Every single death on our streets is a tragedy. Today’s statistics have provided us all with a stark reminder that there is so much more to be done. Every death on our streets is one too many, and this Government will work tirelessly to ensure that lives are not needlessly cut short. The fact that 726 people—mothers, fathers, siblings, all somebody’s loved one—died while homeless in 2018 will concern not just every Member of this House, but everybody up and down our country.
As you know, Mr Speaker, this Government are committed to putting an end to rough sleeping by 2027 and halving it by 2022; and we have changed the law to help make that happen. In April 2018, the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017—one of the most ambitious pieces of legislation in this area for decades—came into force. We now have a year’s worth of evidence, which is showing that more people are being supported earlier, and this is having a clear impact on the prevention of homelessness.
The Government last year published the first rough sleeping strategy, underpinned by £1.2 billion of funding, which laid out how we will work towards ending rough sleeping for good. Indeed, last year we saw a small change—a reduction in rough sleeping. A key element of that was the rough sleeping initiative. A total of £76 million has been invested in over 200 areas. This year, that initiative will fund 750 additional staff and approximately 2,600 new bed spaces. We know that next year, we must go further. Today’s statistics demonstrate that. We will be providing a further £422 million to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. That is a £54 million increase in funding on the previous year—a real-terms increase of 13%.
The cold weather is a particularly difficult time for those sleeping rough, so the Government have launched a second year of the cold weather fund. We are making available £10 million to local authorities to support rough sleepers off the streets. That will build on last year’s fund, which helped relieve more than 7,000 individuals from rough sleeping over the winter.
These statistics have reminded us starkly of the fateful impact of substance and alcohol misuse. We know that the use of new psychoactive substances is rising. These are dangerous drugs with unpredictable effects, and that is why it is so important that people get the support that they need. In 2019, we brought forward new training for frontline staff to help them engage with and support rough sleepers under the influence of such substances. We are working with the Home Office to ensure that rough sleepers are considered in the forthcoming alcohol strategy, which will focus on vulnerable people.
There is so much more to be done. Our work is continuing, our funding is increasing, our determination is unfaltering and we are committed to making rough sleeping a thing of the past.
Seven hundred and twenty-six people died homeless last year. Wherever we sit in this House, wherever we live in this country, that shames us all in a nation as decent and well-off as Britain today. Every one—in shop doorway, in bedsit, on park bench—has been known and loved as someone’s son or daughter, friend or colleague. We have heard from the new Minister today, but this demands a response from the Prime Minister himself, tomorrow, in his party conference speech. It demands that he leads a new national mission to end rough sleeping and the rising level of homeless deaths.
The official statistics released today confirm a record high total and a record high increase—up by a fifth over the past year alone. This record high has been 10 years in the making: investment in new social housing has been slashed; housing benefit has been cut 13 times; 9,000 homeless hostel places and beds have been lost as a result of Government funding cuts; and Ministers have refused to step in and protect private renters. There is the widest possible agreement, from homeless charities to the National Audit Office and the cross-party Select Committees of this House, that Government policy has helped cause the rise in homelessness every year since 2010.
Will the Minister therefore acknowledge that high levels of homeless deaths and homelessness are not inevitable? Will he accept that, just as decisions by Ministers have driven the rise in rough sleeping, Government action now could bring it down? Will he back Labour’s plans for £100 million for cold weather shelter and support to get people off the streets in every area, starting this winter? Will he tackle the root causes of this shocking rise in deaths with more funding for homelessness services, more low-cost homes and no further cuts in benefits?
These high and rising homeless deaths shame us all, but they shame Government Ministers most. This can and must change.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his questions. There is no shying away from the statistics, which are heartbreaking. He is absolutely right that every person who has died on our streets is somebody’s brother, mother or sister. He will find no complacency in this Government. We are increasing funding next year by £54 million, which is a 13% real-terms increase. It is important to note that in the areas where we piloted the rough sleeping initiative we saw a direct fall of 19% in rough sleeping in the first year. Next year we are delivering 750 more staff and 2,600 more bed spaces.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise these issues. While visiting homeless hostels and shelters across the country over the past few weeks, I have been struck by the welfare issues that people have raised with me, especially those with complex and difficult needs, and by the complexity of navigating the system in order to get the right support. That is why we have designed a number of safeguards, including individualised support from Department for Work and Pensions frontline staff. It is important to note that we have also allocated £40 million next year for discretionary housing payments. There is a huge amount more to be done on affordable social housing. He is right to highlight the importance of the issue, which has been raised with me by homelessness charities time and again. We have made £9 billion available through the affordable homes programme, to deliver 250,000 new affordable homes.
