

I want first to acknowledge that the Government are making efforts to reduce homelessness, both rough sleeping and the use of temporary accommodation. This is essential because the problem has got significantly worse. Indeed, it is evident from the contributions of those who have spoken in this debate that, so far, they are not sufficient.

I have a few specific points. One relates to the problems of resettlement of offenders—that is, prison leavers. The Government should look closely at how public services are integrated at a local level. Clearly, this has to be led by local government, given its central responsibility under the Homelessness Reduction Act and given the levers—some financial—that it has. I associate myself with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Best, about the role of the Department for Work and Pensions, but it goes wider than that; the Ministry of Justice also has a role in the preparation of prisoners to leave prison. It is clear to me that too many prisoners are being permitted to leave prison with no firm place to go; a number then end up sleeping rough. In addition, the National Health Service is to be responsible for doing more, particularly in relation to mental health issues. I hope that some of the pilots due to take place will produce swift outcomes. Will the Minister tell us how quickly he is expecting these pilots to produce clear outcomes?

On the Vagrancy Act, which criminalises rough sleeping, I understand there is to be a review by 2020, but I am not clear whether it will simply reach a conclusion on what should happen or whether there will be an implementation. I very much hope for the latter.

All of us are aware of the excellent report, Everybody In, published by Crisis a few weeks ago. It demonstrates that over 20 years, or a little more, for the expenditure of £19.3 billion, benefits of £53.9 billion will accrue. I understand those figures were produced and verified by PricewaterhouseCoopers. I hope the Government will look closely at the Crisis report; I think it is the best report on homelessness policy we have had in recent times and a huge help.

On Housing First, I noted that the Minister’s letter to us of 5 September referred to it as being “internationally proven”. I am sure that is correct, but I hope we will consider those people receiving Housing First support who might have been better off with the support given 24/7 in a hostel. We need to be careful; Housing First might not necessarily be right for everybody.

I hope that the Minister will look carefully at the availability of resourcing and at new burdens being imposed on local government. Finally, I understand there will be a feasibility study to develop a model for assessing the effects of government interventions on homelessness, but I am not sure when this will take place.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, on securing this short debate, as other noble Lords have done. I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak. I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I will be unable to respond to individual points raised in the debate, due to time restrictions, but I agree wholeheartedly with the points raised by all noble Lords this afternoon.

We have debated homelessness on many occasions—its causes and the devastating effect it has on people’s lives. It is, as other noble Lords have said, a national disgrace that tonight, in one of the richest countries in the world, people will be sleeping on the streets only a few steps from this palace.

Like other noble Lords I welcome the rough sleeping strategy, which aims to eliminate it, although it is disappointing that the target for this to happen is 2027. The Government, and the policies that they have pursued, have made the problem so much worse over the past eight years. We have seen a 102% increase in rough sleeping and a 44% increase in homeless households—statistics from the department of the noble Lord, Lord Bourne. Despite well-meaning aspirations to tackle this problem, decisions taken on matters such as welfare reform, benefit reform, the supply of social housing and the freezing of local housing allowance have all contributed to making the problem so much worse, as the figures from Minister’s own department illustrate.

Another example is the Homelessness Reduction Act. It is a good piece of legislation and a positive step in addressing homelessness by helping individuals to address the issues, providing them with accommodation and preventing them becoming homeless in the first place. It is, however, completely undermined by the very Government who supported it and failed to provide the funding that local government needs to make it work properly. Local government has more duties and more requirements, but not the resources to deliver them.

We have a serious problem with housing at every point. I think that many in the Government see that, but for whatever reason they will just not take the simple measures that would make a real difference. Things could be done very quickly, such as properly funding the Homelessness Reduction Act, lifting the borrowing cap and allowing councils to retain 100% of the proceeds from right-to-buy sales. These would all make a positive difference, but the Government will not consider them. Until they do, I fear that we will debate these issues again and again, and, despite the good intentions of the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, the Government will not make the positive difference that they want to achieve.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, for bringing this debate forward. It is timely, and I can reassure her that I am not one of those who thought it inappropriate to have a debate on this very important issue. There are many aspects to it, as we have just heard from a very expert group of Peers, and I pay tribute to the expertise of the Committee. We have heard, for example, from the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, of the National Housing Federation, the noble Lord, Lord Best, of Crisis, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, formerly of Shelter. They have great expertise, and other noble Lords have talked about many other dimensions of this issue, which has contributed to a first-class debate.

