Co-Operation Between Local Housing Authorities and Housing Action Trusts

Part of Clause 50 – in the House of Commons at 3:45 pm on 14th June 1988.

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Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney , Makerfield 3:45 pm, 14th June 1988

My hon. Friend has highlighted some of the problems of the homeless, and I hope that other hon. Members will mention them during the debate.

The Home Office has received statistical confirmation and evidence from fire authorities that the pressure of homelessness means that local authorities must use totally unsatisfactory houses in which to place homeless families. That places them in the moral danger to which my hon. Friend referred, and in physical danger, and some families have perished as a result.

The Department of the Environment report entitled "Houses in Multiple Occupation in England and Wales" shows that local authorities have had to take action against 3,853 landlords who have not provided adequate means of escape from fire, 2,268 landlords regarding the provision of extra amenities, and 897 landlords because of overcrowding. That shows the crisis among homeless families, yet in many areas housing action trusts will take out of the public sector the housing stock required to move families out of those dangerous conditions and into adequate homes.

Recently the Home Office provided statistics on the nature of fires and the number of deaths. It makes harrowing reading. For example, in detached and semi-detached houses in multiple occupation, some 77 people have perished—two because of cooking appliance fires, as a result of the cramped nature of the property, 16 because of fires from space heating appliances, four from matches, 29 from other ignitable materials and another 26 as a result of an unknown or unspecified type of ignition source.

In other dwellings of multiple occupation there were some 13,000 fires, in which 180 people perished and 1,828 suffered serious but non-fatal casualties. Some 4,385 fires are caused by cooking appliances, 793 by space heating appliances and 2,555 through matches and other ignitable sources. One could go on and on with such lists, and many such injuries and deaths are because the families have no means of escape. Such deaths could be prevented. They occur because families are in dreadful housing as a result of the housing crisis and the inability to provide homeless people with adequate, safe and secure homes to rent either on a long-term or short-term basis.

The Government must, as a matter of urgency, face up to this crisis. It is one thing creating a situation in which homelessness causes danger but another to continue such a situation with the result that people are dying simply because they are homeless. If all those 77 people died in one incident, there would be a national crisis, but because they were single incidents happening on a regular basis, in ones, twos, threes and fours, there is no such publicity.

The stark reality is that we are talking about the possibility that on each day of the year, there is the potential for one person or one family to die as a result of being declared homeless and placed in a multi-occupation house. It is unacceptable that children below school age should run the risk of incineration simply because parents are homeless and they are placed in temporary accommodation. It is unacceptable that, when the Government have these figures as a result of their own survey, they are still not prepared to take action to protect people. They must either provide local authorities with the resources to take these families out of multi-occupation properties or provide within the Bill the facilities for HATs and local authorities to work together in areas of multi-occupation systematically to get rid of such accommodation. Without such positive action, working people's families will continue to die and people will be maimed for life at an early age simply because their parents were homeless.

Such a dreadful situation would not have been accepted' in 1888, and we should not allow it to continue in 1988. The Minister must tell us what action, irrespective of the clause, she will take to prevent fire deaths among the homeless, because they have reached crisis proportions. Perhaps she will be able to provide us with the latest information, because these statistics are not up to date. This year's statistics are not yet available, but I believe, because of what has happened in Blackpool and elsewhere, and what happened with polyurethane foam in January, February, March and April, there will have been an increase in the number of fires in houses in multi-occupation, and an increase in fatal fires.

Many in Committee I asked the Minister to give us an adequate response to the issues that we had raised. On this issue of deaths among the homeless, she owes it to the House, to the homeless and to the country at large to give us the Government's response to this tale of carnage. All of us have children or know members of our family with children. Why should someone else's child die because the family is homeless? That is unacceptable, and the Minister must respond to it.