The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Thursday 25 February.
“I would like to update the House on the Government’s progress towards ending rough sleeping. I know that many colleagues on both sides of the House share my interest and commitment to this issue, so today I am pleased to report that the rough sleeping annual statistics for 2020 have been published, and that the number of people sleeping rough across England has fallen for the third year in a row. In fact, we have seen the largest fall in rough sleeping since the annual snapshot began.
Across England, the number of people sleeping rough has fallen by 37% over the past year and almost halved since this Administration took office in 2019. I am heartened that this fantastic result has been mirrored in London, where there are particular challenges in tackling rough sleeping, but where none the less there has also been a 37% fall in the number of people sleeping rough.
Some of our largest cities have seen exceptional reductions. In Birmingham, for example, the snapshot records just 17 individuals, down from 52 last year. A number of places recorded no rough sleepers at all in the statistics, including Ashford and Basingstoke. These independently verified statistics are our most robust measure of rough sleeping. They enable us to estimate the number of people sleeping rough on a single night and to compare changes over many years. As colleagues know, these numbers represent lives rebuilt, families reconnected and communities strengthened.
These encouraging figures highlight the success of our ongoing Everyone In programme. We launched Everyone In almost a year ago, at the start of the pandemic, with the simple aim of bringing as many people as possible in off the streets—reducing the transmission of Covid-19, protecting the NHS and saving people’s lives. By January, Everyone In had successfully helped over 26,000 people who were either sleeping rough or in very precarious accommodation and at risk of sleeping rough to move into longer-term accommodation. Through the programme, we continue to support an additional 11,000 people in emergency accommodation while longer-term solutions are found. In total, at least 37,000 people are in safe and secure accommodation today as a result of this exceptional effort.
Local authorities have each drawn up their own plans to support those accommodated during the pandemic, with our support and guidance. Those plans have been backed by £91.5 million through our Next Steps accommodation programme. Our ongoing Everyone In initiative is widely regarded as one of the most successful of its kind, and I am pleased that the United Kingdom has avoided some of the scenes that we have seen in other great cities and communities around the world, which bring shame on those places that could have done more. Research published in the Lancet showed that the measures we took in the first phase of the pandemic alone may have avoided 21,000 infections, 266 deaths, 1,100 hospital admissions and 330 intensive care admissions of homeless people.
Our priority now is to ensure that we maintain this momentum and end rough sleeping altogether. To that end, we will bring forward 6,000 homes for rough sleepers, backed by over £400 million of funding, over the course of this Parliament. That is the largest investment in accommodation of this kind, and I am proud that it will leave a national legacy of support for those helped by Everyone In.
Meanwhile, we will continue to invest in the initiatives that were already in place before Everyone In and that are helping to drive down the numbers of people sleeping rough. Those initiatives were created before my tenure, and I pay particular tribute to my two immediate predecessors, my right honourable friends the Members for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire) and for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), who put in place and reinvigorated the rough sleeping initiative created in the early 1990s by another of my predecessors, the now noble Lord Young.
The £112 million of funding from our rough sleeping initiative this year has helped 291 local authorities, and further funding next year will continue to boost outreach teams, establish first-stage accommodation and introduce targeted support for mental health, employment and life skills, and wider support. We also continue to learn from and build on our Housing First pilots. The first three pilots, in Greater Manchester, Liverpool and the West Midlands, are currently supporting over 800 people into safe and secure homes. Today, we are strengthening our commitment to Housing First through the publication of the Mobilising Housing First toolkit, which sets out examples of best practice and recommendations for areas keen to implement Housing First at a local level, using the funding that we have made available.
Over the course of the year, we planned and prepared for further targeted interventions to support areas with higher numbers of rough sleepers. This included the Protect programme to provide extra support to high-need areas, and the cold weather fund to bring forward additional Covid-secure accommodation over the winter. Latterly, we have had the Protect Plus programme, which helped councils to redouble their efforts and, in particular, to ensure that rough sleepers are registered with a GP, are woven into the vaccination programme in their area and receive the vaccination when their time comes.
