Homelessness

– in the House of Commons at 3:50 pm on 14th December 2016.

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Photo of John Healey John Healey Shadow Secretary of State for Housing 4:12 pm, 14th December 2016

I beg to move,

That this House
notes that the number of homeless households rose by 44 per cent between 2009-10 and 2015-16 to almost 60,000;
further notes that the number of people sleeping rough doubled between 2010 and 2015;
notes with concern that across the UK 120,000 children will be homeless this Christmas;
recognises that between 1997 and 2010 there was an unprecedented fall in homelessness;
and calls on the Government to end rough sleeping and take action to address the root causes of rising homelessness.

With 10 days to go to Christmas, a record number of homeless people are sleeping on our streets, in shop doorways and on park benches. More than 100,000 children will spend Christmas day in temporary accommodation—children with no home, young lives scarred by insecurity and impermanence. That shames us all. Homelessness is not inevitable in a country as decent and well-off as ours. It is a problem that we can solve. We know what works, because we have done it before. The Labour Government reduced rough sleeping by three quarters, and cut statutory homelessness to levels that led the independent audit by Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation to declare “an unprecedented decline”.

I had hoped that this debate, called in the face of rapidly rising homelessness on all fronts, would be the basis for fresh thinking and a new national will to put an end to the scandal of people sleeping rough on the street for want of somewhere to stay. I still do, but I am disappointed that the Government have rejected our motion, which simply sets out the facts. I say to Ministers and to Government Members who may support them today that they can delete our motion but they cannot deny the facts.

The facts speak for themselves. Rough sleeping fell by about three quarters under Labour; it has doubled under the Conservatives since 2010. The number of households accepted legally as homeless fell by two thirds under Labour, but has risen by nearly half since 2010. The total number of children in temporary accommodation has risen every year since 2010 to over 100,000 in England and 120,000 across the UK. For the avoidance of doubt, the source of these facts and figures is the Communities Secretary himself. If he or his colleagues on the Front Bench need to check, the figures are from Tables 1, 770 and 775.

Let us compare the feeble facts and figures in the Government’s amendment. The Government are pleased with the provision of temporary accommodation, when this can mean whole families sleeping in one bed. It can mean lights that do not work, no fridge, no cooker, no locks on the doors. The Government are spending more money on homelessness. The sums of £315 million, £149 million and £50 million are totals over a full year of Parliament and are dwarfed by the scale of cuts— £5 billion of cuts to housing benefit, and the Supporting People funding halved. Finally, the Government say they are committed to building more homes, when the number of affordable homes being built has hit its lowest level in 24 years, and the number of new social rented homes is at its lowest level since the second world war. In case Ministers have any doubts, the figures are from Table 1000 published by the Communities Secretary.

I warn Conservative Members to take with a large pinch of salt whatever their Front-Bench team say about housing and homelessness. Simply ask, “Is it working?”

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London)

The right hon. Gentleman says that we should take with a pinch of salt what those on the Government Front Bench say. What does he have to say to the Labour Mayor of London, who says that this Government have just given London a record level of funding for affordable housing?

Photo of John Healey John Healey Shadow Secretary of State for Housing

I would say two things. First, a large part of that is underspends from the previous period, simply rolled over. Secondly, this year the Government are spending in total about £1 billion pounds on building the new homes that we need in this country. In the last year of the last Labour Government, when I was the Housing Minister and in the hon. Gentleman’s place, it was £3 billion.

I said earlier that the rapidly rising homelessness shames us all. It does, but it should shame Ministers most of all. The hard truth for Tory Ministers is that it is their decisions since 2010 that have caused the homelessness crisis. There are record low levels of affordable rented housing—last year the lowest since 1991. There is a lack of action to help private renters, while eviction or default from a private tenancy is now the biggest single cause of homelessness. There have been deep cuts to housing benefit and charity funding that helps the most vulnerable people, including the homeless.

The amendment mentions the private Member’s Bill tabled by Bob Blackman. I am disappointed that he is not in the Chamber. We back this cross-party Bill, but we set two tests for the Government on which we will hold Ministers hard to account: first, fund the costs of the new legal duties in full; and secondly, tackle the causes of the growing homelessness crisis in this country. I welcome the Bill because it draws on similar legislation that the Labour-led Government in Wales introduced in 2014. It is early days, but it seems successfully to have prevented two thirds of all households assessed as at risk of being homeless from losing their home. That is what good councils are doing, day in, day out, across the country, despite the toughest funding cuts and the toughest service pressures.

Exeter Council has cut the number of rough sleepers, against the national trend, with a new street needs audit and a firm approach to street outreach to make sure people cannot opt out of help. Manchester Council has brought together charities, faith groups, businesses, universities and residents’ groups in a new partnership to end homelessness in the city. Enfield Council has set up a council-owned company to purchase 500 properties over five years to house homeless Enfield residents and, of course, to act as a model landlord.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

In the right hon. Gentleman’s contacts with those councils, have they highlighted what they think the impact might be of withdrawing housing benefit from under-21s?

Photo of John Healey John Healey Shadow Secretary of State for Housing

It is a very good question. I have not met or talked with anyone who believes that such deep cuts, targeted so harshly on young people, will do anything but compound the growing crisis of homelessness in this country. The issue is one of the causes of the spiralling scandal we see, and it is one of the things Ministers really must tackle.

In one of the media interviews I did today before the debate, the presenter said she was shocked the other day to see someone who was homeless pitching a tent in the middle of central London. That will not shock my hon. Friends, and many of them may remember the mass homelessness of the 1980s and 1990s, with tent cities in central London. However, one of the biggest forgotten successes of the last Labour Government was the reduction of rough sleeping to record low levels. We introduced the national rough sleepers unit, a comprehensive intervention plan, ground-breaking legislation, fresh investment and a target to cut rough sleeping by two thirds, which we hit a year early.

However, the time has now come to do better and to end rough sleeping so that no one need sleep on the streets. This is unfinished business for Labour, so today I have made a pledge on behalf of the Labour party that we will end rough sleeping within our first term back in government. This pledge is backed by a plan to double the capacity of the housing scheme ring-fenced for people with a history of rough sleeping. Yes, of course, more street rescue schemes, better access to healthcare and more secure homeless hostel funding are all needed, but we cannot help the homeless if we do not build the homes. Under Labour’s plan, 4,000 additional housing association homes would be earmarked for rough sleepers to help them move out of hostels and rebuild their lives, with Government funding new social rented homes to replace them.

That would be the first part of a new national rough sleeping strategy. It would, in fact, renew a stalled programme started by a Conservative Housing Minister, Sir George Young, in 1991. This clearing house scheme works across London, but it has never been set up in some of the other large cities in this country—cities such as Birmingham, Liverpool, Bristol and Leeds.

In conclusion, a Prime Minister who promises on the steps of Downing Street a country that works for everyone simply should not tolerate the scandal of today’s spiralling homelessness. The Government could do these things now. They would have wide support. The National Housing Federation has said today of Labour’s new plan that it will enable housing associations

“to boost their offer to the increasing numbers of rough sleepers.”

St Mungo’s, the largest homeless charity providing support for rough sleepers, says:

“We strongly welcome this commitment to ending rough sleeping and the call for a national rough sleeping strategy.”

We, too, would back the Government if they acted on Labour’s plan. Tackling homelessness can and should be a cross-party commitment, with a new national will to solve what is a growing problem. Let us hope that this debate helps start to forge exactly that shared determination.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London) 4:24 pm, 14th December 2016

I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “House” to the end of the Question and add:

“notes that homelessness is lower now than its peak in 2003-04;
further notes that England has a strong safety net, and that the provision of temporary accommodation means no family with a child ever has to be without a roof over their heads;
notes that the Government is going further with legislative protection by supporting the hon. Member for Harrow East’s Homelessness Reduction Bill to ensure that everyone gets the help they need to prevent or relieve their homelessness;
welcomes the Government's protection of £315 million homelessness prevention funding for local authorities and £149 million in central funding;
notes in particular the recently launched £50 million homelessness prevention programme, helping areas all over the country to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping;
and notes that one of the best ways to tackle homelessness is by increasing the housing supply, which the measures contained in the forthcoming Housing White Paper will address.”

Government Members welcome this debate. Nobody is hiding from the facts. Both statutory homelessness and rough sleeping are rising, and it is right that we discuss why that is happening and what we need to do to deal with it.

I want to start with a couple of party political points in response to some of the points that the shadow Housing Minister made, but then move on to talk about the substance of the issue and what needs to be done. The motion gives a slightly rose-tinted view of the record of the previous Labour Government. I am happy to give credit where it is due, and if Members will bear with me for a couple of minutes I will then happily take interventions. The motion would have us believe that from the moment the Labour party was elected, homelessness began to fall and continued to fall during its period in office. These are the facts.

In 1998, some 104,000 were people accepted as homeless. That figure rose throughout Labour’s first term in government until halfway through its second term, peaking at about 135,000 in 2003. Then, to their credit, the Government addressed it, and it fell significantly to 41,780 by 2010—[Interruption.] It is not insignificant at all, and I am happy to give credit for that.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London)

I will just finish the point and then I shall be happy to take interventions. The figure has risen since then to 56,500—not by as much as the motion suggests and certainly to nowhere near the record peak that it reached in Labour’s second term.

There are two other measures that we should look at, one of which is the measure of housing supply. The best measure of that are the net additions to the housing stock each year.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London)

I will cover the three points and then take the right hon. Gentleman’s intervention.

Over the course of the Labour Government, in the first year the figure was 149,000, then 148,000, and then 132,000, 146,000, 159,000, 170,000, 185,000, 202,000, 214,000, 223,000, 182,000 and 144,000 respectively. In not one year of those years did the previous Labour Government build enough homes, and in only three did they build more than the current Government are achieving—and that was at the height of an unsustainable housing boom that ended up crashing our economy.

The third measure by which we should assess the housing record of the previous Labour Government is affordability. In 1997, the ratio between median earnings and median house prices was 3.54. By 2010, it had increased to 7.01. I am happy to acknowledge that in the subsequent five years of the coalition Government it increased further to 7.63. Looking at all those three measures, while the Labour Government certainly did some good things, and I have no problem with giving them credit for that, the record is far less rosy than the motion suggests.

Photo of John Healey John Healey Shadow Secretary of State for Housing

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He sounds as though he is rehearsing to become the Chancellor giving an autumn statement or a Budget statement. This Government promised in their 2015 manifesto to see 1 million new homes built in this country. They are so far off track, even at the current levels, that it could take until 2025—five years late—to build the number of homes that are needed. The number of new affordable homes built is the lowest on record.

We are talking about homelessness. It is absolutely the case that when Labour came into government in 1997 we were faced with a rapidly rising trend of homelessness, just as we are faced with a rapidly rising trend of homelessness now. The difference was that Labour acted. The figure peaked in 2003, and homelessness over the next period was cut by two thirds. The question for the Minister is this: is he going to act now? Are the Government going to do anything about the rapidly rising and scandalously spiralling level of homelessness we see today?

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London)

That was a long intervention that did not refute any of the points, but let me deal quickly with each of them. First, on supply, the Government are behind but not way behind, as the right hon. Gentleman suggests they are. [Interruption.] In 2015-16, the first year of the five years of the Parliament, we delivered 190,000, exactly as Gloria De Piero has just said, and to meet the 1 million target we need to be at 200,000 a year. I will return to the subject of affordable homes later, if John Healey will bear with me. The fundamental point that I was trying to make is that we could do with a little less complacency from those on the Opposition Front Bench. [Interruption.] Bear with me for a second. There is no room for complacency on this side of the House, either.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London)

Let me develop the point; then I will happily give way.

Homelessness and rough sleeping are both rising. The right hon. Gentleman quoted the speech that the Prime Minister made on the steps of Downing Street, in which she said that the mission of this Government is to make Britain a country that works not for a privileged few, but for every one of us. Sorting out our failing housing market and tackling the moral stain of homelessness are central to that mission. I want to spend the rest of my speech setting out how we propose to do that, but first I give way.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his generosity today, as yesterday. I agree with him: Labour did not build enough housing units, and those of us then on the Back Benches pleaded with the Government to do so, as did my right hon. Friend John Healey. I welcome the recognition in the Conservative amendment that supply is absolutely crucial. Can I tempt the Minister to go a little further and announce that the Government will abandon the plans that have kept jacking up demand by processes such as Help to Buy, which simply increases prices and increases homelessness?

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London)

Until the hon. Gentleman’s last point, I was in complete agreement with him. He is definitely right to say that the main focus of housing policy should be supply, and when he sees the White Paper that the Secretary of State and I are working on, he will see that is the case. However, even if tomorrow we could start building in this country at the level that we need to build, we would have to do that for a number of years before there was an impact on affordability. To do as he suggests in the interim—give up any measures that are trying to help people to bridge the gap—would be a mistake, in my opinion.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London)

I shall make progress, and then I will happily take an intervention from the hon. Member for Ashfield.

I want to set out now the measures that the Government are taking to address this issue. First, we want to broaden the safety net and have more focus on prevention rather than cure. Current homelessness legislation gives local authorities responsibilities in relation to families, to people who are pregnant and to single people who are vulnerable. Other people fall through the gaps. The legislation also encourages councils to intervene at the point of crisis, not upstream when problems are first apparent. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend Bob Blackman is in the Chamber, but I think we would all give him great credit for the legislation that he is bringing forward, and the Government are very proud, in the 50th anniversary year of “Cathy Come Home”, to support that fundamental and important change to our legislation.

Photo of Wendy Morton Wendy Morton Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills

Does my hon. Friend agree that on the Friday when both sides of the Chamber came together to support the Homelessness Reduction Bill, the private Member’s Bill introduced by our hon. Friend Bob Blackman, it was a really positive day, and a good indication that both sides of the House can come, and are coming, together to tackle this issue?

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London)

There is actually much more that unites us on these issues than is sometimes apparent from our debates, and I understand that it is the job of those on the Opposition Front Bench to hold the Government to account.