The right hon. Gentleman is also right to raise the role of health services. We see in today’s statistics the impact of the high prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse. That is why the support that we are putting forward as part of the rough sleeping strategy, including £2 million to test community-based health models to help rough sleepers access services, including mental health and substance abuse support, is vital. I look forward to working with him, and indeed with every Member of the House, as we try to tackle this hugely challenging issue for our country.
The number of rough sleepers in Newbury has dropped from the mid-30s to nine as of last week. That is nine too many, but that drop has been achieved by an enormous effort from local community groups, but also by statutory bodies such as West Berkshire Council using Government money, for example from Housing First and Making Every Adult Matter, to really bring down the numbers. The Minister will know that dealing with the hardest to reach—that is really what we are talking about in this urgent question—is about trying to get them the medical attention they need. Will he make every effort to work with his colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that GP surgeries and other health bodies are as open as possible to receiving rough sleepers and ensure that they are directed to where their serious problems can best be dealt with?
Absolutely, and I thank my right hon. Friend for raising these important matters. I pay tribute to the local organisations and voluntary bodies in his community that are working so hard to support homeless people and rough sleepers. Housing is part of the solution, but he is quite right to highlight that health services have a hugely significant role to play, alongside other public services. It is right to highlight the £30 million that NHS England is providing for rough sleeping over the next five years, specifically to tackle some of the high instances we have seen in today’s statistics. He is absolutely right and we will continue to make that money available.
Every death of a homeless person is a preventable tragedy. Although housing is a devolved matter, in many ways the policies that are causing those deaths are reserved to Westminster. The Guardian reports that drug-related deaths in England and Wales have gone up by 55% since 2017, and that is directly related to failing Home Office policy. In Glasgow we are facing the twin risks of so-called street Valium flooding the city and an ageing population of intravenous drug users. They run the risk of being put out of their accommodation for drug use and are extremely vulnerable. Will the Minister ask his Home Office colleagues to lay the statutory instrument that would amend the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 to allow drug consumption rooms, as they have in countries around the world, including the incredibly successful Quai 9 in Geneva, which I visited recently?
People are also being plunged into debt and eviction due to universal credit, so will the Minister end the five-week wait, which makes it so hard for people to get out of that cycle and get their lives back on track? Will he also look at amending advance payments, because this only keeps people in debt for longer, rather than resolving the issues? Will he work with the Scottish Government, whose “Ending Homelessness Together” action plan is helping to ensure that those facing homelessness are supported into a permanent settled home and that their needs are met as quickly as possible? Will he look across Government, as I have asked, particularly to the DWP and the Home Office, and ask his colleagues to take action now on the issues that are causing the deaths of so many homeless people in England and Wales and also in Scotland?
The hon. Lady started by stating that every death of a homeless person is preventable, and I absolutely agree. There is so much more that we can do. She talked specifically about the importance of cross-departmental working, both with the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Care, and I completely agree. We are continuing to work with colleagues in those Departments on the forthcoming independent review of drugs policy, led by the hugely respected Dame Carol Black. We will study her findings extremely carefully. The hon. Lady also talked about universal credit. It is important to put on the record that housing benefit will remain outside universal credit for all supported housing, including homeless shelters, until 2023. She raised a number of extremely important issues, and of course I am happy to work with her colleagues in the Scottish Government and to meet her to discuss how we can take these issues forward.
Fundamentally, we will deal with this only by providing many more truly affordable homes of secure tenure. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should consider changing the rules that currently require us to get the best price for public land, and that really we should make that land available to provide many more ultra low-cost homes?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He is an expert in the field and I take what he says extremely seriously, along with all the recommendations of the Communities and Local Government Committee, of which he is a member. I look forward to meeting him to discuss his proposal in more detail.
I welcome the Minister to his new post. Does he accept that two of the main drivers of the increase in homelessness are the shortage of social housing and the impact of the Government’s welfare policies? On housing, he said that the Government are making money available for affordable homes, but does he not accept that the Government’s definition of affordable homes, at 80% of market rates, means that they are simply unaffordable for most homeless people? On welfare, has he read the National Audit Office’s report, which draws a direct link between welfare policies and the rise in homelessness? Will he now accept that there is a need for a review of that link and then for a commitment to change the welfare policies to ensure that they do not drive homelessness up even further?