Westminster, a borough that faces unusual pressures—not least because of the very high numbers of non-UK nationals—has consistently had the highest number of people sleeping rough since the snapshot approach was introduced. As a result of this targeted approach and the exceptional efforts of the council there, we have seen very significant progress. The number of people sleeping rough in Westminster has fallen by 27% since 2019 and is believed to be at its lowest level in recent memory.
In recognition of how instrumental the community, charity and faith sectors have been to our national effort, I am today announcing further funding for the voluntary sector to support its work. That will help local community night shelters to provide accommodation that is Covid-secure in time for this autumn, in case that is needed, and is dignified and focused on sensible, sustainable housing solutions for rough sleepers. It will also support Homeless Link, Housing Justice, StreetLink, St Basils and the National Homelessness Advice Service delivered by Shelter. I pay particular tribute to all those and many other community and charitable organisations.
Taken together, these interventions have led to a dramatic reduction in rough sleeping of a kind not seen in many years. The additional data my department has published today shows that the number of people sleeping rough on a single night has continued to fall since the annual snapshot. Over the winter period, numbers fell to 1,743 in December and to just 1,461 in January. Many of the individuals will have been offered accommodation but will have chosen not to accept it for a wide range of reasons.
While those are not official statistics of the kind of the November count that is also published today, they demonstrate the incredible achievements of council officers and outreach staff, who have been at the front line of tackling rough sleeping in the past few months, operating under extraordinary circumstances to meet the demands of the extremely cold weather that we have seen recently. Their work is often unglamorous and unnoticed, and I pay huge tribute to them for what they have achieved.
We have made great strides over the past 12 months, but we do not view that as an end in itself; it is only a beginning. In the next financial year, we will be spending more than £750 million to continue tackling homelessness and rough sleeping, so that everyone who has been extended a helping hand off the streets during the pandemic has no need to return to them again.
Our ambition is that no one should need to sleep rough. To achieve that, we must raise the safety net from the street and address the causes of rough sleeping. We believe rough sleeping is a symptom of family breakdown, of domestic abuse, of the treatment of ex- offenders, of the historical inadequacies of our immigration system and, above all, of poor health, substance misuse and mental ill health.
At the heart of the strategy that we will be laying out in the weeks and months to come will be the marriage of health and housing. The partnership between those is surely one of the central lessons of this pandemic. We will fortify those partnerships between local homelessness and health services, and between central and local government and the NHS, all of which have been strengthened enormously over the course of this year. I will work closely with the Department of Health and Social Care to tackle drug and alcohol addiction and mental ill health, and with the Ministry of Justice to ensure that prison leavers have access to housing upon release. We will seize this opportunity to build back better—not merely mending or returning to a status quo, but building a better country post Covid-19, in which no one needs to sleep rough. I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, for bringing this Statement to the House this afternoon. I draw the attention of the House to my relevant registered interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
The Government promised to “bring everybody in” during the pandemic and, despite good work done in the first wave, today we sadly have many people sleeping rough again on our streets, many very close to this building. The people sleeping on the link bridge between Waterloo station and the street, who I have mentioned before, are still there: I saw them yesterday on my way to this House. According to the Government’s own figures, there were 2,688 people sleeping rough on a single night in autumn 2020. People who are homeless are three times more likely to experience a chronic health need, including respiratory conditions, putting them at higher risk of poor health outcomes, including from Covid-19.
It is tragic that in one of the richest countries in the world, in one of the richest cities in the world, we have people sleeping rough on the streets tonight. So, can the noble Lord tell the House why the response to the homelessness situation of people living on our streets was so much better and more effective in the first wave in comparison with the second wave? What happened in government that led to the response being so much worse this time around? What happened to the Everyone In policy? It created a safe space for people to access the support needed to move on from homelessness.