Photo of Gloria De Piero Gloria De Piero Labour, Ashfield

Just one rough sleeper is too many, and there was one rough sleeper in Ashfield in 2010 when we left office. The number has now gone up to eight, and statutory homelessness has risen from 42 to 93. The record of the Labour Government was considerably better for those vulnerable people than the hon. Gentleman’s Government’s. Does he accept responsibility? What is his answer? Why has it happened?

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London)

I am the Housing Minister, so of course I accept responsibility. I think I speak for the Secretary of State as well: we were both appointed to these positions by the Prime Minister in July, and our focus is on solving the housing problems that this country faces, which I think are deep-seated. The truth is that we have not been building enough homes in this country for 30 or 40 years, under Governments of both colours, and that is the fundamental driver of the housing problems that we now experience.

Photo of Julian Knight Julian Knight Conservative, Solihull

My hon. Friend mentioned the Homelessness Reduction Bill that is passing through the House. I wonder whether he believes, as I do, that the most important thing about that is the fact that it mandates councils to provide 56 days of support to homeless individuals—for the first time, a really intense programme, to ensure that instead of no second night sleeping out, there is no first night sleeping out?

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London)

The Bill that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East has introduced does two fundamental things. First, it broadens the safety net and ensures that single people do not fall through the gaps. Secondly, as my hon. Friend Julian Knight says, it encourages councils to intervene upstream to try to prevent homelessness.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London)

If hon. Members are happy for me to do so, I will make a bit of progress before taking further interventions. I will come next to my neighbour, Tom Brake.

I have set out the first thing that the Government are doing. Secondly, as the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne acknowledged, we have protected homelessness prevention funding for local authorities—nearly £390 million in this Parliament. Thirdly, we have increased central Government programmes. The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced an extra £10 million in the autumn statement, bringing the total to £150 million over this Parliament. Fourthly, in relation to welfare reform, we have increased discretionary housing payments to £870 million over this Parliament; that is a 55% increase. I was surprised to see when I was briefed for this debate that 60% of local authorities are not currently spending their full allocation.

Fifthly, we are looking at the way in which Government fund local authorities in relation to temporary accommodation. We are looking at replacing the DWP temporary accommodation management fee with a grant from the Department, which will be more than an equivalent amount of funding but will introduce much greater flexibility. Some hon. Members may have received a briefing from the Mayor of London today welcoming that change.

Since the Secretary of State was appointed, we have taken a fresh approach to supported housing, ensuring that the local housing allowance cap will not apply and moving to a new model of funding that is based on current LHA levels but, crucially, topped up by a ring-fenced grant. I think we would all acknowledge the fundamental role that supported housing plays for some of the most vulnerable people in our constituencies. It is absolutely crucial that we get the detail of the new funding regime right, and the ministerial team are determined to ensure that we do so. I encourage all hon. Members to take part in the consultation.

The right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne talked about a pledge that he had made. To a degree, it developed an announcement made by the former Chancellor at Budget ’16 of a £100 million fund to create 2,000 places in low-cost rented accommodation for rough sleepers in hostels and, crucially, for domestic abuse victims in refuges, so that we can move people on from short-term accommodation into permanent solutions. At this point, I happily give way to the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I thank my neighbour for giving way, and I appreciate what he has just said about supporting vulnerable people. He will know, because I made it earlier, that this intervention is about the question of housing benefit for under-21s. I do not quite understand how that fits into the Government’s homelessness prevention programme. Does he recognise that, as charities have suggested, if just 140 extra young people are made homeless as a result of the change, it will cost more than the Government will save?

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London)

My right hon. Friend—I can call the right hon. Gentleman that—will be aware because he served with us in coalition for five years that what the Government are trying to do is to switch from the high-tax, high-welfare, low-wage economy that we inherited in 2010 to one in which people are paid more and keep a much greater proportion of what they earn.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London)

To be fair, I am still trying to answer the right hon. Gentleman’s question. We are trying to reduce the welfare bill, and to ensure that we have a fair welfare system that provides help and support to people but does not treat them more generously than others in an equivalent position who are not on welfare could expect to be treated. That is what is behind those changes. I will make a bit of progress, and then I will happily come back to Graham Jones.

I have been working my way through the list of measures that the Government are taking, and next up is our attempt to deal with the up-front cost of accessing the private rented sector. One shocking thing, which underlines the point that Rob Marris made, is the fact that the main cause of statutory homelessness is the loss of a private rented sector tenancy. That shows how the supply issue is absolutely driving the rise in statutory homelessness. Rough sleeping is a different matter, and the acute housing problem faced by people who are sleeping on our streets is nearly always a symptom of a wider problem in terms of mental health or drug or alcohol addiction. Indeed, the briefing that I had from my officials suggested that in London, nearly 60% of rough sleepers are not UK nationals, so issues in our migration system contribute to that. In terms of dealing with statutory homelessness, access to the private rented sector is key. That is why the Chancellor’s announcement in the autumn statement about letting agent fees—I am sure the Opposition welcome that announcement—is an important step.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Crime and Prevention)

The Minister is a London MP, like me, and he has mentioned London. Has he in his surgeries found an increasing number of cases of entire families having to be moved to hostels with no recourse to public funds, which is entirely illogical? Does he not recognise the dismay there will be in Ealing about the mention of the borough in Prime Minister’s questions today? The Prime Minister appeared to blame the local authority for the £180 million cut to its budget. We have 12,000 people on our waiting list, and the cost of buying a home is very high, so does he not recognise that people will be dismayed about what has come out of the Government today?

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London)

I am embarrassed to say that I was not present for Prime Minister’s questions. There was a memorial service for the victims of the Croydon tram crash, which is why I am dressed in this way, and that is where I was. I therefore cannot respond to the hon. Lady’s point about PMQs. However, I can say that, as a London MP, I see every week in my surgeries and in my case load the consequences of the long-standing failure in this country, for 30 or 40 years, to build the homes we need. That has happened under Governments of all kinds—

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London)

Let me just finish making this point.

London is the part of the country where the gap between what we need to build and what we are actually building is at its most acute. I am sure that I am also speaking for the Secretary of State when I say that I get up every morning thinking about what we can do to sort out this problem. It is my sole focus, and I will come on in a moment to address the issue of supply. Before I do so, I am very happy to give way to Heidi Alexander, who is another fine south London MP.

Photo of Heidi Alexander Heidi Alexander Labour, Lewisham East

I find it absolutely remarkable that the Minister is trying to absolve the previous Government of any responsibility for the housing crisis that we now face. My recollection is that, in 2011, his Government cut the national affordable house building programme by 63%. Will he set out the consequences of that on the supply of genuinely affordable homes?

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London)

If the hon. Lady will bear with me, I will return to that central question at the end of my speech.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London)

I am still responding to the hon. Lady. I cannot make myself any clearer, but if she thinks that I am absolving the previous Government of responsibility, I am absolutely not trying to do so. Let me say it one more time, so that nobody can be in any doubt about this: we have not built enough homes in this country for 30 or 40 years, and all the Governments covering the period share responsibility for that. If she wants me to offer some defences, I would say in defence of the previous Prime Minister, the previous Chancellor and my predecessors as Housing Ministers that they inherited a situation, after the worst economic crash in generations, in which the priority had to be to reduce the deficit. I will come on to the affordable housing numbers, and I hope my answer will satisfy the hon. Lady.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Daniel Poulter Daniel Poulter Conservative, Central Suffolk and North Ipswich

I thought the Minister was ignoring me, but I am sure he was not doing so. I commend his positive and constructive approach to this debate; indeed, the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman also took such an approach. The Minister has mentioned rough sleeping and the need to move from crisis to preventive measures. In that connection, will he reflect on the fragmentation of the alcohol and drug rehabilitation services commissioned by local authorities and on the fact that those services are completely disengaged from what is happening in mental health trusts and the NHS, with people falling between the cracks? That needs to be addressed.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London)

I am very glad that I took an intervention from my hon. Friend, because he speaks with real authority on mental health issues. He is absolutely right that we need to look at ways in which we can achieve better integration of services. Many of the people we are talking about have profound and multiple needs, and we must ensure that all the relevant agencies are working together.

If the House will bear with me—I know many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate—I just want to make some final remarks to address the question asked by the hon. Member for Lewisham East. The fundamental thing we need to do is to drive up supply, and we will set out in a White Paper in the new year exactly how we propose to do that. Let me say a word specifically about affordable housing, on which the hon. Lady was pushing me. The autumn statement included three key announcements, one of which was about the flexibility of tenure. We inherited an affordable housing programme focused solely on shared ownership, but we have switched it so that housing associations can bid for affordable rent, rent to buy, shared ownership or whatever is most appropriate in their areas. The Chancellor has added an extra £1.4 billion to the affordable housing programme. As I made clear in an intervention on the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne, we have also announced the London allocation of £3.5 billion, which is 43% of the national budget. As I said, if hon. Members do not wish to take my word for it, let me quote the Labour Mayor of London:

“This is the largest sum of money ever secured by City Hall to deliver affordable housing.”

He made that statement before London has got its share of the extra £1.4 billion that the Chancellor announced in the autumn statement.

Let me end by dealing with the issue of affordable housing supply. The right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne was right on one statistic at least: the 2015-16 figures on affordable housing were very low—unacceptably low. That was because we finished one programme the previous year and the new programme was late starting. That is a feeble excuse, and the Secretary of State and I are determined to ensure it does not happen again.

To set out the facts, in three of the five years of the coalition Government, we built more affordable homes than in any of the last nine years of the Labour Government. The record of the Government since 2010—I am very happy to give some credit to our coalition partners—is that we have delivered significantly more affordable housing than was delivered, on average, over the last nine years of the Labour Government. I do not have the figures for before 2001. We have just put extra money into the budget, so we should be able to drive up supply.

I will end by making this point.

Photo of Gavin Barwell Gavin Barwell Minister of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Housing, Planning and London)

No, I am drawing my remarks to a close.

What we need in this country—the hon. Member for Lewisham East was quite right—is more homes of every single kind. We need more homes for people to buy, more homes for private rent, more affordable homes at sub-market rents and more shared ownership homes. We need more homes of every single kind. We are determined to achieve that and, at the same time, to provide the crucial support on our streets to deal with the immediate acute crisis. To end on a positive note, I hope we can build a coalition around the vital change we need in our country to get us building the homes we so desperately need.

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment) 4:46 pm, 14th December 2016

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate about homelessness and I thank the Labour party for bringing it to the House. I congratulate John Healey on his contribution. It is a pleasure to follow my parliamentary football colleague, the Minister. The thoughts of all those on the SNP Benches are with the families of the victims of the Croydon tram crash on the day of the memorial service.

Although we would prefer it if the motion focused more on the causes of homelessness, including the brutal benefit sanctions regime and the years of imposed austerity, we will support it tonight in solidarity, as we believe that action must be taken by the UK Government to drive down homelessness. That must include moving urgently to address the regressive cuts to the system that is supposed to support, not punish, the disadvantaged.

Before I begin, I wish to highlight one aspect of the Labour motion that is particularly troubling for me and for others across the House: the prospect of children being without safe, warm and secure housing at any time, but particularly at Christmas. Before we retreat into our party political trenches, I hope we can all agree that that is unacceptable and must be addressed. In Scotland, the number of children living in temporary accommodation has fallen since 2007.

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan Conservative, Chippenham

The hon. Gentleman said that the Government should be doing more to reduce homelessness. Does he accept that we are working on a cross-party basis to reduce homelessness at the Committee stage of the Homelessness Reduction Bill, which is supported by the Government?

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment)

Absolutely, I acknowledge that. Indeed, my hon. Friend Alison Thewliss sits on the Bill Committee, so it is something that we are working on constructively. I will come on to other areas where I believe the Government should be doing more to address the issues we face.

Housing matters are devolved to each nation of the UK, so this debate offers me the chance to focus on what actions the Scottish Government have taken, using those powers, to address the problem of homelessness when it arises and to prevent it from occurring in the first place. Although housing policy is devolved, the reasons for homelessness are largely, in the public policy sense, the result of decisions taken here.

Homelessness can take many forms and has a variety of causes and consequences. Although it is sometimes thought of as referring only to those sleeping rough on the streets, an assortment of circumstances can lead to an individual being classed as homeless. Many live in temporary accommodation or stay on friends’ floors or with family, sometimes in precarious arrangements. Under the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987, a person should be treated as homeless even if they have accommodation if it would not be reasonable for them to continue to occupy it.

Just as countless types of people can find themselves forced to seek asylum or to migrate to another country when their circumstances change, homelessness can affect almost anyone, and for a number of reasons, such as domestic abuse, marital breakdown, disputes with neighbours, bereavement of a family member and loss of income—those are among the many reasons why someone could find themselves unable to remain in their current property and in need of support.

The key difference in the approach to homelessness prevention in Scotland from that in the other three nations of the UK is that local authorities have a duty towards all unintentionally homeless households, irrespective of whether they are classed as being a priority need. Clearly, for any individual or family, regardless of any other criteria, the prospect of losing the roof over their head means they should be entitled to all possible support in finding alternative accommodation. The abolition of the priority need criterion was described by Shelter as providing

“the best homelessness law in Europe.”

According to figures from Crisis from April 2016, homelessness in Scotland has been on “a marked downward path” for the past five years. Crisis has attributed that decline to the introduction of the housing options model, a process in Scotland that starts with giving housing advice to someone with a housing problem who approaches their local authority, to look at an individual’s options, given their circumstances, so as to match things up best and spot any warning signs for potential problems at an early stage.

In that regard, the most significant action has been the abolition of the right-to-buy scheme in Scotland. Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, argues that

“as the decades passed, it became clear that the impact of right-to-buy was to create more losers than winners in our housing system, significantly undermining wider efforts to improve social justice in Scotland…The initiative saw three social homes being sold for every new one built, representing poor value for increasingly limited public money…During the right-to-buy era, homelessness numbers soared and today still remain at levels far beyond those in 1980.”

By abolishing the right to buy the Scottish Government will help to ensure that there is a sufficient supply of local authority housing stock, at an affordable rent and with secure tenancies, to help alleviate some of the causes of potential homelessness that come with expensive private rents and the uncertainty about the long term that short-term tenancies can bring.