Noble Lords all know how damaging homelessness and rough sleeping are. It is a complex issue, as noble Lords have demonstrated. With the greatest respect to my friend and colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, it is not just about the money, although that is undeniably important; it is much more complex, as we all know.

Children who frequently move as a result of homelessness tend to have lower educational attainment. Homeless people are more likely to have poor physical and mental health. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, referred to deaths; there are too many deaths—one is of course too many. Other people’s lives are cut short because of bad health experiences while homeless. It is a disgrace—there is no doubt of that—and it is a problem for us.

My noble friend Lord Smith asked about the statistics. The daily count is 4,751. We are looking at these statistics to see if this is the best way of assessing the number of rough sleepers. It has been done this way, I think, for some time and may need looking at—it may not be the best way of determining the figure. Neither is this problem, as I realise while going up and down the country, just about our big cities—it also affects many small towns. It is a serious issue that we all have an obligation to look at.

As noble Lords have mentioned, we have committed to halving rough sleeping by 2022 and ending it by 2027. We have heard the suggestion that this is highly ambitious and, from other noble Lords, perhaps not ambitious enough. I think the truth is that it is ambitious to eliminate it completely by 2027, because this is so complex. But we have a duty to make sure that it falls dramatically over that period because it is a judgment on a mature, developed society such as ours that this is so apparent and real a problem.

To deal with this problem, we are working with local authorities, public sector partners and our great voluntary sector—and with the faith sector, which deserves a mention too for what it has done. I have been up and down the country to see some of what it has done. Together with the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for example, I went to Sheffield Cathedral and I pay tribute to what is being done there in helping to challenge homelessness and address some of the problems.

Mention has also been made of the recent legislation, the Homelessness Reduction Act, which is going to make a great difference. I pay tribute to the work done by the noble Lord, Lord Best, in piloting it through our House and to all, because it had cross-party support. We therefore all have a share in ensuring that it is effective. Much of that Act came into force in April, relatively recently, and some it comes into force on 1 October, which is just around the corner. It aims to ensure that more people get the support they need to prevent them becoming homeless in the first place. I will say a bit more about that in just a while, if I can.

As has been said, we are spending more than £1.2 billion over the spending review period. If I may, I will write to noble Lords who have participated in the debate to show our breakdown of that and leave a copy of my response in the Library. The noble Baroness asked about the specific fund for the initiative on rough sleeping. It has £100 million, some of which is new money, some from other departments and some from other budgets in our department. If I may, I will set all that out in the letter when I send it round to noble Lords and pick up any points that I miss, given the paucity of time and the fact that I am not over all the detail of some of the more detailed questions asked.

Multiagency working matters; that is absolutely right and it is what we seek to do. We have an ambitious agenda, which certainly involves other departments. I want to come on to that but, as I have said, it is not just about the money. We can be almost certain that if we get this right, it will actually save money. That is not what it is about but it is estimated that rough sleepers cost public services on average three to four times more than an average adult. Our prime motivation should not be to save the Government money but to ensure that in a civilised society, the people in our own country get the help that they need. Nevertheless, it is important to note that over time, if properly executed, this should save money.

These costs do not just fall on local authorities or government; they fall on a whole range of public services. There is a massive contribution, too, from our voluntary sector. Noble Lords have referred to that much during the debate and I will say more about it later. I mentioned the noble Lord, Lord Bird, who is not in his place at the moment but has done an immense amount in this area. We should acknowledge that as well.

We need a joined-up strategic approach and our strategy certainly aims to have that. I am delighted that we are able to deploy the policy. Issues have been mentioned but, for example, there is a commitment from the Department of Health and Social Care, which includes up to £2 million towards health funding to test models of community-based provision, designed to help people who are sleeping rough to access health and support services. Particular mention was made of mental health services; I absolutely agree and accept that point.