On the wider picture of homelessness, the situation is even worse, with people living with friends and sleeping on sofas, including up to 130,000 children in England. The Government have a manifesto commitment to end the blight of rough sleeping in England by 2024. The response by the Government to this pandemic must surely be part of the plan to deliver on that commitment, and not an obstacle that puts the policy pledge in jeopardy. What we need from the Government is a strategy in place to ensure that people experiencing homelessness can move on from homelessness or expensive temporary accommodation into secure, safe, warm, dry, long-term accommodation that enables them to start rebuilding their lives.
Local authorities should be congratulated on the work they have done, with limited funding and unclear guidance from the Government. Will the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, identify for the House the various sums of money that are mentioned? Which of those are new money and not just restatements of previous funding commitments?
Housing First is a recognised and accepted method of ending homelessness for people with multiple needs, including mental health issues and addictions. The scheme is in place in Scotland and is being piloted here in England, but the fact is that many people experiencing homelessness in England will need a Housing First offer to finally end their homelessness. There are three pilots in place, which provide around 2,000 places, but this is a long way short of the investment and commitment needed to deal with the issue finally. So when does the Minister expect a decision to be made on rolling out the scheme in England, as has already been done in Scotland, and when does he expect funding for the rough sleeping accommodation programme to ensure that a long-term housing solution is not just an aim but a reality, which is not the case today?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, for bringing us the Statement. There is no doubt that Everyone In last spring was a significant achievement. Louise Casey, now the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, wrote in her email at the start of the pandemic, after her first week in MHCLG:
“I don’t care what’s happening; I don’t care what’s going on, you’ve got to get everybody in.”
Rough sleeping was treated as an urgent public health issue, resource was prioritised and brought forward, and central and local government worked in tandem with all the charities and the hotel sector and lined up safe accommodation. This was without question a success. But, as so many witnesses to the APPG for ending homelessness made clear, these numbers are never static. Homelessness, like a river, expands and grows. Substantial boulders are the only thing that stop it at source, and those boulders start with social and truly affordable housing.
Will the Minister explain why social housing build last year was only 5,716 homes, far below both Shelter’s annual target and the National Housing Federation’s goal of 145,000 social homes per year? Tomorrow in the Budget we are expecting to see a significant subsidy, not to social housing but to first-time buyers, who will be encouraged to borrow 20% of the purchase price. Will the Minister say where that money is likely to go? What is the possibility that it will end up in the profit margins of the large developers, many of which donate regularly to the Conservative Party? To prevent an increase in the number of people sleeping rough, rapid access to secure, long-term accommodation is vital. This period, following the achievement of Everyone In, is a unique opportunity to do just that and never return to the levels that were way too high just before this pandemic.
The target date of the manifesto commitment—as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy—is fast approaching, and policies need to be in place now. So surely—as the noble Lord also said—it is time to commit to a rollout of Housing First across England, instead of continuing with the pilots. The scale of current provision is 2,000 places, which falls far too short of the 16,450 places needed that were identified by the charities Crisis and Homeless Link. Can the Minister explain what is preventing the Government rolling out these successful pilots now?
It is welcome news that local authority guidance is encouraging registration of people sleeping rough with GPs, but why are the Government not following the success of some London boroughs, together with Liverpool and Oldham, which are using current JCVI guidance to vaccinate homeless people, in order to mitigate health inequalities? Some local authorities are unclear about this; will the Minister commit to clarifiying the issue? Even at the height of Everyone In some local authorities turned homeless people away. Can the Minister explain why? Does his department know why there were 2,600 people, or more, sleeping rough in October, and how many of them had no recourse to public funds?
The Statement rightly refers to research in the Lancet but not to the wider arguments used. It was clear that what was critical was the absolute refusal to resort to emergency shelters at all. So why are the Government considering using them? Large cities in the US continue to use emergency shelters, to huge detrimental effect. If social distancing is still advised next autumn, should emergency shelters not be ruled out? Can the Minister explain, in detail, in what circumstances they will be used?