The Scottish National party is already committed to investing more than £3 billion over the lifetime of this Parliament to deliver at least 50,000 affordable homes, with 35,000 for social rent. Housing supply is key to the matter before us today, which is why I am heartened by the statistics released as national statistics for Scotland this week showing that social house building is up in Scotland by 77% in April to June this year, with a 26% increase in starts on council homes to September.

As well as dealing with the right to buy, the SNP Government have attempted to address another factor behind homelessness by using their limited powers to mitigate the impact of the Tory bedroom tax. Numerous homelessness charities, including Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, have said that that hated policy is partly responsible for the rise in homelessness across the UK since the start of this decade. The UK Government’s own research from December 2015 found that on average only 0.5% of those affected by the bedroom tax have been able to move from their home; the vast majority of those affected by the cut have had to live with a reduced income, unable to move because of family proximity, school, work and the shortage of appropriate housing.

Last year the Scottish Government provided an additional £35 million fully to mitigate the cost of the bedroom tax, with £90 million invested in that mitigation since 2013. Around 72,000 households in Scotland have been helped through this additional funding, with about 80% of recipients being disabled adults and about 11,000 of them being households with one or more children. Abolishing the bedroom tax in full will be one of the first priorities once the transfer of limited social security powers to the Scottish Government is completed.

The recent debate on the state of the social security system, particularly as it affects those unfit for work, provoked by Ken Loach’s film, “I, Daniel Blake”, casts our minds back to his earlier televised play, “Cathy Come Home”, which the Minister mentioned, and which, in a similar social realist way, helped to highlight the problem of homelessness in 1960s Britain. There is clearly a connection between these two works. Both highlight the importance of a strong social security system to helping avoid such problems, and both illustrate what happens when a Government’s approach to an issue fails fully to take into account people’s individual circumstances.

The private Member’s Bill introduced by my hon. Friend Mhairi Black on 2 December, which the SNP supported, sought to do just that by establishing a sanctions review system whereby an individual’s circumstances would be taken into account before a sanction decision could be made. Such a review would include considering whether someone is at risk of homelessness and would go some way to personalising the sanctions system, although we would obviously prefer that it be scrapped altogether.

The Tory Government’s sanctions regime has had many catastrophic consequences for families across the UK, and clearly the increase in homelessness must be considered among the most serious. The regime has left individuals and families, often already vulnerable, without money for weeks on end, at a time when they are often being hounded by predators, such as payday loan companies, and can often lead to rent arrears and spiralling debt that can create a downward spiral leading to eviction.

In December 2015, research for the homelessness charity Crisis carried out by Sheffield Hallam University found that 21% of people sanctioned in the last year had become homeless as a result and that 16% of those sanctioned had been forced to sleep rough. Only last month, in response to the National Audit Office report that suggested there was no evidence that sanctions worked, Mr Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said:

“We know from our own research that benefit sanctions are a cause of homelessness and have a significant impact on vulnerable people – including those who are already homeless, care leavers and people with mental ill health”.

For anyone in such a position, losing the support of benefits can be disastrous and make it even harder to find work.

The SNP is clear about the damage caused by UK social security cuts and will keep working with stakeholders to understand the impact of the UK Government’s planned local housing allowance changes on social tenants in Scotland. The proposed capping will lock those who need support out of either seeking it or being able to afford it.

Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Conservative, Enfield, Southgate

On the point about sanctions for those with mental health issues and homeless people, does the hon. Gentleman welcome the recent announcement by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions of a discretionary fund to help support them when they are at their most vulnerable?

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment)

Yes, but it is clearly an acknowledgement that the system has not worked for these people. With respect, any move to get rid of the sanctions regime is obviously welcome, but far more needs to be done.

The gap between the LHA paid and the price of supported housing could see many at-risk individuals not receive the support they need from a residential tenancy. A sample study carried out by the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations found that associations in Scotland that provided supported accommodation could lose between £5.2 million and £14.3 million per year. From 2019, the resources for supported accommodation will transfer to the Scottish Government. We are left with great concern about the LHA levels.

The Scottish Government have said that, once they have further details, they will work with their partners to ensure that supported accommodation is put on a secure and sustainable future for the longer term. With the cost of living set to rise, damning forecasts for the UK economy and little cheer in the autumn statement for low-income families, as we heard in the previous debate, it is important that the UK Government realise the damaging impact that austerity is having up and down the country in a variety of ways. This debate has helped to highlight this damage in the crucial area of homelessness. The UK Government should have little to ponder when they consider the growing emergence of people just about managing.

In the time left, I wish to touch briefly on a more general discussion about homelessness, looking at things from the individual’s point of view and understanding both the underlying causes and consequences of homelessness, which can be harder to quantify and address.

Crisis has carried out numerous pieces of important research on the causes and consequences, which have uncovered some particularly depressing statistics. On average, homeless people die at 47 years old, 30 years before the national average of 77. However, poor physical or mental health, along with dependency issues, are problems for the entire homeless population, whether they are sleeping rough on the streets, in hostels or in temporary accommodation.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful case, but just to correct that point, it is rough sleepers who are likely to die at the age of 46, which is a tragedy in this day and age. The figures that he is probably looking at relate to the problems of so-called sofa surfers, who are those sleeping with friends or family or anywhere else they can find. The figures for those people, although they are homeless, are not as bad. We need to narrow the focus on to the problems faced by rough sleepers on the streets.

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I am happy to confirm that, as I have said, homeless people die at 47 years old, and there are issues with life chances whether people are rough sleeping or living in temporary accommodation of varying standards. I think that is a point he will agree with—he is nodding.

Physical disabilities, mental ill health or dependency issues can also trigger, or be part of, a chain of events that lead to someone becoming homeless. Such problems can make it more difficult for people to engage with services and get the help and support they need. Too often services are not set up to respond to the particular, individualised needs of homeless people. Two thirds of homeless people cite drug or alcohol use as a reason for first becoming homeless and those who use drugs are seven times more likely to be homeless than the general population. There are high levels of stress and mental illness associated with being homeless, and it is not uncommon for those traumatised by homelessness to seek solace in drug or alcohol abuse thereafter. Indeed, 27% of homeless people surveyed reported having or recovering from an alcohol problem and 39% reported taking drugs or are recovering from a drug problem.

Although a small percentage of those classed as homeless are sleeping rough on the streets—it is all too high a percentage nevertheless—it is worth remembering the challenges and problems that such an dreadful situation brings and what needs to be done to address it. The 2011 report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, “Tackling homelessness and exclusion: Understanding complex lives”, helped to highlight

“extreme forms of homelessness and other support needs,” and the

“nearly half of service users reporting experience of institutional care, substance misuse, and street activities (such as begging), as well as homelessness.”

In conclusion, the additional challenges and underlying issues mean that while everything must be done by both the Scottish and UK Governments to ensure that a strong safety net is in place for those facing the prospect of homelessness and measures to deal with it, as a society we must also understand and seek to address the underlying causes and consequences that some of those caught up in this horrendous situation face, by ensuring that all individuals can access support from the agencies best placed to assist them.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Order. On account of the number of would-be contributors to this debate, I am afraid there will have to be a five-minute time limit on Back-Bench speeches with immediate effect, but we will do our best to accommodate everybody.

Photo of David Mackintosh David Mackintosh Conservative, Northampton South 5:03 pm, 14th December 2016

I welcome this debate brought forward by the Opposition. I have always said that one person who is homeless is one too many, so every opportunity we have to highlight this problem of modern society is helpful.

As we approach Christmas, I know that all those taking part in this debate will be particularly mindful of the human stories behind the statistics. I have one story at the forefront of my mind. On 31 October, I took part in a sleep-out organised by the charity Depaul at Lord’s cricket ground. I left here after the late night Monday votes and slept rough for the night. It gives us some insight into the horrible realities, but I knew that it was for only one night and that I would be back in a warm bed the next night.

After sleeping rough, I was a little tired and jaded, but I was back here the following day, and my first job was to speak at a conference on homelessness at a hotel just over Westminster bridge. As I walked over with my assistant, we both saw that a homeless person was on the street, but it was clear to us that they had sadly passed away. I do not know the name of that person, who they were or where they came from, but I know that while I was sleeping rough just a few miles away, this homeless person had been out in the cold and the wet, and died in the sight of Parliament and in earshot of Big Ben. My assistant and I were horrified to witness that visible example of the plight of homeless people on our streets, and in recent weeks, I have read about other cases in other cities.

I do not profess to have all the answers to solve this social problem, but I do know that we should not let these people die in vain. For their memory’s sake, we should continue to do all we can to prevent people from becoming homeless and to address the many complex causes and challenges that lead to people becoming homeless in the first place.

We should also recognise the work that we have collectively already done. As has been mentioned, on 28 October hon. Members agreed the Second Reading of the Homelessness Reduction Bill, a private Member’s Bill promoted by my hon. Friend Bob Blackman. We all know how important Fridays are for our constituency work, but to see over 150 MPs here on that day was proof that the issues are being taken seriously by all Members. The Government’s support for that Bill is part of a package of measures, which I welcome. I am pleased to serve with other hon. Members of all parties on the Public Bill Committee. The Bill is being looked at in great detail, with cross-party support and a positive approach to improving things.

The Bill will ensure that councils can help even more people and will introduce a duty on local housing authorities to take reasonable steps to help anyone at risk of homelessness to retain or secure accommodation 56 days before they become homeless. It will require councils to take reasonable steps to provide support to any eligible people who find themselves homeless for a further period of 56 days, to help them secure accommodation.

I am pleased that the Government have, alongside supporting the Bill, announced a number of other measures and funding to help address homelessness and its causes. They are providing £500 million to prevent and reduce homelessness over this Parliament, as well as introducing a number of other schemes.

The Department for Work and Pensions temporary accommodation management fee is being replaced with a new Department for Communities and Local Government grant. That means that current levels of funding will be protected, but that an additional £10 million of funding will be introduced for areas with the highest pressures. The new grant will give local authorities more flexibility in managing homelessness pressures.

Central Government funding of £149 million will target prevention and reduction programmes in different ways. The £20 million trailblazer programme, for example, will enable councils to work together with other agencies to prevent homelessness in their area, while the £20 million rough sleeping fund will help those at imminent risk of homelessness or those new to the streets, and the £10 million social impact bond will help rough sleepers with complex needs. In addition, a total of £100 million will help provide 2,000 places in low-cost rented accommodation to help people move on from hostels and domestic abuse refuges towards independent living. Young people are particularly vulnerable, and it is important that they are supported into education and employment. The £40 million of funding for the Homelessness Change and Platform for Life programmes will support young people to improve their lives.

I am pleased that the Homelessness Reduction Bill will give local authorities new responsibility and new funding, but despite the challenges, I am pleased that local authorities have helped to prevent more than 1 million people from becoming homeless since 2010. I recognise that there is more work to be done and that debates such as today’s help us to keep the issue at the forefront of all our minds. We know, however, that homelessness is often not the result of one factor alone, because it is a complex issue. I am pleased that we are talking about it today.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North 5:08 pm, 14th December 2016

I congratulate the Opposition Front-Bench team on their continued focus on the issue of homelessness and on the initiative to tackle rough sleeping. Speaking as an MP representing the borough of Westminster, nobody could welcome that more than me. Westminster City Council is, of course, at the frontline of the national crisis in rough sleeping. The council’s draft rough sleeping strategy, which is currently under consideration, shows that 3,000 people sleep rough over the course of a year—300 on any given night—and reminds us of the many complex causes and drivers that have led to the recent rise in homelessness. Colleagues have mentioned some of those factors, but one particular figure jumped out at me as an example of how the Government could learn about the importance of interconnecting services and the role that other Departments’ actions play: a third of rough sleepers in Westminster—32%—have been in prison. It is absolutely extraordinary that we are incapable of preventing people who have come out of prison from ending up on the streets. One in four rough sleepers in Westminster has been assessed as being at a high risk of reoffending, so it is clearly in our public interest to ensure that the crisis does not continue.

Rough sleeping is only the tip of the iceberg, however, and I want to spend a couple of minutes on the issues that were brought out by the “Temporary Accommodation in London” report by Julie Rugg of the University of York. It tells us about the drivers of family homelessness in London and points out that one in 10 Londoners are on a social housing waiting list and that homelessness acceptances have risen by 77% since 2010. Why is that? We have already talked about supply, repeating the figures and comparing records, so I do not want to do that again, but the Government must properly understand affordability. Even if supply grows—welcome though that will be—if accommodation is unaffordable for people at the lower end of the income spectrum, that will not solve homelessness and the Homelessness Reduction Bill, which we are coalescing around and want to see succeed, will be swimming against the tide.

The Rugg report also helps us to understand that the cuts to social security benefits and the local housing allowance, the benefit cap and other policies are driving homelessness, making it impossible for people on lower incomes to afford accommodation and causing landlords to withdraw from letting private rented accommodation to people on low incomes. According to the Residential Landlords Association, a staggering 81% of landlords are unwilling to consider homeless people on housing benefit because of the threat to their income from universal credit. In inner London, only 7% or 9% of accommodation—I do not have the figure in front of me, but the proportion is ridiculously small—is available to people on lower incomes. When the Welfare Reform Act 2012 went through Parliament, we were told that rents would fall as cuts to housing benefit were applied, but the opposite has happened: rents in London went up by 32% in outer London and 39% in inner London. That is a cause of homelessness, and the situation will get worse unless we do something about it.

The problem is not only leading to individual homelessness but costing local authorities money. London local authorities alone have spent £665 million on homelessness. Discretionary housing payments are always put forward by the Government as the solution to all the problems, but they are not, because they are temporary by definition. Until the Government understand that local authorities will not use discretionary housing payments to solve the crisis because of their temporary nature, we will end up repeating the problems.

Unfortunately, I do not have much time to talk about temporary accommodation and the fact that the squeeze on local authorities is leading to families spending this Christmas in appalling conditions. In particular, I ask the Minister to help me deal with A2Dominion, a housing association that is leaving many residents without heating in damp and mouldy accommodation. Children and families should not be spending Christmas homeless on the street, in bed and breakfasts or in nightly booked and insecure temporary accommodation. They are doing so in record numbers, and the Government must act not only through the Department for Communities and Local Government, but by co-ordinating with all the other Departments that contribute to the problem through their actions.

