Homelessness and Mortgages

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 4:17 pm on 16th November 1992.

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Photo of George Young George Young Minister (Department of Environment) (Housing) 4:17 pm, 16th November 1992

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: notes the Government's continuing commitment to housing policies designed to ensure that a decent home is within reach of every family, and in particular to promoting the growth of owner-occupation, widening choice for tenants, and improving value-for-money and targeting of public expenditure; and especially welcomes the measures announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Autumn Statement which—consistently with the need to maintain tight control of public spending in the interests of the economy and the taxpayer—will contribute to stabilising the housing market, will increase the supply of social housing thereby helping homeless families, and will promote investment in renovation of run-down council estates. The Government welcome this opportunity to debate housing. As the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said, it is an important subject to millions of our citizens. The Government are happy to explain and defend their record on housing.

Last Thursday, while most of us were listening to the Chancellor's autumn statement, someone was drafting the motion before the House, a serious motion but one drafted with a strange mixture of Sun headlines and Guardianprose. As I hope to show, all the people mentioned in the motion have reason to welcome the measures in the autumn statement. Indeed, I see that, in a release last Thursday, Shelter said: Shelter strongly welcomes Government initiatives to provide more homes. That shows that, while Shelter regularly urges us to do better, it recognises progress when it sees it.

By contrast, the rather grudging recognition in the motion— although Her Majesty's Government has announced a few measures which will assist some of those in need"— does less than justice to the scale of the Government's response last week to the case for housing.

Let me set out those whom the hon. Gentleman has identified in the motion. They include those sleeping rough, those in "bed and breakfast accommodation", those accepted as homeless by local councils", those in difficulty with their mortgages, those in housing in need of improvement and the construction industry. Every hon. Member shares his concern for those groups and much was already being done to help, but we plan to do better.

Let me start with the most visible aspect of homelessness—rough sleeping. In a civilised society, no one should have to sleep rough. Over the past three years, under the rough sleepers initiative, we have made available £96 million to provide 900 hostel places, 2,200 places in permanent housing for those in hostels to move on to, and 700 places in flats and houses leased from private landlords.

Voluntary organisations estimated that, before the initiative began, more than 1,000 people were sleeping rough in central London. Their most recent count on 5 November showed that just over 400 people were sleeping rough, of whom fewer than 60 were under the age of 25. Many of those remaining will be helped by the initiative under way at Lincoln's Inn Fields to provide accommodation for them and, one hopes, to restore that open space to an attractive park that can be enjoyed by Londoners.

The rough sleeping initiative was to have ended on 31 March next year, but the autumn statement announced further resources to provide continuing help to rough sleepers. A further £86 million will now be made available to enable the excellent voluntary organisations, which are managing the programme, to build on their achievements and to drive the momentum forward to make it unnecessary for anyone to sleep rough. To project that funding as a cut does less than justice to the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey, because the hostels and permanent accommodation are, of course, still there. They will remain available in the forthcoming period. What is happening is that we are providing an extra £86 million over and above the resources originally planned. Moreover, I will shortly be announcing details of this year's cold weather shelters, which will open in a fortnight and which will provide accommodation for people who would otherwise have to sleep rough in central London this winter.

Even before the autumn statement the numbers of those in bed-and-breakfast accommodation had been falling. No one is in favour of it as a temporary form of accommodation. I see it as a measure of last resort. Many local authorities, to their credit, manage not to use it at all. In the past year the number of homeless families in such accommodation has gone down from 13,000 to 11,080. As a percentage the number is down from 24 per cent. to 18 per cent. In London the decrease has been more marked —from 8,110 to 5,870.

Those in bed-and-breakfast accommodation have more reason to welcome the autumn statement than any other group because of the way in which the 20,000 extra homes to be bought between now and the end of March compares with the figure of 11,080 who are currently in that accommodation. Those in bed and breakfast and other temporary accommodation will be rehoused more quickly as a result of the £630 million to be spent in England in the next four months. With the private finance that we plan to lever in, I expect the result to be a £1 billion package for recovery in the housing market.