The Statement refers to many of the underlying reasons for rough sleeping but fails to mention the precarious position of so many in the private rented sector. Why is that? While it is welcome that the pause on evictions has been extended, that has not stopped every stage of the process. Will the Minister acknowledge that, during the winter lockdown, 500 people were evicted from their homes and that last month 445 were either in arrears or served with eviction notices? Does the Minister agree that if the landlords’ associations and charities have united to ask for assistance, in the form of grants to tenants to keep roofs over their heads, this should be a priority to prevent homelessness?
As we continue to see the economic impact on people’s incomes, it is worrying that there is no longer-term strategy from the Government to ensure that people will be able to keep a roof over their heads. We are expecting unemployment to rise by this summer. The Government have frozen housing benefits once again. Can the Minister give reassurances that the Government are looking at ways to support people to prevent homelessness, including by helping them to avoid eviction due to arrears? Finally, is there any news on the long-awaited end to the use of Section 21, which has such an impact on vulnerable tenants?
There are many paths to homelessness. I sincerely hope that this period has been a pause and we can move forward from here. However, unless some of the problems in areas which give rise to homelessness—such as the private rented sector—are anticipated and stopped in their tracks, we will continue to see rises in homelessness.
My Lords, the Oral Statement relates to rough sleeping. The figures are very clear: we have seen a 37% reduction in rough sleeping—a huge reduction. There has been a reduction of 43% since the Prime Minister took office in 2019. The 2,688 statistic that was referenced by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, in his opening remarks, is down from 4,751 in 2017. This Government retain the ambition to end rough sleeping. I point out, too, that subsequent analysis, in December and January, shows continued reductions in the levels of rough sleeping.
One of the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, is not correct: the Everyone In programme continues and by January had helped 37,000 people, with over 11,000 in emergency accommodation and 26,000 moved into longer-term accommodation. The programme continues to operate, along with subsequent programmes and the Protect Plus programme.
It is important to address the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, on funding. The commitment on homelessness and rough sleeping in the 2021 budget was £700 million, and that will increase next year—since we had a single-year budget commitment—by a further £50 million, to £750 million. Significantly, within that £750 million is a commitment to a block grant of £310 million for homelessness prevention. That grant is to ensure that there are no further pressures, and to support people at risk of homelessness.
The noble Baroness, Lady Grender, mentioned the Government’s record on social housing. Social housing is underpinned by the multi-billion pound affordable homes grant, which has had record funding. We continue to be committed to build all forms of affordable housing, of all tenures, including social housing.
The Housing First pilot, which was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, is a world-class project. It was pioneered in Finland and we are piloting it to get the policy right. It continues to be piloted in three areas—the West Midlands, Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region. It is important to use the findings of the evaluation, and other experiences with pilots, to inform our next steps, and we are commissioning a consortium led by the ICF to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the programme. When you do something new like this, it is important to test what you want to expand and expand what you test, rather than hurriedly implement something and get it wrong.
We remain committed to removing no-fault evictions; that will happen as soon as parliamentary time allows, as I have said in previous answers. We recognise the underlying problems of people on our streets, and that we need to continue to address them. This Government, however, have made huge, unprecedented strides in reducing rough sleeping, and we continue to see that in the latest information that we have published.
My Lords, I congratulate the Government on what has been achieved. I am particularly glad that they are trying to ensure that every rough sleeper has a GP. Can my noble friend tell the House what percentage are now registered with GPs? Furthermore, has any any study been conducted into how many are driven into homelessness by drugs and how many are driven to drugs by homelessness?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for showing the complexity that underpins rough sleeping. We know that 82% of rough sleepers have a mental health vulnerability; 83% have a physical health need; and 60% have substance misuse needs. We do not necessarily know the interrelationship between those problems. Getting rough sleepers vaccinated is very much part of the Protect Plus programme, which is backed by £10 million to support and urge local authorities to play their part in getting rough sleepers—whether on the streets or in emergency accommodation —vaccinated when it is their time in the queue. We also continue to work closely with NHS England and Public Health England to ensure that this vulnerable cohort of people gets vaccinated at the earliest opportunity.