Photo of Will Quince Will Quince Conservative, Colchester 5:13 pm, 14th December 2016

It is a pleasure to follow Ms Buck. I entirely agree with her that nobody likes to think of anybody sleeping rough at this time of year or over Christmas. Rough sleeping is the most visible element of homelessness, but she rightly pointed out that we must not forget those who are sofa-surfing or in temporary accommodation up and down the country.

I have been impressed by the tone of the debate so far, and it is important to note that no one party has a monopoly on compassion. Let me be absolutely clear: no Member of this House wants to see anybody sleeping rough on our streets or not having a home.

In order to tackle homelessness, we need to get to the bottom of it and understand it. That is not about attributing blame; it is about understanding the complex issues and circumstances that lead to homelessness. Fifty years on from the gritty BBC drama “Cathy Come Home”, where we saw life events such as homelessness, family breakdown and Cathy losing her children, how can we have people sleeping rough on our streets in the fifth largest economy in the world? “Cathy Come Home” brought homelessness to the attention of the public via their TVs and gave the issue nationwide awareness, but 50 years on, have we forgotten? Do we see the people sleeping on cardboard on our streets when we walk past? Do we really stop to think as we dismiss another homeless person who asks us for the change in our pockets? Do we judge those we see shooting up or drinking high-strength lager in doorways? Are they someone else’s problem? Is this the result of their bad life choices? Is it really nothing to do with us?

Hon. Members should not think for a minute that I am being holier-than-thou, sanctimonious or in some way patronising, because I openly admit that I have done it, too; sometimes it is easier to walk on, close our eyes and pretend that we do not see the great stain on our humanity that is rough sleeping and the fact that in this relatively wealthy country, people are sleeping on our streets in sub-zero temperatures, open to the elements and to assault, abuse, violence and sexual assault.

We hear that we have actually gone much further than just closing our eyes and that councils up and down the country, of all political colours, are fining homeless people just for being homeless, that we are confiscating their sleeping bags and bedding, and that there are companies in this city erecting anti-rough-sleeping spikes in doorways. Have we lost our humanity? I am pleased to say that I do not think we have, because charities and voluntary groups up and down the country, including several in my constituency, work tirelessly, night and day, running soup kitchens, shelters and other facilities.

I had a recent experience when a lady approached me while I was waiting for the 91 bus opposite Charing Cross station. I thought she wanted money, but she did not, and we talked for 10 or so minutes. She asked whether she could have a hug, and I said, “Of course.” I was a little bemused and taken aback, but what she was really saying was, “Thank you for treating me like a human being. Thank you for not just stopping and ignoring me.” She never asked for money; at that point in time she was just a woman down on her luck, feeling isolated and forgotten by society, reaching out in the hope that someone would see her and listen to her plight.

As I said, the issues we are dealing with are numerous and complex. I am very proud to serve on the all-party group for ending homelessness and on the Homelessness Reduction Bill Committee, along with my hon. Friends the Members for Northampton South (David Mackintosh) and for Harrow East (Bob Blackman). The Bill is one part of the solution in tackling homelessness. We know that the leading cause of homelessness is the ending of an assured shorthold tenancy, and the Bill will mean that councils will have to give consistent advice and no longer advise tenants to stay put until the bailiffs arrive.

Photo of David Mackintosh David Mackintosh Conservative, Northampton South

Does my hon. Friend agree that section 21 notices are often the cause of people becoming homeless?

Photo of Will Quince Will Quince Conservative, Colchester

My hon. Friend is absolutely right; we know that the largest cause of homelessness is the ending of a tenancy, largely via a section 21 notice. The system whereby an individual comes to their council for assistance at the earliest possible opportunity when they get into trouble, and the council turns them away and says, “Come back when the bailiffs are knocking on your door”—at which point the person has arrears and a county court judgment against their name, and will never again be able to rent in the private rented sector—is failing those individuals, and it has to stop. The Government have already taken a large number of steps to tackle homelessness, and I will not repeat them, as my hon. Friend made them clear. Are they enough? Clearly they are not, as there is always more than we can do.

I am conscious that I have less than a minute left to speak, so I just want to touch on the private rented sector. I have mentioned that it is part of the problem, and we need to examine security of tenure and rent deposit schemes. We have a scheme for mortgages, via Help to Buy, and we should consider a help to rent scheme or a help to rent ISA. We need to work with the Council of Mortgage Lenders and insurers to lift the restriction on buy-to-let property owners offering assured shorthold tenancies of more than a year.

I am conscious that my time is up, but I will end by saying that prevention is absolutely key and that providing assistance at the first available opportunity is so, so important. The Bill is a step in the right direction, but there is still much more to do.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Labour) 5:19 pm, 14th December 2016

On 29 November, a young man froze to death in John Bright Street in central Birmingham. Sadly, there is worse to come in Birmingham. If the Government go ahead with the biggest cuts to any council in local government history, particularly cuts to supported housing, it will mean—in the words of Alan Fraser, the chief executive of the YMCA—that “more will die”. Mark Rogers, chief executive of Birmingham City Council said that there will be “catastrophic consequences”.

I was born under Clement Attlee and I grew up under Harold Macmillan. It was an era in which a Conservative Government, following in the footsteps of a Labour Government, built homes on a grand scale—homes fit for heroes. I never thought that, in my lifetime, we would see programmes such as “Cathy Come Home”—that happened in the 1960s—and the office block speculation that happened in London in the 1970s, when homelessness was rapidly rising. I am proud to say that I was one of those who occupied Centrepoint in opposition to what was going on.

People on both sides of this House have been passionate about the cause of homelessness over many years. I have to say that I am proud of what Labour did in government, even if we did not go far enough. I am proud of the fact that we built 2 million more houses, that we created 1 million more homeowners, that we improved 1.8 million social homes and brought them up to a decent homes standard and that we cut rough sleeping by three quarters. It was a generation of progress.

When the coalition Government took power in 2010, they should have invested in a major house building programme, but, in a bid to get the economy moving, we saw exactly the reverse: home ownership falling; social housing in crisis with 140,000 fewer homes; a rapidly growing private rented sector, characterised by soaring rents, with the average tenant paying £2,000 more over the past five years; insecurity; and often poor accommodation. All those things have contributed towards growing homelessness and the doubling of rough sleeping.

Mr Speaker, you were good enough to preside over the opening session of the first ever homeless young people’s parliament in Parliament in 2012. It was a deeply moving occasion, and it challenged the caricature that, somehow, all young homeless people are druggies, drunks and drop-outs. Many of them were quintessentially middle England and middle Scotland. Their lives had fallen apart because their families had broken up. What came out of that Parliament was: hear our voice; more affordable homes; and do not cut desperately needed benefit for young people.

After the young man died in Birmingham, the Secretary of State said that it was wrong and that we should do more. The problem is that the Government are doing less. Coming back to the city of Birmingham, which I am proud to represent, £800 million has been cut from its budget. Fourteen charities wrote only yesterday to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government saying that, thus far, the council has been able to protect the supported housing budget, but it will not be able to continue to do so. The consequences will be serious. There will be the same risk of another young man or young woman dying a terrible, cold death on the streets of the city.

Photo of Christina Rees Christina Rees Shadow Minister (Justice)

Does my hon. Friend agree that prevention is the key? The UK Government could look to the Welsh Labour Government, who in their Housing (Wales) Act 2014 have pledged £5.6 million in the first year and £3 million in the second year, despite cuts from the UK Government, to fund affordable rent as well as affordable homes to buy. They also pledged not to force local authorities to sell vacant properties to the highest bidder.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Labour)

The costs of homelessness, in both financial and human terms, are infinitely greater than investing in preventing homelessness in the first place. My hon. Friend is absolutely right and I applaud the Administration in Wales for what they have done.

It is too late, as Christmas looms, to bring back that young man. It is too late, sadly, to avoid what my hon. Friend Ms Buck referred to as the tragedy of 120,000 children waking up on Christmas day in temporary accommodation, much of it inferior and cramped. They are looking forward to going home after school and celebrating the day, only to be in temporary accommodation. It is too late, but the Government can do more, beginning, crucially, with the announcement tomorrow of the communities and local government settlement for the great city of Birmingham.

The next stage—the Opposition will certainly champion this—is to develop the great national will to build the homes that our country needs; to create the jobs needed to build homes; and to provide security and warmth, and all those things that matter to us and to the people we represent. Never again should someone like that young man die, but the Government have to act and do more.

Photo of Derek Thomas Derek Thomas Conservative, St Ives 5:26 pm, 14th December 2016

Penzance in my constituency is often referred to as being at the end of the line. Despite the beauty and charm that attracts people when they choose a holiday destination, we are not spared the challenges, not least the difficulties experienced by many people and that result in their sleeping rough. In fact, we are often described as the end of the line because that is exactly what happens: people get on the train and stay on it until they reach Penzance, and then they sleep rough and are homeless in my beautiful part of the world, which has, however, a lot of hidden poverty.

In a civilised society, it is not right that some people have no choice but to sleep rough. The challenge is much greater than providing a roof over someone’s head. In recent months, I have taken a close look at the homelessness and rough sleeping issues in Penzance and other towns in my constituency. I have looked at the issues facing rough sleepers, and I have spoken to the police and to rough sleepers themselves. I spent a couple of days in the recent recess going out early in the morning and talking to them to find out what their problems were and how they reached that point. I have also spoken to charities and Church groups that provide support—an incredible number of resources and services are available for people in far-west Cornwall—as well as housing providers.

There are many reasons why people become homeless. Some of them struggle to adjust when their jobs change. I met a fisherman who, once he had finished fishing, could not settle into what we would describe as normal life. There are many foreign nationals in our part of the world. We have a lot of transient workers and people who work on part-time contracts for farmers. At the end of the season, they often do not have anywhere to go and they find themselves living rough.

As has been said, former prisoners are often homeless. I met a former prisoner who could not find the help that he needed to re-establish his life and rehabilitate himself. Because we are at the end of the line, highly skilled and well-paid people who want a change of lifestyle come to Cornwall to find one, but it does not go right, their money disappears and they have nowhere to go. All their bridges are burnt.

Another cause of rough sleeping and homelessness, as has been discussed, is family break-up. Many families break up, and young people and even partners have to find somewhere to live, but there is nothing available for them. They are at a stage in life where they did not expect that to happen.

Sometimes a debt-fuelled life hits crisis point. I have met people who were just about managing, but an accident or something else happened in the family and they suddenly experienced a loss of earnings and everything went downhill very quickly. Domestic violence, drug and alcohol dependency and mental health problems can also be a trigger. People get to the point where they cannot cope: they try to keep everything together, but they cannot manage household bills and so on.

In west Cornwall, we have a problem with a low-wage economy and high living costs. Council tax band C is £138 a month, for example, which is 9% of earnings for a full-time worker on £10 an hour. We are living in an environment where people can become homeless very quickly because of the sheer cost of living.

More homes are needed, I agree, but we must also support people—for example, with the skills they need. We must provide help to support couples and families. We need to reduce drug and alcohol dependency, provide adequate mental health services, drive up earnings and reduce the burden of tax on low earners. The greater challenge is to support people to be independent and to live full lives. If we fail in this, we will never genuinely address the nation’s homelessness problems. I would like to hear from the Minister today more detail about how the Government intend to prevent homelessness and use the money that they are setting aside to support the organisations and charities that can help so many people live the lives that they deserve.

Photo of Vicky Foxcroft Vicky Foxcroft Opposition Whip (Commons) 5:30 pm, 14th December 2016

Since I was first elected last year, the largest part of my casework has involved housing and homelessness issues. Let me share two cases with the House.

A 28-year-old contacted me, having been homeless for nine years. A lack of help meant that he fell into a life of crime, substance misuse and rough sleeping. Last Christmas, he was attacked and had to have a metal plate in his jaw. This is not the life he wants to live. He wants to make changes and he does not want to be constantly scared.

A mother of an eight-week-old baby contacted me after she was placed in temporary accommodation, two hours away from her local community. She does not know a single person. The accommodation is filthy. It is unhygienic, so she is worried about breastfeeding her baby. The first few months of a child’s life are crucial. She is scared, lonely and disconnected from her support network in south London. These are just two examples of the hundreds and hundreds of cases that I receive.

A homelessness charity in my constituency, Deptford 999 Club, which sees around 50 people in a single day, tells me that it has seen a rise in the number of young vulnerable adults in its winter night shelters. One 23-year-old who was brought up in care was made homeless after a breakdown with his adoptive family. He was sofa-surfing until he ran out of places to stay. He then began sleeping rough. However, Deptford 999 Club managed to house him locally and he now attends university. Thankfully, this is a success story, but, sadly, it is a rarity. Too many people are having to rely on the good will of such charities. We should be doing more.

Deptford 999 Club has had some of its vital resources decommissioned because of the lack of council funding currently available. Fierce cuts in local authority budgets mean that it is forced into making decisions that have detrimental knock-on effects. It is these knock-on effects that have led to the present situation. Lewisham council’s budget has been cut by £121 million since 2010, and funding will be cut again by a quarter by 2020. These cuts are creating holes in our services and simply cost us more in the long term. The number of households in temporary accommodation has gone up by 91% since 2010, yet the supply of affordable lets has decreased by 40% since 2010. These numbers just don’t add up. How on earth are local authorities expected to help those people?

I have looked through the Homelessness Reduction Bill, which I welcome, but I have some concerns about how it will deliver and how local authorities can fund the duties that they will have. They will be required to carry out an assessment of what led to each applicant’s homelessness, but without additional money. Local authorities will be required to secure accommodation for all eligible households threatened with homelessness—again, no additional money.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

The hon. Lady is making a powerful case for her area. Does she not understand that under the new burdens doctrine, because those measures are in the Bill, the Government have to provide funding for those services?

Photo of Vicky Foxcroft Vicky Foxcroft Opposition Whip (Commons)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. If the Government were providing that funding, we would welcome it, but we have seen no evidence of that. They are giving councils additional things to do, but not providing extra funding. They are just ring-fencing funding in different areas.