I thank the Chairman of the Select Committee on Housing, Communities and Local Government for his questions, and I look forward to working constructively with him in the weeks and months ahead.
I would note that we have raised borrowing caps for local authorities so that they can borrow to build, and I say again that we are putting £24 billion a year into housing benefit, which will remain outside universal credit for all supported housing, including homelessness shelters, and making £40 million in discretionary housing payments available for 2020-21. I come back to the point about the difficulty of navigating the system and the importance of ensuring that people are provided with the support they need to do so.
Can the Minister confirm that as part of the rough sleeping strategy, special training is being provided to frontline staff to help people under the influence of narcotics, to ensure that such tragic deaths can be prevented in the future? We have had this problem in Derby, and I know that the police have had real difficulty in dealing with it.
I can absolutely confirm that, and my hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of that training, which is going directly to the frontline. It is also worth pointing out that the rough sleeping strategy has created a specialist rough sleeping team made up of rough sleeping and homelessness experts with specialist knowledge across a wide range of areas, including addiction and alcohol issues. It is working with local authorities to reduce rough sleeping. I absolutely take on board what she says.
Cuts have consequences. Quite clearly, if we take £37 billion a year out of social security, there are consequences. It is time to end the benefits freeze and build genuinely affordable housing, especially social and council housing—does the Minister agree?
There is absolutely no shying away from today’s figures, so I take what the hon. Gentleman says head-on. The local housing allowance freeze is, of course, due to end in March 2020, and the Government are considering options for after the freeze. We are having continuing conversations about that issue.
Will the Minister join me in congratulating Lewes District Council, which along with Wealden and Rother managed to secure £120,000 earlier this year from the £46 million rough sleeping initiative? Does he agree that it is this Government who, for the first time, have got serious about tackling the causes of homelessness by introducing the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 and providing £1.2 billion of support for tackling all the causes of homelessness?
I thank my hon. Friend and congratulate her local authority. One of the important points about the Homelessness Reduction Act is that for the first time, we have a year’s worth of data showing the importance of the early intervention that she talks about. She is right that it is backed up with £1.2 billion of funding, but of course today’s statistics show that there is so much more to be done.
The fact that, in this city—arguably one of the wealthiest on the planet— 110 people lost their lives last year is a complete outrage. I am afraid that the fact that the figure has increased by 20% year on year is a damning indictment of the Minister’s Government.
Why are we continuing to criminalise people who are sleeping rough on our streets and begging? Is it not time that we got rid of the Dickensian Vagrancy Act, which is criminalising people instead of giving them the support that they need?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. We have of course been reviewing the Act, and I take what he says extremely seriously. We are engaging with the police, local authorities and community groups to see what the most effective method of both support and enforcement is, but he is right that these are heartbreaking statistics, and the number of people who lose their lives on our streets is completely unacceptable.
I welcome the Minister to his position, and I welcome the assured way in which he has dealt with his debut performance on this difficult subject.
In Worthing, we have an innovative project whereby Roffey Homes, a developer, bought a nurses’ home and has given it to Turning Tides, a homelessness charity, to use for the next five years, before it wants to develop it. With the support of Worthing Council and with Government funding, it has taken more than 30 people off the streets, providing not just accommodation but mental health support, training support, benefits advice and everything else. It is not without problems, not least the constant complaints and undermining by local Labour councillors, but does the Minister agree that we need this sort of innovative approach if we are to find sustainable solutions for people living and sleeping rough?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that example of good practice in his constituency. I was not aware of that project, but I would be happy to visit it. Of course, that good practice does not disguise the fact that there is so much more for us to achieve as a Government to tackle rough sleeping by 2027.
How many of the homeless people who have died were in receipt of benefit, and how many were not, and why not? If the Minister does not know the answer, will he undertake to write to me and place the answer in the Library so that we can all know the truth?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that question. I do not have that information on me today, but if we have it, I absolutely give that undertaking.
The causes of and solutions to rough sleeping are never simple. I welcome the action that the Government have taken and encourage them to work with local authorities and the extraordinary range of charities and voluntary organisations, such as Churches Together in Basildon, which works tirelessly to tackle homelessness and get people off our streets, giving them a warm and dry place to sleep and a hot meal and, more importantly, helping them to access the support systems that are available but that they seem to have fallen out of.
My local authority, Westminster, has the highest number of rough sleepers in the country. Its rough sleeping strategy found that a third of rough sleepers had been discharged on to the streets from prison, and of course others are ex-servicemen. Can the Minister tell us how many deaths have occurred among people who have been released on to the streets from prison? If he does not know, will he place that information in the Library, and can he tell us how on earth that is allowed to happen?