The Government are to be congratulated on the initiatives they have taken over rough sleeping during the Covid epidemic, and particularly for their success during the first lockdown. But the key question, of course, is whether there is the right policy, with adequate backing, to ensure that this is a permanent change. There were worrying signs before the pandemic that there were many more first-time rough sleepers; there was a report from Southwark recently, for example, that there are still new people coming on to the streets, with the number of applications from the homeless rising. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, emphasised, the problem is still there before our eyes. Of course, this has a great deal to do with the loss of jobs and the shortage of long-term accommodation, so how do the Government intend to ensure that during the difficult months ahead, we do not slip back into the old, pre-Covid situation?
My Lords, I point to the commitment through an entire Parliament of building 6,000 new homes for rough sleepers, which is backed by over £400 million of funding. We hope to see the reductions that we have seen on the streets of London, which were in line with the national reduction of 37%, continue.
On the issue of Covid vaccination policy for rough sleepers, is it not true that they are not treated nationally as a priority group for vaccination and that we have a postcode lottery in operation? Some areas treat them as a priority, others do not, yet they are a particularly vulnerable and difficult group. What action are the Government taking to organise a national framework for rough sleeper priority vaccination? I was concerned when I heard the Minister say, “When it is their turn in the queue”—they should be at the very front of the queue.
My Lords, the JCVI has set the overall framework for vaccination, and there is, by definition, a queue in terms of relative vulnerability and when people are called to be vaccinated. Of course, as part of that it is important that rough sleepers are registered with their GP. Therefore, we have been working closely with local authorities—backed up by £10 million of funding—to ensure that rough sleepers are registered with GPs so that they get the vaccination when it is offered.
My Lords, we should not be too self-congratulatory about what has happened, bearing in mind that the number of people sleeping rough on our streets is still more than 50% higher than it was a decade ago. The action around Covid has shown that taking direct action can get people off the streets. It is notable that most of those coming on to the streets are not returning but are coming on for the first time. Charities such as Crisis are warning of an imminent peak, however, as special measures, such as housing benefit increases and the temporary ban on evictions, end. Does the Minister agree that there is a real risk of a new peak in rough sleeping? What specific action will the Government take to replace these schemes, which clearly cannot continue for ever, to address this issue?
My Lords, I recognise the risk of a cliff edge given the level of support from the Government during the Covid-19 pandemic. An important plank of the support for people at risk of homelessness is the uplift in the local housing allowance, and there has been a commitment to maintain that at the same level in cash terms. In addition, we have seen increases in universal credit and working tax credit of up to £1,040 for the year. Of course, it is a matter for the Chancellor to decide how that continues as he makes his comments in the Budget.
My Lords, it is very good news that rough sleeping is in decline, and I congratulate the Government and all those concerned on that success. There is one difficult cohort that is not covered in the Statement: those coming temporarily from abroad, often to beg or for other purposes, who, for instance, set up filthy encampments in Park Lane which we can all see. I understand that up to 50% of the rough sleepers in central London are in that category, and they are described as having “no recourse to public funds”. Do Her Majesty’s Government have any plans to address that issue?
My Lords, my noble friend is right that we see more people who are either EU or non-EU foreign nationals on the streets of London. We encourage local authorities, including those in London, to connect those people with family and friends. We can also provide legal support, as well as helping them into work or training where appropriate, so there is flexibility for local authorities to do that for this group of people.
My Lords, I acknowledge the progress of Everyone In, but the debate in the other place exposed some very disturbing factors, such as the Minister admitting wide variances across the country of the delivery of rough sleeping and homelessness services and, shockingly, that many homeless people eventually end up in poor-quality, publicly funded supported housing. What regulatory or other plans do the Government have to level up provision for rough sleepers and homeless people?
