Homelessness (London)

Part of Petitions – in the House of Commons at 11:44 am on 20th December 1985.

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Photo of George Young George Young Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Environment) 11:44 am, 20th December 1985

The House is grateful to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) for giving us this opportunity to debate the increase in homelessness. He started by saying that last week's debate on the inner cities ended in chaos because of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), the Chairman of the Conservative party. If he had been allowed to make his speech, the House would have been a lot wiser than it was.

The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that the numbers of homeless people are increasing. I think that he will find that they went up under Labour as well. From July 1984 to June 1985, the London boroughs accepted 25,900 households as homeless as compared with 24,280 during the previous year. However, nearly two thirds of them were accommodated in permanent lettings, and others were accommodated in hostels and short-life accommodation. At any one time, there were 2,500 households in bed and breakfast accommodation.

Of course we are worried by the numbers being put in such accommodation as it is unsatisfactory and expensive, especially for families. We have made it quite clear that it should be used only as a last resort. I was pleased to see that my own borough of Ealing has managed to reduce the number of people that it has placed in bed and breakfast accommodation. I do not find the economic argument anything like as powerful as the argument that such accommodation is unacceptable for families. We have made it quite clear to local authorities in our code of practice that such accommodation should be used only as a last resort.

The hon. Gentleman was a little carried away when he said that the increase was "directly attributable' to the Government. If we are honest, we will admit that the rise in homelessness has something to do with some significant social changes, such as the greater incidence of marital breakdown. The figures show that 20 per cent. of those who are accepted as homeless in England became homeless simply because of problems arising from marital breakdown. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman will blame the Government for that, but I think that he would be pushing his case a little too far to try. There are other social reasons. For example, young people are leaving home far earlier and in far greater numbers than they used to. That is social change independent of Government and one of the factors responsible for the increase.

It is also legitimate to consider the other side of the equation—the role of local authorities in coping. Between 1980 and 1985, local authorities in London let homes to about 50,000 homeless families. The number of lettings to homeless families has increased under this Government from 12,700 in 1980 to just over 16,000 in 1985. The Government already allocate a substantial borrowing power to local authorities to enable them to make the necessary adjustments to their housing stock, and we allow them to supplement that with capital receipts.. The figures of allocations that the hon. Gentleman quoted conveniently excluded the capital receipts available to local authorities.