I completely understand the importance of this issue to the hon. Lady’s constituency and in Westminster. If we are to end rough sleeping, we need to ensure that people leaving prison are supported into accommodation—I say that as both a Minister and someone with three prisons in his constituency. It is important to note the offender accommodation pilots that are under way at HMP Bristol, Leeds and Pentonville, but I am happy to meet her and the local council again to see how we can take this further.
I had the privilege of serving on the Public Bill Committee on the Homelessness Reduction Bill, which was piloted through by my hon. Friend Mr Jones and passed on a cross-party basis. In welcoming the Minister to his place, may I too invite him to pay tribute to local organisations that support the homeless? In my areas there are organisations such as Routes to Roots, in Poole. What more can we do to support such organisations?
My hon. Friend is right, and I thank him for his work not just on the Bill Committee on the Homelessness Reduction Act but in working with charities in his constituency. I absolutely pay tribute to them for their work, and I hope to visit them with him soon to hear more about their work.
Leeds City Council, through its very impressive street support team, which brings together all the agencies working with the street homeless in our city, is making effective use of funding under the Housing First programme. That enables people who might not be able to comply with the conditions that hostels reasonably require, because of their drug and alcohol problems, to get into permanent accommodation with support. May I urge the Minister to increase the support that he is making available to local authorities such as Leeds through that programme? I have seen from that team that it is being put to extremely good use.
I welcome the tone of the right hon. Gentleman’s question. He is right that the Housing First pilots are working very well. In a lot of instances they are backed up by international evidence that supports the programme, and we are building a strong evidence base to see how it can be continued and expanded. I thank his local authority for the work that it is doing.
I welcome the Minister’s passion for tackling this shameful situation. Stevenage Borough Council has had a terrible track record in tackling homelessness while I have been a Member of Parliament over the past 10 years. It still tells my constituents that they are intentionally homeless, which is unacceptable. Will the Minister meet me and local homelessness charities to work out what we can do to support the homeless in my community?
I am absolutely happy to meet my hon. Friend and perhaps hold a roundtable with his local authority to ensure that we are all working together to tackle this issue. There is no getting away from the difficulty of today’s news and today’s figures, and I will work with anybody who can help bring this scourge to an end.
Since 2010, homelessness in Newcastle has risen dramatically, visibly and tragically, with deaths in our city centre. Under the Minister’s Government, rough sleeping has been normalised, but it will never be normal to us. I have spoken extensively to Northumbria police, local housing associations, charities and public health officials, and it is clear that the cuts to public services are a prime cause. Will he acknowledge that austerity has caused this problem, and does he agree that it must be reversed?
First, let me put on the record my thanks to Crisis, which I know does so much work in Newcastle, and highlight the success so far of the rough sleeping initiative, which is in the hon. Lady’s constituency and where we saw a 19% reduction in rough sleeping. She is right to highlight the importance of health services and other services available to people who are rough sleeping and homeless. This is why we have committed £30 million from NHS England to address rough sleeping over the next five years and £2 million in health funding to test models of community-based provision.
No one should have to sleep rough, but there are people sleeping rough on the streets of Harrogate. Yet I have been told by those at the Harrogate homeless hostel, which is run by a fantastic local charity that has been doing great work for many years, that it has empty beds each night. So we have to work harder to understand the reasons why people feel that sleeping rough is their only option. Will the Minister join me in praising the joint initiative between Harrogate Borough Council and that hostel, whereby the council funds an outreach worker whose role is to go out and work with rough sleepers to help to address the underlying causes and make sure that the most vulnerable in our community get the support they need?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I pay tribute to that work and to outreach workers around the country. I have spent many evenings with outreach workers in the past few months, listening to the stories they have to tell and hearing some of the difficult facts being relayed to me as the Minister responsible. I am happy to pay tribute to the work that his local authority is doing.
We know from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities that the rent arrears of those on universal credit are two and half times the arrears of those on housing benefit. Will the Minister therefore tell us what discussions he is having with the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that we are addressing the issue of rent arrears?
The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight this issue. We are having constant discussions with Ministers about these issues. Both that issue and the one about the local housing allowance are raised most often with me, and I am having constant discussions with my colleagues on the Front Bench about the way forward.