My Lords, it is a fairly consistent national picture. I went through the data with a team as preparation for this; in every region in England we are seeing a very significant drop in rough sleeping, and they are very large in the south-east and London. It is only in the north-east, which has relatively low numbers of rough sleepers and where the figure is up by five rough sleepers according to the data, that we have some concern around not seeing a reduction. But we will continue to push the policies that are working in those areas and ensure that we encourage local authorities and others to adopt those in areas where it is proving harder to do so.
My Lords, the excellent work done in response to Covid in housing those living on the streets followed the implementation from 2018 of the Homelessness Reduction Act, a Private Member’s Bill from Bob Blackman MP which I had the honour of piloting through your Lordships’ House. This was beginning to work well in preventing homelessness and rough sleeping. In congratulating the Minister on the several new initiatives to assist those sleeping rough, can I ask whether he is satisfied that sufficient resources are now available to all local authorities to fully implement the Homelessness Reduction Act to prevent people becoming homeless in the first place?
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on supporting my honourable friend Bob Blackman in the other place. It is an important piece of legislation, and prevention is an incredibly important priority to ensure that we do not see more people sleeping rough on our streets. I remind noble Lords that we are seeing an increase in the budget for next year to £750 million, and £310 million is for the Homelessness Prevention Grant to do precisely what the noble Lord encourages local authorities to focus on: preventing homelessness.
My Lords, as someone who once worked for a charity supporting homeless people, I welcome the reduction in the numbers of those sleeping rough. Rough sleeping is a blight on any civilised society and must be wholly eradicated, and I am sure that the Minister would agree. But apart from no-fault evictions and existing benefits, how do Her Majesty’s Government propose to prevent an upsurge in homelessness resulting from the end of the furlough scheme and rising unemployment—particularly among private renters, as mentioned by a number of noble Lords?
My Lords, I cannot really comment on any additional measures. It is a matter for the Chancellor to set out the protection that we will be able to afford renters, while recognising the considerable amount that we have already done during this pandemic.
My Lords, the Government’s commitment to end all rough sleeping is admirable. However, if this is to be achieved, they need to do much more in terms of both the immediate response to the numbers continuing to sleep on the streets and of solving the long-term causes. In relation to immediate actions, will the Government commit now to a national rollout of Housing First as soon as the pilots have been reviewed? I understand what the Minister said about the need for the pilots to be evaluated, but the fact that they are in existence must mean that the Government intend to take them further where they are working. I would hope that Housing First will have its funding increased so that around 2,000 places that are being helped by the scheme can be greatly increased to cover the numbers needing support. In the longer term, will they make a commitment that no one will be released from prison without adequate housing to go to?
My Lords, all I can say in addition to my response to earlier questions is that the Government are committed to expanding Housing First. That commitment was made in our latest manifesto, but it is important to take on board the lessons from the three pilots.
My Lords, like others, I welcome the Government’s commitment to end rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament and the progress being made towards that. But the Statement says, of those sleeping rough:
“Many of the individuals will have been offered accommodation but will not have chosen to accept it, for a wide range of reasons.”
How, then, will the commitment be delivered?
My Lords, I commend my noble friend on his tireless work that started in the early 1990s with the launch of the Rough Sleepers Initiative. Recognising that the moral mission of ending rough sleeping will be difficult shows the need to work in harness not only with our health partners and others in local authorities, but also with the community voluntary sector to deal with the underlying problems. The Housing First principle is first to find secure accommodation, then to deal with issues so that the person involved does not return to the streets.
My Lords, homelessness and sleeping on the street is never done by choice. It is about our societal and institutional failures. Some 250,000 people, including 130,000 children, are regarded as being homeless and significant numbers of them are sleeping on the streets. They may have no recourse to public funds or be fleeing domestic violence. Among those sleeping rough, there are serious concerns about mental health and substance misuse, for which they do not have any access to services. Last year, almost 1,000 people perished on the streets.