Local authorities will be required to provide those who find themselves homeless with support for a further 56 days to help them secure accommodation, and that—I am going to say it again—is without additional funding. While these things all sound good in principle, I have to ask again how on earth they will be possible when the Government are not properly resourcing local authorities to deliver them.

As we sit here and debate this issue, there are thousands of people across Britain with no roof over their heads, no place to call home, no shelter and no warmth. Rough sleeping has doubled since 2010. Homelessness is up by a third. Things have to change if we want to reverse this trend. We need more affordable housing. We need to tackle spiralling high-cost rents. We need to ensure that local authorities are given the funding they need to be able to tackle these issues.

Photo of Flick Drummond Flick Drummond Conservative, Portsmouth South 5:35 pm, 14th December 2016

When we discuss homelessness in this place, we should always keep it in mind that there but for the grace of God go I. Like people in the country at large, we all have different circumstances, but I wonder just how little would need to go wrong for us to find ourselves in dire straits—perhaps just a missed rent or mortgage payment, especially if we do not have family or friends to take us in.

Homelessness can come very suddenly and for a number of reasons, but homelessness and rough sleeping should not be allowed to rob individuals of their individuality or their hopes and dreams. We do not want people to fall out of society. Homelessness is about more than simply the availability of houses. That is why the Homelessness Reduction Bill and the Children and Social Work Bill are such good news, and I will return to those later.

There is, though, good work being done already. In my area, Portsmouth City Council has received 1,068 homeless presentations in the last year. Of these, 527 were accepted. In 110 cases, homelessness was prevented, and in 183 cases, advice and assistance alone were sufficient for the applicant. Once it has accepted a family, Portsmouth has a strong record of finding permanent, secure accommodation. Three months in temporary accommodation is an average wait for a family, with some housed much sooner. This is very positive, but there are undoubted pressures.

Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Conservative, Witney

My hon. Friend speaks movingly of the fact that is at the front of everyone’s minds: there but for the grace of God may go any one of us. Does she agree that the work done by local councils all over the country, such as the one in west Oxfordshire on which I still serve, is absolutely critical? Moreover, does she agree that the fact that 4% more people are being prevented from becoming homeless than last year shows that local councils are in fact tackling homelessness very effectively?

Photo of Flick Drummond Flick Drummond Conservative, Portsmouth South

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, and I was disappointed that Opposition Members did not tell us earlier about what Labour councils are doing around the country, and just blamed the Government every time.

There are undoubted pressures. Difficulties with private landlords, domestic violence and eviction by parents are the most significant factors in Portsmouth. The council is coping well with the demands made of it, but we need to consider how we can prevent these circumstances from developing in the first place.

Sleeping rough is not something that anyone undertakes lightly, and those who have not done it must struggle to understand the blow it must be to one’s self-esteem and identity. Dignity can be hard to maintain. I therefore praise Portsmouth City Council’s work to give rough sleepers support. The homeless day service, run by The Society of St James, is available seven days a week, and provides advice on how to find a home. But more than that, it offers access to free showers and laundry services and a free breakfast.

There are currently 37 rough sleepers in the city, and as the cold weather begins to set in, their predicament is especially acute. The council recognises the problem. Over the winter months, the council can call on 36 beds for rough sleepers on an 8 pm to 8 am basis. During periods of severe cold, the number of beds can increase to 44. This means there is a bed, a bath and a breakfast available to nearly every rough sleeper in our city over the coldest months of the year. I hope we can all agree how important it is that local authorities support these services.

There is much to praise in the charity sector in my city, too. On Christmas day, there will be two places providing lunches for homeless people in the city. Portsmouth Anglican cathedral will cater for 60 people who are homeless, lonely or finding it hard to manage the cost of Christmas lunch. The lunch will be catered by the excellent FoodCycle Pompey. Volunteers will prepare a three-course meal from food that would otherwise have been thrown away by supermarkets. Elsewhere in the city, the Salvation Army will hold its annual Christmas lunch at Southsea Citadel, where some of the people will have been referred by the council’s homeless day service. I thank everybody involved for putting on those lunches. Particularly at Christmas, the burden of social exclusion can be unbearable, and efforts to keep people in touch with others are in the true spirit of the season.

Ending the breakdown of the corporate family is the business of the Children and Social Work Bill. As I have said in this House before, parental duties do not lapse as soon as a child reaches the age of majority; it is optimistic even to think that they end when the child is 21. Anyone here who is a parent of young adults will say as much. I am therefore delighted that the Bill looks to extend the duty of responsibility for those in care to the age of 25, keeping care leavers off the streets. The Homelessness Reduction Bill, on whose Committee I am pleased to serve, does similar work. I support the duty on local authorities to become involved before people become homeless. The Bill will also double the period for which support will be available.

I have not focused on the bricks and mortar, or even the hard cash, of homelessness; those matters have been well ventilated by others. Instead, I have tried to stress that there is so much more to homelessness than simply being unhoused: it is about families and their breakdown; children and their welfare; human dignity and self-respect. I urge those who are overtaken by events to seek help as soon as possible. I reiterate my thanks and admiration for those in Portsmouth, and around the country, who are showing homeless people that they are valuable members of society.

Photo of Paula Sherriff Paula Sherriff Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities) 5:41 pm, 14th December 2016

It is a national disgrace that we have got to a position, as one of the most advanced nations on earth, where so many people are faced with homelessness this winter. Hon. Members across the House will have seen the terrible human consequences of this on an individual scale in their own surgeries, and my constituency is no different. The last official statistics showed that we have just six rough sleepers in my area, but quite apart from the potential underestimating of the problem, that is six too many. We know that in 2015 Kirklees Council dealt with over 400 statutory homelessness cases, and over 2,000 prevention and relief cases. That gives an idea of the scale of the problem even in an area well away from the inner cities.

Photo of Melanie Onn Melanie Onn Labour, Great Grimsby

The figure of six is pertinent, because last year the Department for Communities and Local Government said that there were six rough sleepers in my borough whereas the real figure is about five times that. Does my hon. Friend agree that part of solving the problem of homelessness and rough sleeping is for the Government to know exactly what the scale of the problem is in the first place?

Photo of Paula Sherriff Paula Sherriff Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities)

I will talk in a moment about the hidden scale of homelessness. It is absolutely imperative that the Government do more research to find out more about that.

I want to draw particular attention to the plight of homeless women and the unique challenges that they face. There are different causes of homelessness for different groups. In a particularly stark example, Crisis estimates that about four fifths of homeless women in England are fleeing domestic violence. When I first sought statistics to assess the scale of female homelessness, it was chilling to be told by Crisis and St Mungo’s that it was almost impossible to estimate, for the simple reason that so many homeless women deliberately remain invisible because they are in fear of their lives. The Library, however, was able to break down the local authority statistics by household type, showing that the largest pool of homeless applicants were female lone parents, who make up nearly half of those applying to councils. When women in couples with children and women without children are factored in, over two thirds of applicants were female—nearly 50,000 women in one year. Most of those were parents, so there is a clear relation to the equally stark fact that 120,000 children will be homeless this Christmas, according to Shelter. That is a figure that all of us in this House should feel ashamed of.

Preventing the problem is vital, of course, but I also want to talk about the reality of life for those women who, for whatever reason, find themselves homeless. The Homeless Period is a new campaign to highlight the problems faced by homeless women in acquiring sanitary products. It should go without saying that most women take these for granted as a fact of life, but whereas homeless shelters have an allowance from the Government to provide items such as condoms, they have no such allowance to buy female sanitary products. I have been horrified by the reports coming out of the campaign of the conditions in which homeless women are forced to live: reports of women faced with the choice between buying food and buying tampons, or forced to decide which is less dignified—stealing sanitary products or doing without. Put simply, it is enough of an affront to human dignity for a person to be homeless in the first place, but that is multiplied by the fear—for women who are forced to sleep rough, a very real fear—of their own natural bodily functions. A lack of access to basic hygiene also poses health risks that women can ill afford when they are already in one of the most vulnerable positions imaginable.

I recently met again with Laura Coryton, who campaigned so effectively on the tampon tax. She, The Homeless Period campaign and others are calling for donations of sanitary products to food banks and homeless shelters, so that no woman in such desperate circumstances is forced to suffer the indignities I have just described. I wish to place on record my thanks to Laura and all those campaigning on this vital issue for the work they are doing to improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable women in our society.

I am also pleased to tell the House that just this week I have worked with Boots to set up a pilot scheme through which they will donate sanitary products to food banks, and also encourage donations from their customers in store. We will start in my constituency—of course—this winter, and if that is a success, I hope it can be replicated up and down the country.

But it is not enough to rely on charity alone. The Government need to intervene sooner rather than later. It is not enough for them to choose between tackling either symptom or cause.

When I started campaigning in this House on the tampon tax, some hon. Members recoiled, while others did not even want to talk about periods or tampons, as if the words themselves were obscene. I do not regret providing such a culture shock to this place—quite the opposite—but that reaction exemplifies why the issue of homeless women’s access to sanitary care is so widespread and terribly underestimated. As The Homeless Period campaign says,

“it doesn’t bear thinking about—and that’s the problem.”

I hope that hon. Members from all parties, especially the Minister, will bear thinking about it today, and that we will not only acknowledge the problem but start to find solutions.

Photo of Julian Knight Julian Knight Conservative, Solihull 5:46 pm, 14th December 2016

It is a great pleasure to follow Paula Sherriff. She is doing fantastic work in the area of tampons and provision for the homeless.

As a member of the Communities and Local Government Committee, I have seen for myself the challenges of homelessness. Nobody should have to live on the streets. Not only do too many do so, but many more are only one or two missed paycheques from joining them, and that is a real point in our society: there is so little buffer. So few people have savings in place, and so many of us are captured by debt. People find themselves in rental arrears with county court judgments and other factors that stop them from getting further tenancy agreements. That blights the lives of thousands of people across this country.

My hon. Friend the Minister made a very brave speech, in which he said that there were failings, and that the figure for rough sleeping is not good enough in this country, in this economy at this time. That was very brave, in the face of a poised but also very political speech by John Healey. I congratulate the Minister. His point stands, but I genuinely believe that there is a step change going on right now. Many of the statistics that have been mentioned in this debate—I will not rehash them—show that there is this step change. We need to work together, and, as Ms Buck said, we need interconnectivity. People need to stop working in silos and we need to think from start to finish.

Photo of Stewart Jackson Stewart Jackson Conservative, Peterborough

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that local authorities work together with the Local Government Association to tackle the pernicious practice—born of desperation—of local authorities shuttling their homeless people round the country to other local authorities, sometimes in the hands of rapacious private landlords who use housing benefit regulations loopholes to get more money? That sometimes means serving section 21 notices on existing tenants.

Photo of Julian Knight Julian Knight Conservative, Solihull

That is a good point. I know for a fact that that occurs in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and he has seen the dramatic effects of moving people in that way.

The clearest example of the Government’s determination to tackle rough sleeping is the decision to support the Homelessness Reduction Bill, which was introduced by my hon. Friend Bob Blackman. It was drawn up by colleagues on the CLG Committee and based on our independent research and findings. The Bill would mandate councils to provide 56 days of support to homeless individuals, and to make sure that other services refer people who are at risk of homelessness to the council’s housing team. Most importantly, the Bill would require local authorities to help at-risk individuals to find accommodation before they end up on the streets—not no second night sleeping out, but no first night sleeping out. Such early intervention is crucial to tackling these problems before the costs, both financial and human, start to mount.

Although my patch, Solihull, aims to provide a high-quality response to the needs of those who are already on the streets, prevention has become the central focus of the borough’s homelessness strategy in recent times. The council and partners co-operate to identify and assist vulnerable households, members of which are in immediate danger of becoming homeless. I am pleased to report that our council has passed the first stage in achieving the gold standard for homelessness and housing advice services, and it has pledged not to rest until it reaches that goal and can guarantee Solihull residents the support services that they deserve and increasingly need. As my hon. Friend Will Quince has mentioned, there is a lot of hidden homelessness—sofa-surfing, and so on—even in seemingly well-to-do areas.

Unfortunately, the high standard of care for which Solihull aims is not universal. Earlier this month, many of my constituents and I were shocked to hear of a young man freezing to death in neighbouring Birmingham, as mentioned by Jack Dromey. I hope and believe that the Homelessness Reduction Bill will help to focus minds on the human costs of homelessness and guide local authorities towards effective policies that are preventive where possible, and remedial where necessary.

Enacting the Homelessness Reduction Bill would be a great step towards tackling homelessness in the best way: by preventing people from becoming homeless in the first place. That it was drawn up, unusually, by a Select Committee demonstrates the depth of concern inside and outside the House. The Government, Opposition parties and the country need to rise to that challenge together, and the Government’s support for the Bill is proof that they share that ambition.

Photo of Heidi Alexander Heidi Alexander Labour, Lewisham East 5:52 pm, 14th December 2016

I am speaking in this debate because I am angry. I am angry because in one of the richest countries in the world, the number of people sleeping rough on our streets is going up; I am angry because the number of families placed in temporary accommodation is increasing; and I am angry because the cuts to housing benefit mean that more and more of my constituents are unable to cover their rent, so they find themselves out on the streets with their belongings.

I am angry, but I am also sad. I am sad because if someone is on the minimum wage in an area such as mine and they do not have a council or housing association property, their chances of finding somewhere decent and affordable to live are close to zero. I am also sad that children often pay the highest price. A family may be placed in a bed and breakfast miles away from their children’s school, because the local authority cannot source local properties at an affordable rent.

When I became an MP six years ago, it was uncommon for anyone to visit my advice surgery because they were a rough sleeper. It was uncommon, but not unknown: there were men who would ride night buses trying to keep warm, and some would find shelter in disused garages or parks. Now, it is commonplace. At one advice surgery in October, I saw four people in the space of as many hours, all of whom were set to sleep outside that evening. They could have been the people my constituents see on a daily basis on a mattress underneath the arches next to Lewisham station, in sleeping bags in Ladywell Fields or huddled and cold on wet cardboard outside the BP garage on Lee High Road. It is all too easy to walk by and to think that it is someone else’s problem. It is not, though; it is our problem, and as a country we need to fix it.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

As well as being angry, does my hon. Friend share my dismay? There is a consensus in the House about the need to do something about homelessness, but homelessness is not a problem that drops out of the sky. Homelessness and the explosion in the number of people using food banks are consequences of Government policy in the last six years.