May I praise the work of organisations such as the Welsh Veterans Partnership in my community, which works to support veterans and ensure they are adequately housed, and the Salvation Army, which has Tŷ Gobaith in my patch? I visited it recently and its Bridge programme does fantastic work with those who have serious drug and alcohol addiction issues. What is the Minister doing to ensure that intensive programmes such as that are properly available to all who need them across the UK? Without that, people are not going to get the support they need.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that example of positive work in his constituency, and I am happy to look at how such initiatives can be expanded more widely. We of course have the rough sleeping initiative, which is being expanded, as are the funding and services made available. I am happy to go away and look at the example he has raised.
I congratulate John Healey on tabling this urgent question and thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting it. The figure of 726 deaths of homeless people shames our nation. In an urgent question such as this, several issues inevitably become conflated, for the best of reasons, but “homelessness” is different from rough sleeping and from the number of people who die while homeless. The causes of homelessness are incredibly diverse and affect a very diverse range of people. The number of people who are rough sleepers is rather less diverse and the number of people who die through being homeless is even less diverse; the biggest cohort of people who die while homeless are men who have a drug problem, an alcohol problem, or both. Specifically, what are we doing to prevent the deaths of men who have drug problems and/or alcohol problems and are homeless?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. The Homelessness Reduction Act was genuinely a groundbreaking piece of legislation. For the first time, we now have some proper evidence about the importance of prevention. We see that the biggest group that has been helped by that Act is single men, because they can often end up on the streets. As we have seen, 88% of the 726 people who died last year were men. The Act is helping us to make substantial progress, but he is right about the importance of focusing on this issue.
I understand that there have been a mere 180 transactions under the ludicrous housing association right-to-buy lottery. Why does the Minister not just admit that was always a daft idea, divert the remaining £190 million to an emergency winter programme and spare us a spate of people freezing to death on the streets?
It is genuinely important to note the raising of the housing revenue account borrowing cap, so that local authorities have the ability to borrow money to build properties themselves. I take what the hon. Gentleman says extremely seriously. We should make sure that in areas such as his we have the rough sleeping initiative, as we are seeing progress, with a 19% direct fall. I am happy to have further discussion with him on this matter.
Behind one of the shameful homeless death statistics is Jake Humm, a 22-year-old from Brighton who took his life last year, despite trying so hard to access support from local services such as Room to Rant, a brilliant project that helps young people to find peer support through music. The Government have slashed local authority services and funding, which means that grassroots projects such as Room to Rant do not necessarily have the funding they need to support people such as Jake. When will the Minister reverse those cuts to funding so that those grassroots projects, which are literally a lifeline for so many, can continue in the future?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. We are doing a huge amount in Brighton with local partnerships, and Dame Carol Black has visited Brighton as well. It is an area covered by the rough sleeping initiative, but I know that there is a huge amount more progress to be made. I am happy to speak to the hon. Lady or go to Brighton to look at what more can be done to make progress on an extremely challenging issue in her constituency.
Under the last Labour Government homelessness came down, partly because we made beds available for those who were on the streets so that those who wanted to move into accommodation could do so and those who were working with the hardest to move could focus their attention on those people. Does the Minister intend to return to that sort of strategy? How many of these deaths would have been avoidable had those beds still existed?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that question. Part of the rough sleeping strategy and rough sleeping initiative is about delivering both the 2,600 new bed spaces next year and the 750 staff to provide support in tackling the sort of issues he is talking about.
If every seat, aisle and step in this Chamber was full, we still could not fit in every person who has died in the streets in this country, and that is actively at the door of the Government. We have had the cuts to housing and support services, particularly drug and alcohol services, and those chickens are coming home to roost. This cannot be fixed with the Housing Minister changing every few months, and by coming and making excuses. We need proper action and proper funding, and the Government need to take responsibility for the impact of welfare reform.
The hon. Gentleman should bear in mind the £1.2 billion that is going in to provide homelessness support through the rough sleeping strategy. He makes an extremely valid point; there is no shying away from a hugely difficult set of statistics, and we should all pause for thought. He paints a vivid image. It is right to point to the fact that we are continuing to invest in our health services, with £30 million made available from NHS England for rough sleeping over the next five years, and £2 million in health funding to test these community-based models of provision, but he is right: there is no shying away from and no complacency about the fact that this is an extremely difficult issue affecting our whole society. We will strain every sinew to make this happen.