Through the outstanding leadership of the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, the Government have made incredible advances and provided necessary services, which is to be commended. Does the noble Lord accept that banning evictions and regulating the private rented sector, along with supporting local councils to meet and manage housing needs and additional support services, are the correct solutions? They would have the most impact and be the most genuine way of eradicating sleeping on the streets and homelessness.
My Lords, the Government have already made a commitment to ending Section 21 no-fault evictions. I shall return to my previous answer and point out that we have seen a further decrease in the number of people aged 25 or under who have been sleeping rough this year. It is important, if we want to end rough sleeping, that we see a decrease in numbers among our young people.
My Lords, to follow on from what the Minister said, the voluntary sector and local authorities are expressing concern about the number of young people who are rough sleepers. Can he say what is the ratio of homeless young people and what will be done to prevent them becoming homeless by, for example, providing support for conflict in families and for mental health problems, both of which have become increasingly important during Covid?
My Lords, we have put in place bespoke support for local authorities through our homelessness advice and support team, which includes dedicated youth homelessness advisers who will inform the response to support young people. In addition, we recognise the role played by the community and voluntary sectors play if we are to end rough sleeping. That is why, included in the £6 million-worth of emergency funding, is around £100,000 that has been given to St Basils to ensure that we upskill and fund Youth Voice, which is a training scheme for young homeless people across the country.
My Lords, I am very encouraged to hear about the improvements in the rough sleeping figures and I sincerely hope that they can be maintained. Perhaps my noble friend could say what is being done and can be done to relieve the plight of those living rough in rural areas, who so often seem to be forgotten.
My Lords, I point out that in my noble friend’s constituency, the level of rough sleeping has dropped by 90%, which is one of the largest decreases in the country. On the rural figures, of course we work very carefully to ensure that the snapshot includes both rural and urban numbers. The regional figures would seem to indicate an across-the-board reduction in rough sleeping and, in particular, very steep reductions in some of our major cities.
My Lords, the Government’s ambition to end rough sleeping is of course to be welcomed, provided that there is progress towards achieving it. I want to ask the Minister about two specific groups. One has been referred to by my noble friend Lady Blackstone. She asked what is being done about ex-offenders who find themselves sleeping rough. Can the Minister say a little more about that group? Can he also say something more about members of the Armed Forces? If they have served our country as well as they have, we have a responsibility to ensure that in the end they do not sleep rough when they are discharged. We owe them a better future than that.
My Lords, part of the ministerial working group is looking at the issue of rough sleepers in London who are former members of the Armed Forces. I pay tribute to the work of my honourable friend in the other place, Johnny Mercer. The key is to work with local authorities to identify those people so that we can get support services to them. The support services for our Armed Forces as well as for ex-offenders are in place; it is a question of ensuring that we identify those people so that we can wrap the service support around them.
My Lords, I declare my position as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. In the past hour, London has become the largest city in the world to call for a trial of universal basic income. An unconditional income sufficient to meet basic needs would be one way to ensure that no one ends up sleeping on the streets —that conditionality of benefits or insecurity of employment would not lead to eviction. As the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, said earlier, today’s figures report a fall in rough sleeping, but the future of rising unpayable debt, in particular among private tenants, looks grim. The Government keep saying that they will not introduce a national universal basic income, but will they support London and the 14 other local authorities that have voted for trials in their communities?
My Lords, it is indeed blue-sky thinking to guarantee someone an income that is paid by the state. I point out that in the pandemic we have seen the national debt increase substantially to the level of our economic output for a year, which is some £2.2 trillion. In that environment, it is very difficult to make these kinds of spending commitments, and I will certainly leave something like that to the Chancellor.
My Lords, all the questions have been taken. Before we move on to the next business, I suggest that we take a short breather to allow people to move in and out of the Chamber.