Photo of Heidi Alexander Heidi Alexander Labour, Lewisham East

I totally agree with my hon. Friend. As I said in my intervention on the Minister, the previous Government cut the national affordable house building programme by 63% in 2011 and they have an awful lot to answer for.

I want to share with colleagues one story that underlines the need for change. At my advice surgery in Downham a few weeks ago, I met a man called Terry. Terry is not his real name, but for reasons that will become obvious, he does not want his real name to be known. Terry, who is in his 60s, works with young men at risk of getting into trouble with the law. He has lived alone for the past few years, having gone through a divorce. Terry used to pay £650 a month for a one-bedroom flat—cheap by Lewisham standards—but then the rent doubled overnight. He could not afford it, and he had to move out. Terry now sleeps in a van. He has not told his children because he is too embarrassed, and he cannot get help from the council because he is not deemed to be in priority need. When I hear Conservative politicians say, “If you can’t afford to live in London, you should move out”, I wonder whether they mean people like Terry—people who have not done anything wrong, and have done quite a lot right.

Photo of Julian Knight Julian Knight Conservative, Solihull

Will the hon. Lady name the Conservative politician involved? Was it a councillor or a Member of Parliament? I am just wondering who that quote comes from.

Photo of Heidi Alexander Heidi Alexander Labour, Lewisham East

Anyone listening to the rhetoric during the last Parliament will be under no illusions about what certain members of the former Government have said.

I say this to the Government on behalf of my constituents: wake up! They should wake up and invest in social housing. They should wake up and build homes that people can afford to live in. They should wake up and stop pumping money into the bank accounts of private landlords and build social housing instead.

Photo of Heidi Alexander Heidi Alexander Labour, Lewisham East

I am afraid I will not give way, because I have already had my injury time.

I have previously spoken in the Chamber about the disparity that can exist between the housing benefit paid out on private rented property and that on social housing. If we take two families in receipt of full housing benefit in my constituency, with one in a two-bedroom private rented flat and one in a two-bedroom council flat, the annual benefit paid on the private rented property will be almost £9,000 more than that paid on the council flat. We cannot afford to go on like this. We all know—the Chancellor confirmed as much a few weeks back—that the public finances are likely to be shot to pieces as a result of Brexit. I fear for my constituents in these circumstances, and that makes it all the more important that the Government make the right choices. They should fund local authorities adequately, shift the public subsidy from benefits to bricks, and build social housing. Until we do that, any attempts to tackle homelessness will always be destined to fail.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 5:58 pm, 14th December 2016

It is a pleasure to follow Heidi Alexander, who made such a powerful case on behalf of her area. I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

The causes of homelessness are many and varied. It is all too easy for us to concentrate on one particular issue. I apologise for not being present for the Labour Front-Bench spokesman’s speech—I meant no disrespect; I was in a Committee meeting elsewhere in the Palace, and the timing of this debate meant that I was held up—but the reality is that homelessness peaked under the previous Labour Government at over 300,000 applications in 2003-04. By 2010, because of action taken by the Labour Government, it had dropped dramatically, and it has been rising steadily ever since. It is quite clear that we must address that.

I am very thankful for all the comments about my Homelessness Reduction Bill. I thank everyone who spoke on Second Reading, and those who are serving on the Public Bill Committee as we take it through the House. I look forward to its returning to this place early in 2017, going to the House of Lords and eventually becoming law.

That is only one part of the jigsaw puzzle in solving homelessness. I am clear that we have to deal with the problem of supply above all else, but we need to do other things as well. If we do not build proper affordable housing, quite clearly we will never solve this problem.

Photo of Daniel Poulter Daniel Poulter Conservative, Central Suffolk and North Ipswich

I commend my hon. Friend for his Bill. On the point he has just made, does he agree that a zeal for private home ownership at all costs is at the very root of this problem? We must deal with that if we are to tackle it in the longer term. We need more affordable homes and a genuine housing mix. That is the only way we will help people to avoid homelessness and find a sustainable solution.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

Clearly we have the problem that Governments of all persuasions, as the Minister rightly said, have failed to build enough housing for almost 40 years. The reality is that the private sector alone will never build enough housing. We have had the announcement of the settlement for London, with £3.15 billion to build 90,000 affordable homes across London over the next three years. That is a great settlement. It is now incumbent on everyone to get on with building those properties. Public land is available on which they can be built. That will help.

We have to divide homelessness into two categories. There are rough sleepers—people who are on the street and who are at severe risk. Their health is bad and they are likely to be attacked. Many of them are on the streets for the first time and are extremely vulnerable. As I said in an intervention, it is likely that they will die as a result of sleeping rough. That is an absolute scandal in this day and age. They cost the health service huge amounts of money. They are likely to be addicted to drugs, alcohol or tobacco. We cannot blame them for that, because they are in a spiral of despair. We have to come together as a House to make sure that no one gets to the stage of sleeping rough.

There is also the problem of the hidden homeless—the sofa surfers. These are people who stay with family and friends until they exhaust all their family and friends and end up on the streets. Unless we address that issue, we will not solve the problem.

Last night, I went out with a brilliant team from St Mungo’s to identify people on the streets of the city of London who are sleeping rough. It is clear that those individuals have complex needs. It is not a magic solution to say, “Give them somewhere to live or sleep and that is the end of the problem.” They need counselling and support. They need a whole package of measures to help them get back on their feet and live what we would all call a normal life. Unfortunately, providing accommodation is not sufficient. That is an important point.

Equally, it is clear that one problem in society now is that private sector landlords are reluctant to rent homes to people who are homeless. I therefore ask the Government to consider a national deposit scheme, so that people who are in need of housing in the private sector can be provided with a deposit at a national level, rather than relying on local authorities to identify a deposit for them. That would secure private rented accommodation for people who are not in priority need. That would make a huge difference to the number of people who are declared homeless but are not assisted. We know that one of the challenges for people who are in difficulty is finding the deposit to buy a house or for private rented housing. That is something that the Government should consider.

I look forward to the publication of the White Paper on the development of new homes and the housing strategy. We all have to be clear that housing is a market. If we start interfering in a market, there are unintended consequences. I trust that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench have considered all those aspects and, rather than tinkering with some of the measures, will get on with a national house building programme that we can all be proud of and with measures that will alleviate the homelessness crisis. I look forward to the other announcements that will no doubt follow. Measures to reduce rough sleeping are paramount. If we do not address that problem quickly, we will lose too many people too early.

Photo of Tracy Brabin Tracy Brabin Labour, Batley and Spen 6:04 pm, 14th December 2016

I applaud my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench for their efforts in securing this important and timely debate.

I have witnessed homelessness at first hand, volunteering with Crisis at Christmas to hand out hundreds of turkey dinners to homeless people. I saw homelessness for what it is: not a problem confined to addicts or one that results only from mental health issues, but something that could happen to us all. We are all just three steps away from homelessness: one, you lose your job; two, you lose your partner; three, you lose your house. It could happen to anyone.

After years of what has been described as unprecedented decline, homelessness is now back on the rise. Rough sleeping has doubled, families living in emergency bed-and-breakfast and hostel rooms are up by 18% in only one year, homeless households have increased by 44%, and 120,000 children will be homeless this Christmas. We see it every day on our way in and out of work, with people sleeping in the entrances to Parliament on cardboard boxes and in sleeping bags.

Homelessness is not just confined to city centres. My constituency of Batley and Spen is not somewhere one would usually associate with homelessness; with not one single urban centre, we are a smattering of Yorkshire town and villages. Yet, as I have said in this House before, when I was six my family fell behind on the mortgage repayments and we had to hand the keys of our home back to the building society. The council stepped in and found us a new home. But with 14,000 people on the Kirklees Council housing waiting list, if that happened to us now, I am not sure what would become of my family. Perhaps we too would have to rely on the kindness of strangers, in an emergency bed and breakfast or even on the streets.

We know that the situation is getting worse, not better. The manager of the Batley drop-in centre at the Central Methodist church told me just yesterday that his centre has seen a 15% year-on-year increase in people coming through the door. What stood out from our conversation is that not all those using the centre are what we would normally deem homeless. They are not all sleeping on the streets; most are sofa surfing until the good will runs out and they have to move on to other friends. His explanation for the increase is threefold: at the church, for two days in the week, they do not have to pay for heating, they get a hot meal and a food parcel to take away, and—let us not forget this—they also get companionship, which must be thin on the ground when circumstances force someone to keep moving on.

As Bob Blackman said, one third of households that become homeless do so when their private rented tenancy ends. We need to adapt to the needs of the growing number of families who rent. Longer-term, secure tenancies with affordable rent increases are essential, because homelessness is not always caused by the loss of a home, but is often due to an inability to find a new one. Crisis tells us that deposits average nearly £1,200, with agency fees to pay on top, so it is easy to see how a family ends up in financial difficulties. I applaud the hon. Gentleman’s call for a rent deposit guarantee system for homeless people and those faced with homelessness.

The Government’s support for the hon. Gentleman’s Homelessness Reduction Bill is welcome—as long as it is fully funded—but it will not address the lack of support for private renters or the chronic lack of investment in affordable homes. I welcome the pledge of my right hon. Friend John Healey to eradicate rough sleeping in the first term of a Labour Government. I know he has sent his proposals to the Prime Minister, so I hope that Government Members can give assurances that those proposals will be considered seriously.

Every single expert, organisation and Member of this House knows that the only long-term solution to homelessness is to build genuinely affordable homes for families to live in, because a home they can afford is not just bricks and mortar, but stability and security. Let us not find ourselves back in this place this time next year debating these same issues. Those 120,000 children deserve better, and we cannot let them down.

Photo of Ronnie Cowan Ronnie Cowan Scottish National Party, Inverclyde 6:09 pm, 14th December 2016

What does homelessness actually entail? In the words of Rachel Moran in her excellent book, “Paid For”,

“The word ‘homeless’ seems to present the condition as a single lack, but homelessness is actually many individual deficiencies combined. The worst of them are emotional;
but to mention the physical challenges first: the single worst bodily aspect of homelessness is exhaustion. It is caused by several factors, including sleep-deprivation, hunger and a constant need to remain on the move.”

This explanation of homelessness is insightful, because it shows us just how inadequate the word “homeless” is. To live without a fridge, cooker, television, shower, sofa or bed is a struggle that homeless people contend with daily. It might start with sleeping on a friend’s sofa, then another friend’s; but then a week-long stay becomes a day here, a day there, until the night comes when there is no sofa available, and instead a doorway is used, probably nearby at first, but then the person drifts; and one day they have to acknowledge that they are homeless. It does not start that way. We all see homeless people, but we never suspect that we will become one. How damaging to a person’s self-esteem and mental health is that moment when homelessness becomes an acknowledged reality? How does anyone find their way back?

In Scotland, the number of homelessness applications is decreasing, from a peak of over 60,000 in 2005-06 to 34,600 in 2015-16. Some 294 of these applications were made in my constituency, and that is 294 too many. We have made progress, but Shelter Scotland has indicated that there has been no underlying change in the drivers of homelessness. Almost half of those who have made homelessness applications in Scotland are single males, and 16% are single females with a child. Shamefully, many of those people are ex-service personnel—people who have made the highest commitment to serve their country but have not received the support they deserve.

Although homelessness is primarily tackled by the UK and devolved Governments, local authorities also play an important role. Scottish local authorities have been hindered by policies born in this place, such as the right to buy, which was not reinforced by a need to build. According to Scottish Government statistics, we have lost over 450,000 homes from the social rented sector as a result of the right to buy, and thousands of the homes that remain are of dubious quality. It is estimated that about one in 10 households in Scotland are affected by dampness or condensation. Thankfully, the Scottish Government have ended the right to buy, and more than 16,000 new homes have been built in the last year—a rate higher than the UK average.

I hope to see this issue prioritised as a matter of public policy across the UK, particularly as homelessness is increasingly being stigmatised. Recently, The Huffington Post reported that Crisis spoke to 458 people who were sleeping rough or had slept rough in the last year and said they were facing “ever-more hostile streets”. Councils, developers, businesses and other organisations are deploying “defensive architecture”, including iron and concrete studs placed in flat areas to prevent homeless people from finding a place to sleep. It makes me wonder what the threat is and why we need to defend ourselves from it. A compassionate society should not be deploying medieval-style defences against vulnerable people who need assistance. So-called defensive architecture is dehumanising and sends a clear message: “go away, disappear, you’re not wanted”.

Homelessness is an issue of priorities. Instead of encouraging developers to build luxury apartments, some of which are bought up as investments and never lived in, we should be building social housing. Our welfare system must also be tailored in a compassionate way that enables people to have a platform on which to build their own lives. Our current system does not provide that support. A universal basic income could be a solution to address social ills and protect the most vulnerable from becoming homeless. At the very least we should be exploring that possibility, instead of tinkering around the edges of a system that is in need of a more fundamental reform. I will concede, however, that homelessness is a complex issue, and one that cannot be eliminated just by burying it with money and legislation. Homelessness is not only an issue of housing; it is also the product of inequality, poverty, domestic abuse, family breakdown and addiction. It can happen to anyone from any background.

In conclusion, we should never allow ourselves to accept homelessness as an inevitable result of a modern society. It is not inevitable and it does not need to happen. Complacency on the part of the UK Government will result in a failure to tackle this issue. Rising living costs, stagnating wages and the UK’s mismanaged welfare system are putting increased pressure on homelessness services. My fear is that the progress made at Holyrood is being undermined by welfare decisions taken at Westminster. Ultimately, people sleeping rough tonight do not care whether local authorities, devolved Administrations or the UK Government have the power to help them; they just need support. It is up to all elected Members across the UK to ensure they receive that support.