The noble Lords, Lord Hylton and Lord Shipley, referred to the Ministry of Justice, which has also made its commitment. By speaking to people who are sleeping rough and selling the Big Issue, you become very aware of how many of them have come out of the secure environments of the forces or prison. That is totally true. We have also therefore worked with the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Defence on policies to ensure that there is early reference of these issues. This concentrates on one of the key themes of the policy: prevention, which is obviously the most desirable point, intervention, and recovery. I shall deal with the prevention point in a minute.

We are investing £3.2 million through the Ministry of Justice to launch pilots in a small number of resettlement prisons in England to support offenders identified as being at risk of rough sleeping when they come out of prison. Independently, we need to do much more about prisoners about to be released from prison to help them into work, and so on. Some of our prisons do great work. For example, I have been to Cardiff Prison—as a visitor, I hasten to add—to see some of the work done there. It is first class. Other prisons do similar work.

Our approach reflects the fact that many people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness have varied support needs. The Government have committed to £3.2 million funding in 47 areas to employ specialist personal advisers who will provide intensive support for the most at-risk care leavers. The aim is to have this wraparound, personalised service, drawing in large part from experience in Finland, where it has worked very successfully, personalising it to the individual, such that we have an advisory committee with a representative from Finland to advise us on how it has worked successfully there. It is worth saying that the problem is not unique to the United Kingdom: I suppose that we should take some comfort from that. The one country that seems to have cracked it and done great things is Finland, so there is stuff to learn.

As part of our rough sleeping initiative, on which we are spending £30 million this year and £45 million in 2019-20, our team of expert rough sleeping practitioners, drawn from across Whitehall and the sector, has been working proactively with local areas to develop bespoke plans to help people sleeping rough. As I said, that personalised service is important. To give an example of which the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, may well be aware, in Southwark, the initiative has provided £615,000 funding this year, part of which will go towards facilitating partnerships between the outreach team, health services and the police force. This will shorten the time individuals spend on the streets and ensure they can access health care.

I turn to the subject of domestic abuse, and pay particular tribute to my noble friend Lady Barran for the work that she has done and continues to do. She mentioned the Green Room in Westminster, which I had the privilege of visiting relatively recently, a safe space for some of London’s most vulnerable female rough sleepers who are currently at risk of or have historically experienced violence. I pay tribute to what is done on domestic abuse in the voluntary and public sectors. There is awesome and unwavering commitment from the people who work there. As the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, said, they need to be fleet of foot and have the necessary support. We are totally committed to the domestic abuse legislation that will be coming forward, and the Prime Minister has taken a particular interest in it and is driving it forward.

My noble friend Lady Barran and others mentioned navigators, who are crucial to the policy, working with people to ensure that we take this forward. As I said, the benefits of the personal approach are clear. There are some examples of where it has worked very well. In Sheffield city centre, I came across the example of a woman who had taken advantage of it and been supported by an enhanced support worker to give her the personal support that she needs. She is an older person, but the resettlement support she has received has got her back on the housing ladder again. That is important.

To mention social housing and affordable housing very quickly, it is crucial. This is not just about personal care, we must ensure that we have the housing in place. The social housing Green Paper is out for consultation, and we will obviously keep a close eye on it. We need to ensure that the Homelessness Reduction Act is delivering. It is very early days and it is not all in place yet.

I will turn to one or two other things that I wanted to say, particularly to reference some of the great work done by our voluntary organisations. Mention was made of Shelter, St Mungo’s—I had the opportunity to visit its Holborn branch; I think the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, mentioned it—MEAM and its coalition, New Hope Watford, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, and the Newcastle Street Pastors, which I know that the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, is closely involved with. I also saw the great work that it does when I was there.

This has been a great debate. I will write to noble Lords to pick up the specific points. There is much to be done, but I thank noble Lords for the general support they have given to thrust of what the Government are doing and I recognise that we certainly cannot be complacent.

Might I ask the noble Lord to refer to the timing of the feasibility study that the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and I asked about?

My Lords, I realise that people were raising issues about private rental property. I have a house that I let out in Cambridge. It might be that I will need to look at the clause on housing benefit. That house is in the register of interests, but I thought, in the interest of completeness, that I had better say something about it. I thank everybody who participated.