Housing

Part of Statutory Instruments, &C. – in the House of Commons at 7:23 pm on 3rd July 1990.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Bryan Gould Mr Bryan Gould , Dagenham 7:23 pm, 3rd July 1990

I beg to move, That this House condemns the Government's incompetence and indifference in the face of the mounting housing crisis which is evident from growing homelessness, soaring mortgage costs and rents and the lack of affordable accommodation in urban and rural areas of Britain; and notes the failure of the Government's chosen instruments, as evidenced by the financial crisis of the Housing Corporation which is undermining Housing Associations, and the failure of the Housing Act 1988 to achieve its targets on Housing Action Trusts, Tenants' Choice and Assured Tenancies. Homelessness and unmet housing need may not directly affect as many as are affected by the problems of the national health service or the education service, but the scale of those problems means that homelessness and the housing problem must take their place among the major social issues which Britain faces.

There are various ways of measuring the problem. The first is to look at the Government's homelessness statistics. Those figures, which were running at a high level last year, already show a dramatic increase for the first quarter of 1990. They show that for the year as a whole it is likely that no fewer than 150,000 households will be accepted officially as being homeless. On the usual extrapolation of those figures, that means that about 500,000 people are now regarded as homeless. Of those households, 33,000 are in some form of temporary accommodation and about 12,000 are in unsatisfactory bed and breakfast hotels. Those figures represent an increase of about 500 per cent. since 1982.

In anybody's language, those figures are shocking, but they are only a fraction of the true measure of unmet housing need. Ministers will understand well that the figures do not measure those who applied to be treated as homeless but were not accepted, and that figure in turn is also at a shockingly high level—nearly 300,000 households at an annual rate this year.

That figure does not include those who simply do not fall within the official definition of homeless. In other words, the young single homeless do not appear in the statutory figure and it does not include those who are now widely described as the hidden homeless. A recent survey in London estimated that figure at about 300,000. Those are the people familiar to many hon. Members on both sides of the House, those who present themselves at their surgeries—young couples, perhaps with a young baby, compelled to live apart, each with his and her respective parents and families who are compelled to move from one temporary address to another, begging the charity of friends and relatives. One of my constituents has no address; he simply lives in a car. He, too, does not appear in the homelessness statistics.

The statistics do not tell the full story, but part of that story is told by the evidence of our own eyes. It is told through the evidence of the homelessness which we now see in the streets of our great cities. It is worth making the point in parenthesis that, although we tend to regard homelessness as an urban problem—indeed, as a London problem—the problem of homelessness among young people is rising faster in areas outside London than in the capital city.

The sight of young people sleeping rough, alongside those who are mentally and emotionally incapable of looking after themselves and those who are the victims of changes in the income support rules or who are inadequately provided for in the wake of the care in the community provisions, is truly shocking. It is little wonder that the Government have reluctantly decided that that daily witness to the growing problem of homelessness—the sight of young people begging on our streets by day and sleeping on our streets by night—is too great a blot to be tolerated and that they have to do something about it.

The £15 million measure announced by the Minister for Housing and Planning about 10 days ago at the Institute of Housing, while welcome, is no more than a street cleaning exercise. That is an inadequate response to a problem which demands much more than cosmetic treatment.