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 6:14 pm, 14th December 2016

I am very proud of the Welsh Government’s record on tackling homelessness. The Welsh Government have funded affordable homes to rent as well as buy and have pledged to protect their supporting people budget for homeless services. Local authorities in Wales are not forced to sell vacant homes to the highest bidder in order to credit funds to the Exchequer. Since 2011, Welsh local authorities have suspended the right to buy scheme in areas experiencing high demand for housing in order to preserve the stock of affordable homes.

My Labour-led council in the city and county of Swansea has recently broken ground on a pilot scheme to build 18 Passivhaus standard energy-efficient homes. This ambitious plan is just the first stage and could lead to thousands of new homes across Swansea. These homes have the potential to offer annual fuel bills of just £70—yes, annual fuel bills. The first homes will be occupied this coming March. Swansea is a forward-thinking, ambitious local authority preparing for the future and offering solutions not just to homelessness but to fuel poverty.

Photo of Chris Elmore Chris Elmore Opposition Whip (Commons)

On my hon. Friend’s point about the work of Swansea Council, lots of Welsh local authorities are now moving to build more council housing because of the support from the Welsh Government for tackling homelessness and being able to build social housing. Does she agree that the Welsh Government and local government in particular are showing the way in tackling homelessness and affordable housing?

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I certainly do agree with my hon. Friend and I will come to that in a moment.

Right across Wales, the intention is to reduce homelessness by utilising both the private and social housing sectors. The commitment from the Welsh Government has been to fund proactive schemes to prevent homelessness. My local authority is a pioneer in this area. Between 2015 and 2016, more than 7,000 households were threatened with impending homelessness, but the Welsh Government were able to prevent 65% of them from becoming homeless. That proves that local authorities such as mine, and others right across Wales, are working with the Welsh Government to understand and tackle the problem. Maybe it is time the Westminster Government took a leaf out of the Welsh Government and Welsh local authorities’ “How to Tackle Homelessness” book.

Photo of Chris Elmore Chris Elmore Opposition Whip (Commons) 6:17 pm, 14th December 2016

Sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker, I was taken by surprise a bit. There is nothing like having two Welsh Members following each other, is there?

The motion before us notes that 120,000 children will be homeless this Christmas. That is a fact that should alarm every Member of the House and shame the Government for their inaction. The levels of homelessness across the UK show the worst consequences of ignoring the most vulnerable in society. There can be no excuse for the fact that the number of people sleeping rough doubled between 2010 and 2015. While this Government are refusing to acknowledge rising homelessness, I am glad to see a different approach being taken by the Welsh Government. In contrast to the Government in Westminster, the First Minister and his Government have shown time and again that they are not afraid to tackle the problem head on.

Unlike the UK Government, the Welsh Government have continued to fund affordable homes to rent as well as buy, allowed councils to suspend the right to buy in areas of high housing pressure and have not forced local authorities to sell vacant homes to the highest bidder. On top of that, the Welsh Government have introduced a housing Act designed to reduce homelessness through a stronger focus on prevention and, despite significant budget pressures, provided the necessary funding and resources.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

On that point, is the hon. Gentleman aware that the total number of people presenting themselves as homeless for the whole of Wales is less than the figure for the single London borough of Lambeth?

Photo of Chris Elmore Chris Elmore Opposition Whip (Commons)

I acknowledge that and understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying. What I am trying to stress is that there are different and more positive approaches to tackling homelessness, and the Welsh Government are leading the way on that.

I am incredibly proud of the action taken by the Welsh Labour Government to tackle homelessness, but equally I am incredibly proud of the work of the last Labour Government in this House and their efforts. When Labour is in government, be it in Wales or the UK as a whole, homelessness falls. Under the two previous Labour Prime Ministers, statutory homelessness fell by almost two thirds, and the number of people sleeping rough fell by three quarters. In Wales, in the first year of the Welsh Government’s Housing Act, 65% of families assessed as threatened with homelessness were successfully prevented from becoming homeless, as the shadow Secretary of State for Housing and indeed my hon. Friend Carolyn Harris mentioned.

This House needs a cross-party approach to tackle the scourge of homelessness across the UK. Labour Governments have repeatedly shown that it is possible to take action, and I hope this Government will today take note and work to help find everybody a home.

Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Labour, Dulwich and West Norwood 6:20 pm, 14th December 2016

I met a former constituent today at a community event in my constituency. I first met her two years ago when she was being evicted, with her young children, from her private sector home while she was receiving treatment for cancer. She was moved out of my constituency into temporary accommodation—and two years later, she is still there. She said to me, “I saw something about homelessness on the news this morning. Is that about people like me? Are they going to do something?” I would like to be able to say to her at the end of this debate, “Yes, the Government have made a commitment to sort out homelessness”.

Late last night, I checked my emails and found a message from a constituent whom I have been supporting over a number of issues in the past few months. He wrote that he had come home to find that his private landlord had changed the locks, leaving him, his wife and two very young children, who were running a fever, out on the streets with nowhere to go.

The other week, I saw a constituent in my surgery who was crying as she told me how hard it is to be living in temporary accommodation. She said, “It’s living out of boxes and bags. All I want is to make a home for my kids, but I can’t while we are living out of boxes and bags.” These stories are devastating, but they are absolutely typical of the experiences of thousands and thousands of people who are not sleeping rough, but who nevertheless do not have the security of a permanent home. There are 1,800 families, including 5,000 children in temporary accommodation in Lambeth—families who are facing Christmas without the essential security and comfort of a home. That is a disgrace.

I am pleased to support the Homelessness Reduction Bill and I have been working with colleagues on its detail. It responds directly to evidence we heard in the Communities and Local Government Committee inquiry into homelessness that the statutory framework governing support for homeless people is not fit for purpose and is not working because it allows too many people to go unsupported. Absolutely critical to the success of this Bill is the Government’s commitment to resource it and the level of the resource that they provide. We are almost at the end of the Committee stage of the Bill, but we still do not know how or at what level the Government will resource councils to implement the new duties and burdens that the Bill can introduce. I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity in his summing up speech to give some confirmation.

The Homelessness Reduction Bill is an important and necessary reform, but it is important for the Government to recognise that it addresses only one part of the problem. Supply is fundamental, but so is the nature of that supply. Evidence heard by the Communities and Local Government Committee in our inquiry into capacity in the homebuilding industry points to key skills shortages in the construction sector, but also to a private sector that is maxed out in the number of homes that it can deliver.

Our Committee returned this morning from a visit to Berlin, where we learned about the significant public sector resource—land, low-cost loans and direct public subsidy—that goes into delivering high levels of social housing at genuinely affordable rates. We have delivered the number of homes needed to keep pace with demand in the UK only in the post-war period when the public sector was directly delivering many thousands of homes.

I await the housing White Paper with anticipation, and I hope to see in it the policies we need to make a huge shift in the rate of homebuilding in this country. In the meantime, we are left with the private rented sector. I sat through weeks of debate last year on the Housing and Planning Act 2016—devastating legislation that did nothing about the single biggest cause of homelessness. While I support the banning of letting agents’ fees to tenants, that is only one issue in a sector urgently in need of reform. We need better security of tenure, and particularly in London we need to be able to limit the rate of rent increases that can be charged within the terms of a tenancy.

The Government must not be complacent in thinking that support for the Homelessness Reduction Bill means that they can tick the box for having solved homelessness. I hope the Minister will take the opportunity to set out today what the Government will do to fund genuinely affordable homes, to increase the rate of homebuilding and to reform the private rented sector, so that we can end the scandal of homelessness.

I end by paying tribute to the organisations in my constituency and across the country that will support homeless people this Christmas, helping homeless families through food banks or providing direct shelter and food to those in need, and to the many volunteers who help to make those operations happen. They are a reminder that we are a compassionate nation. We recognise homelessness as a scandal that shocks and horrifies us, and communities across the country want the Government to sort it.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Lords) 6:25 pm, 14th December 2016

I want to talk about the issues facing young people today and then about complex cases of homelessness and the related problems.

At Prime Minister’s questions on 23 November I mentioned Aberdeen Cyrenians, a charity in my constituency. In fact, I think it may be in the constituency of my hon. Friend Callum McCaig, but it is in my city anyway.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Lords)

Our city; I am sorry. I mentioned that charity and asked the Prime Minister about how austerity is increasing homelessness. The Prime Minister’s answer included the phrase “living within our means”, which is unfortunate phrasing. Homeless people do not have any means to live within. They do not have a house or other things. Today’s debate has been much more considered and measured and a lot less political than that exchange at PMQs.

I have heard young people today—as in people under about 35 or 40—being described as the precariat. They have precarious jobs. The gig economy is increasing and they do not have the long-term jobs that people used to have. They are subsisting on zero-hours contracts and do not have the same level of security as previous generations, who could walk into a job and have it for life. They do not have security in housing. They live incredibly expensively in the private rented sector, where not enough safeguards are in place to ensure security of tenure. As has been mentioned, people can come home and find that their locks have been changed, and their private sector landlord feels that that is the way forward. A huge number of landlords are not like that, but enough are to make it a problem.

Young people today are in precarious situations, and the risk of homelessness is real and one that we have not seen in recent generations. A study published in September found that 40% of families have less than £100 in savings. Much has been said today about so many of us being just a step away from homelessness, but that bears repeating—40% of families have less than £100 in savings. People do not have the extra cash in their pockets to deal with an unexpected change in situation, so homelessness is perhaps a bigger risk than it has been previously.

With austerity, benefits sanctions and the changes to the benefits system, the people with the most complex, chaotic lives are being disadvantaged the most. The Government cannot easily get them back into work, and they represent a figure that a few weeks of jobcentre intervention will not change. They need months of intervention—some may need years—due to their complex problems, including mental health issues, homelessness and being unable to hold down a job in recent years. They require huge amounts of intervention before they will be able to get back to being tax-paying, working members of society. It is quite easy, if the Government say they are not going to provide intensive support for those people, for them to fall between the cracks. Allowing that to happen in those complex cases is one of the worst things that this Government have done, and that causes a real issue of homelessness.

A huge number of other things can lead to homelessness. Domestic violence has been talked about a lot, and we have a debate on it on Friday. It can lead to women or men—in the main it is women— fleeing and finding themselves homeless or in an insecure tenancy. That is a real problem that they have to deal with at a time when they are going through a huge number of other problems too. Again, that problem is sometimes being left alone because it is too difficult to tackle and it is not an easy statistic to change—the Government cannot easily get people back into work and back into a secure place.

As someone who was elected to a local authority in 2007, I am a passionate advocate against the right to buy. I saw the damage it caused to our communities and the number of people who do not have a permanent roof over their head as a result of it, and the Government need to change their plans on it.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Minister (Housing) 6:30 pm, 14th December 2016

We have had a well-informed debate. I appreciate the contributions from Members on both sides of the House and respect their passion and sincerity, but nothing that has been said has distracted from, let alone contradicted, the three stark statistics in the motion, which indict this Government’s record on homelessness. Those are a 44% increase in statutory homelessness since 2010—there is an absolute duty to the most vulnerable and those in the most need—a doubling in street homelessness, which is the most obvious and insistent evidence of our failure as a society to provide all our citizens with basic necessities of life, and 120,000 children being homeless this Christmas.

We have heard 17 Back-Bench speeches in this short debate, which shows the degree of interest in this subject. We have heard from David Mackintosh, my hon. Friend Ms Buck, Will Quince, my hon. Friend Jack Dromey, Derek Thomas, my hon. Friend Vicky Foxcroft, Mrs Drummond, my hon. Friend Paula Sherriff, Julian Knight, my hon. Friend Heidi Alexander, Bob Blackman; my hon. Friend Tracy Brabin, Ronnie Cowan, my hon. Friends the Members for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) and for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes), and Kirsty Blackman. We have heard from every part of the British Isles. I apologise if I do not have the time to comment on each of those speeches, as they all had much to recommend them.

I will not do the speeches justice by summarising themes, but I have to say that what I heard in a number of speeches by Conservative Members—I exempt the hon. Member for Harrow East from this—was real distress at individual cases in surgeries and in the streets, but no real appreciation of the link between those cases and their own Government’s policy. I credit the hon. Gentleman, as he acknowledged the scale of the problem and how it has risen.

A number of my colleagues made the point about where the blame lies, and although I am being invidious by singling anyone out, I do single out my hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham East, for Westminster North and for Birmingham, Erdington, whose experience over many years and indeed decades in areas of very high housing stress enabled them to put the blame where it lies: with Government policy, with local government cuts and with the persistent failure to build social housing and relieve the pressure.

The Government’s amendment does them no credit. It is a nit-picker’s attempt to sidestep the central causes of the homelessness crisis, which this Government and their coalition predecessor have caused. What is beyond dispute is that the measures the Government rely on in their defence are not working. If they were, we would not have seen a year-on-year worsening in the plight of homeless persons. No one says it will be easy to resolve issues that are now chronic and endemic across the UK, particularly in London and other areas with high demand and a poor supply of affordable homes. The Minister could at least begin to tackle the worst aspects of homelessness by signing up today to the proposals to tackle rough sleeping set out by my right hon. Friend John Healey and tackling street homelessness through an extension of the clearing house scheme, which both Labour and Tory Governments have supported in the past. There is nothing inevitable about homelessness. The record of the last Labour Government showed that, with a two-thirds drop in statutory homelessness in the 10 years to 2010 and a three-quarters drop in rough sleeping in the same period.

I noticed how, in opening the debate, the Minister for Housing and Planning tried to minimise Labour’s achievements and talk up his own party’s achievements. I suppose that that is his job, but independent audit has a different view. I hope that he and the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Mr Jones, who will be replying to the debate, have read the “Green Book”, which was published this month by Shelter to mark its 50th anniversary and the 50th anniversary of “Cathy Come Home”. It says:

“The numbers of households living in temporary accommodation and the numbers of people found sleeping rough on a given night have risen for the last five years. The number of households coming to their council and being found to be homeless and in priority need is over a quarter higher than five years ago. The number of households accepted as homeless started to rise in 2010. Even more striking is that this followed a period of six years when the level of homelessness appeared to drop sharply. The sharp turn that the homelessness statistics made after 2009 is a striking trend”.

Photo of Callum McCaig Callum McCaig Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Energy and Climate Change)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that developer contributions are an important way of attracting additional funds for local authorities to build affordable housing to help tackle the problem of homelessness? Does he share my disappointment that my local council has forgone £30 million in developer contributions for student accommodation that could have helped to alleviate homelessness in Aberdeen?

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Minister (Housing)

I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I am not an expert in planning gain in his own local authority area. There are a number of ways of funding affordable homes, and I will come on to one or two of them in a moment. He is right to identify that matter as being the root cause of the problem.

I turn to the Homelessness Reduction Bill, which we were considering in Committee this morning and which the Government pray in aid in their amendment. A number of Members who are on the Bill Committee have mentioned it this evening. That Bill is the brain child of Crisis and is supported by St Mungo’s Broadway, Shelter and the consensus of opinion across the housing sector. Those excellent organisations have been on the frontline against homelessness for decades. Like many Members, I have been proud to work with them in my constituency.

More importantly for the Bill’s chances of making it to the statute book, it has the support of all parties and of the Government, and has been ably promoted by the hon. Member for Harrow East. It is no exaggeration to say that it will make a sea change in homelessness law, both through the emphasis it places on prevention and through the changes that it imposes on local authorities to assist non-priority groups, particularly single people, in finding accommodation.

In promoting the Bill, Crisis is also making the statement that it can no longer be expected to pick up the pieces of the failure of much of the apparatus designed to help the homeless. I welcome the Bill both for the signal that it sends and for the detailed requirements that it places on the Government to tackle this growing crisis, but—this “but” has dominated our discussions on the Bill—legislation alone will not solve the problem. Indeed, it may, in the first instance, make it worse. Let me give three reasons why I say that.

First, local authorities, especially those in metropolitan areas, are struggling to deal with their responsibility to those who are in priority need. Members who have seen the Mayor of London’s briefing—I welcome the Mayor’s personal commitment to tackling London’s housing crisis—will know that the number of households in bed and breakfasts in London has risen by 234% since 2010. The figure is 157% elsewhere. The telling statistic for London Members is this: in 2010, 13% of families were placed outside their local authority area, but that has now almost tripled to 35%. Every one of those families is a tragic story of people displaced from their communities, their schools, their jobs and family support. If we are not careful, one consequence of putting additional burdens on local authorities for the non-priority homeless when they cannot at the moment cope with the priority homeless is that the latter will suffer.

Secondly, there is a general pressure on local authority budgets, with cuts of 40% to 50% —by far and away the largest in any part of the public sector. Those pressures extend everywhere, and I imagine that tomorrow we will hear quite a lot about that and about social care. Because of those pressures across the board, it is absolutely vital that the measures in the Homelessness Reduction Bill are fully funded. I hear what the Government have said about that, but we are still waiting. The Under-Secretary has promised that we will have details of the funding before the Committee reports. It is important that that pledge is honoured and is not just a paper promise. We must clearly see that the measure will be fully funded, otherwise it simply will not work and local authorities will again carry the can for central Government’s mistakes.

The third and most important issue is the effect of the Government’s general policies on housing and homelessness. In the area of housing finance, the benefit cap has just been further reduced, which has had an attritional effect on my authority and many others. The freeze on local housing allowance, the introduction of the bedroom tax and 45% cuts in the Supporting People budget in the last Parliament are unprecedented cuts, and the net effect is to destabilise the people who are most vulnerable and most at risk of homelessness.

In the private rented sector, rent increases and the ability for private landlords to charge higher rents to make more profit means that evictions are at a high. Some 40% in London—30% nationally—of people presenting to local authorities cite the serving of a section 21 notice, or the no-fault eviction process. We have heard it argued that as a result we need the Bill to put more responsibility on local authorities, but what about the responsibility of the Government to legislate for longer tenancies and, as we would do, to legislation for rent control to combat rent rises during a tenancy? That would have a much more salutary effect in preventing homelessness.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Minister (Housing)

If the Minister does not mind, I will not give way, as I have only two minutes left, and I do not want to take time away from his colleague the Under-Secretary.

Housing supply is the key issue. We have the lowest social housing build on record. We still face the prospect of the sale of high-value council homes, and a reduction in rent has prevented councils from building new social homes. We have 140,000 fewer council homes than in 2010. Unless that problem is tackled we will never tackle the problem of homelessness.

That is the story of the Homelessness Reduction Bill, but it is also the story of this Government and their attitude not just to homelessness but to the housing crisis generally. They talk about solutions, but their policies have made matters worse. We have been promised cash for the implementation of the Bill and we have been promised wider initiatives in the delayed White Paper, but time is running out for the Government to act. Empty words and empty Bills will not stop children being homeless at Christmas or vulnerable people sleeping on the streets. Tomorrow, the new figures on statutory homelessness will be published, but they are unlikely to bring any comfort to the homeless or to the Government. This is a crisis that the Government have neglected, and have even aggravated with the range of policies that they have pursued. If they are sincere about tackling the problems of homelessness, words will no longer suffice—only action will.

Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government) 6:44 pm, 14th December 2016

I thank the Opposition for bringing this important debate to the House. It has given Members across the House an opportunity to discuss a critical issue, and it gives me the opportunity to outline the actions that this Government are taking to meet the challenge.

This has been a good debate. Time does now allow me to do justice to all the contributions, which were excellent, but I will endeavour to respond to as many of the points as I can within the time available. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning stated at the outset, the Government are committed to tackling homelessness. I reiterate that that is a priority for me and for the Government. No one should find themselves without a roof over their head. As my hon. Friend outlined earlier, we are supporting the largest house building programme of any Government since the 1980s, but as many hon. Members have said, homelessness is not just a housing issue. Tackling it requires a collective response at both national and local levels and an unrelenting focus on prevention.

There are many good examples of early intervention around the country. We want to drive good practice to help all areas learn from the experiences and take on the good practice of the councils that are doing things the right way. To kick-start this, we have launched a £50 million homelessness prevention programme, which takes an end-to-end approach to preventing more people from becoming homeless and helping people to get their lives back on track when they have fallen through the safety net provided. Our programme will mean innovation and collaboration to prevent homelessness.

Our £20 million grant funding for prevention trailblazer areas will help areas to go further and faster with reform, laying the groundwork for many of the changes that we want to see through the Homelessness Reduction Bill promoted by my hon. Friend Bob Blackman. Those areas will develop and adopt best practice and data-driven approaches to identify people at risk of homelessness and provide them with early support to prevent a crisis.

Southwark, Newcastle and Greater Manchester—our early adopters—will be taking forward a range of initiatives. Successful projects will involve collaboration between a wide range of services to identify people who are at risk of homelessness and help them well before they are threatened with eviction. Trailblazer areas will test innovative approaches to preventing homelessness to help us build our evidence base on what we know works.

The £20 million rough sleeping grant fund, which forms part of this programme, will enable local areas to intervene early with rough sleepers before their problems become ingrained and to build a better local multiagency partnership to address people’s underlying problems. Building on the successes of the London rough sleeping social impact bond, the £10 million rough sleeping fund for social impact bonds will allow local partnerships to work with some of the most entrenched rough sleepers, focusing on getting them into accommodation and using personalised support to address their complex needs.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks about me. Does he agree that one of the issues for rough sleepers and people threatened with homelessness is the complexity of the various reasons? Homelessness is not always the result of a private sector rental coming to an end. It may be caused by relationship breakdown. A homeless person may be an ex-offender or someone leaving the armed forces who is not used to settled accommodation. All these issues need personalised plans to assist those people to get into decent accommodation.

Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government)

My hon. Friend is right. Sometimes it is easy for us to simplify the challenges surrounding homelessness and rough sleeping, but most informed Members know that the position is far more complex. I welcome the provisions in his Bill for a personal plan that local authorities must go through with individuals, both people who are homeless and are owed a duty by a local authority to be housed and people who are not owed a duty to be housed. For the first time, they will get bespoke support. I thank my hon. Friend for raising that.

My hon. Friend is right to point out that we must deal with this challenge at a local level, but I am also absolutely committed to making sure we work effectively across the Government to tackle it. I am driving action across the Government through a ministerial working group on homelessness, and one example I can give the House is in regard to mental health, where we are looking at what more can be done to make sure rough sleepers with mental health problems get the specialist support they need. The group is also looking at how we can ensure that people who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness, receive the help they need to get into work.

I want now to pick up on a number of the comments hon. Members made. First, it was great to hear from my hon. Friend Mrs Drummond. She extolled the virtues of the way in which Portsmouth Council is trying to tackle homelessness, particularly through prevention and the work it is doing upfront to try to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place. It was good to hear that the council is also working closely with local charities and other partners, and that is something we certainly want to see in the proposals local areas bring to us in relation to the grant-funding programmes we are providing.

Paula Sherriff made a number of important points. She mentioned the rough-sleeping statistics. They are now much more accurate than they were in 2010, when local authorities were not obliged to provide a return to central Government in relation to how many rough sleepers there were in their areas. They are now compelled to do that, so the data are far more accurate. We are looking, though, at how we can improve the data that the Department holds, and we are doing so by trying to work out when people become homeless on multiple occasions and how we can prevent that from happening again to them.

I welcome what the hon. Lady said about the work Boots is doing in relation to sanitary products for women who, unfortunately, find themselves sleeping rough—an issue that she is particularly interested in. A number of programmes are centrally funded from the Department for Communities and Local Government for outreach organisations that deal with rough sleepers. In that sense, we do provide funding to those organisations, and they do, in turn, provide the type of support the hon. Lady rightly recognises is required for women rough sleepers.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

May I take the Minister back to the question of data? Bob Blackman, for example, raised the issue of hidden homelessness and sofa surfing. The Minister has just said that the figures on rough sleepers are getting more accurate—I welcome that—but what are the Government doing to collect more accurate data on hidden homelessness and the sofa surfers, who are particularly at risk of becoming rough sleepers?

Photo of Marcus Jones Marcus Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Department for Communities and Local Government) (Local Government)

That is obviously a much more difficult thing to measure, but with regard to the Homelessness Reduction Bill, which the Government are backing, I am absolutely sure, and we are certainly factoring this into our sums, that a significantly higher number of single people who are homeless—the type of people the hon. Gentleman identifies—will present at a local authority, because they will expect to receive far better advice and support than they do now, and they will have a personal plan, which we hope will allow their homelessness to be alleviated. So I think we will be able to measure that in a better way. On whether we can go as far as identifying all those people, I think that would be rather difficult.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East was right to identify the challenges, particularly in London. He was also right to identify the record funding—£3.15 billion—that the Government are providing to the Mayor of London to build 90,000 new homes across a range of tenures to suit the needs of Londoners. It is great to see that in a spirit of co-operation the Mayor has welcomed that record funding.

My hon. Friend also hit the nail on the head when he said that just having a place for a rough sleeper to stay is not enough, as we discussed earlier in the debate. We have to look at the underlying personal challenges and tackle them in the work that we do. The cross-Government working group that I lead is looking to tackle a number of other issues in that regard.

My hon. Friend David Mackintosh made an excellent speech in which he particularly highlighted his knowledge of this subject as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on ending homelessness. He highlighted the tragic consequences that can happen where rough sleepers are not supported sufficiently, as did Jack Dromey and my hon. Friend Julian Knight. I was heartened to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South about his support for the Government’s programmes, particularly those on tackling rough sleeping.

Ms Buck mentioned a housing association in her constituency that she said was not providing adequate housing conditions for their tenants. That is an extremely serious situation if it is the case. I recommend that she take that up with the local council. I would be keen to hear more detail from her on the types of issues that are being experienced. I can say, as somebody who was quite heavily involved in the Housing and Planning Act 2016, that there are now significant penalties for rogue landlords. Local authorities can now levy significant financial penalties of up to £30,000 on rogue landlords who do not provide adequate housing for the people to whom they rent property.

My hon. Friends the Members for Colchester (Will Quince) and for St Ives (Derek Thomas) made excellent speeches underlining the causes of rough sleeping. They were absolutely right to highlight the role of charitable workers and volunteers, who do tremendous work up and down the country. I would like to thank those volunteers, on behalf of the Government, for doing such an excellent job on behalf of a group of very vulnerable people.

Vicky Foxcroft mentioned funding for the Bill that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East has brought to the House. I can assure the hon. Lady that it is the Government’s intention to fund the Bill. We recognise that new burdens will be created, and as the new obligations on councils come forward, we will fund that. We fully expect, though, that the Bill will create a situation whereby councils deal with homelessness far more quickly. It will therefore become far cheaper for local authorities to deal with and support people because they will not be dealing with a housing crisis as often as they do currently. She referred to temporary accommodation. I can assure her that, by law, temporary accommodation must be suitable. If it is not in the case of the constituent she mentioned then that constituent has the right to a review and should go back to her local authority in that regard.

This has been an excellent debate on an extremely important issue. Our ambitions are backed by a new funding programme and the most ambitious legislative reform in decades. This Government are taking an end-to-end approach to tackling homelessness because we—

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Opposition Chief Whip (Commons)

claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 36).

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means

I hear the Opposition Chief Whip asking whether the Question might now be put, but I think he was just pipped to the post by the Minister concluding and sitting down.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means

No, the Minister had perfectly discharged his duty, so there is no necessity for the Question on the closure to be put. I shall put the Question.

Question put (Standing Order No. 31(2)), that the original words stand part of the Question.

The House divided:

Ayes 230, Noes 289.

Division number 112

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Aye

No

Question accordingly negatived.

Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the proposed words be there added.

Question agreed to.

The Deputy Speaker declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to (Standing Order No. 31(2)).

Resolved,

That this House notes that homelessness is lower now than at its peak in 2003-04; further notes that England has a strong safety net, and that the provision of temporary accommodation means no family with a child ever has to be without a roof over their heads; notes that the Government is going further with legislative protection by supporting the hon. Member for Harrow East’s Homelessness Reduction Bill to ensure that everyone gets the help they need to prevent or relieve their homelessness; welcomes the Government’s protection of £315 million homelessness prevention funding for local authorities and £149 million in central funding; notes in particular the recently launched £50 million homelessness prevention programme, helping areas all over the country to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping; and notes that one of the best ways to tackle homelessness is by increasing the housing supply, which the measures contained in the forthcoming Housing White Paper will address.