It is right that we should get homeless people off the streets, but I also have real concerns about the unregulated supported housing sector. I have discussed that with the Minister’s officials and his predecessor. The Charities Commission has just reported on Wick House in my constituency, where several people have died, and there seems to be consensus that we need regulation of this sector, to prevent exploitative landlords from moving into it. Will the Minister follow up on my conversations? Can we see some action on this, please?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. It is absolutely unacceptable that vulnerable people—indeed anybody—should have to live in poor-quality housing. She raises the issue of Wick House, which we both know about, as west of England Members of Parliament. I have been having those conversations this morning and I will be happy to update her as soon as I can.
First, will the Minister thank all those charities that help out the homeless and have brought down the number of deaths in this country? Recently, on
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. This year we have doubled the cold weather fund, to which local authorities can apply now, and I encourage his local authority to do so. He made a really intelligent and correct remark about the complexity of the different reasons why people end up on the streets. One positive that has come out of the 2017 Act is that for the first time we have some evidential data about why people end up on the streets, who is most at risk and how we can support them best. I absolutely take the points he makes to heart and will absolutely follow them up.
Every evening, as we leave this opulent building, we see a growing number of homeless people—in the tube station, outside the buildings, in shop doorways and anywhere else where they can seek shelter. It is clear that the Government are not doing enough. Homelessness has at least doubled since 2010; why does the Minister think that is? Does he recognise that swingeing cuts to the welfare budget and substance-misuse services have contributed to that rise?
I say again that there is absolutely no shying away from the extremely difficult and upsetting set of statistics released today that shows that we need to do more. That is absolutely right, and that is why we are increasing the budget by £54 million next year—a 13% real-terms rise. The hon. Lady raises some extremely important issues. We have increased the welfare budget, but I understand the importance of the issues she raises, especially the numerous concerns relating to the LHA freeze. We are of course continuing to consider options for after that freeze next year.
The importance of the 2017 Act is that now we are really going to have some evidential information about why. If Members look at the information we have from the first year, they will see the progress that has been made, especially on supporting single men, and the importance and priority of early intervention. The hon. Gentleman raises an extremely important point, though, and there is no shying away from the hugely difficult set of statistics released today. We will strain every single sinew going forward. We are increasing the funding, with £54 million more next year, £30 million from NHS England to support health projects and £2 million for urgent intervention in community health services.
There have been some groundbreaking projects to help with the rapid rise in rough sleeping in Oxford, but they have really suffered from being short-term funded. Most of the money the Minister is talking about is just for the short term. The stamp duty surcharge on overseas property buyers is sustainable funding that is meant to last over the long term, but his Government decided that it was going to be set at a third of the level they originally committed to. Will the Minister explain why his Government apparently decided to prioritise the wealth of overseas property investors over the needs of vulnerable rough sleepers? I just do not understand it.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that point, which I am happy to look into in more detail. In Oxford, as in so many other areas throughout the country, the rough sleeping initiative is reducing rough sleeping—it is down by 19% directly since 2017 and there has been a 32% reduction compared with where we would have been had it not been introduced—but I absolutely take seriously the points that have been raised from all parts of the Chamber.
I do not think anyone can question the sincerity of the Minister’s answers, but I am disappointed that he did not answer possibly the most important question that my hon. Friend Alison Thewliss asked from her position of substantial knowledge of the impact that drug misuse is having among her constituents. The specific question was about the Government allowing, even on a trial basis, the establishment of a consumption room, under medical supervision, to see what difference that makes to the awful death toll that drug use is causing in Glasgow and elsewhere. Will the Minister at least commit to go back to his Cabinet colleagues and ask them to consider seriously the fact that drug misuse should be treated as a public health crisis, not as a criminal justice matter?
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that Dame Carol Black is absolutely the right person to lead the independent review of drugs policy. All these issues are being considered and I look forward to reading the recommendations.
As chair of the all-party group on ending homelessness, I agree with the Minister that this is a challenging issue, but the simple truth is that this was not happening on this scale in 2010, before the cuts to mental health services, to drug and alcohol cessation services, to councils and even to benefits for some of the most disabled people with mental health conditions in our country. Does the Minister regret the lost decade of cuts and the loss of life that we now know it has directly contributed to?
I regret every single life lost on our streets. It is heartbreaking that those 729 people died on our streets last year. That demonstrates the need as clearly as ever—there is so much more to do. I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and come to the all-party group to discuss this in much more detail.
The Minister is before us to convince us of the Government’s seriousness in taking forward this issue. Back in March, the UK Statistics Authority urged the Government to improve the quality of their homelessness figures, because if the Government do not know exactly how many people are homeless, how can they possibly expect to deal with the issue? What action have the Government taken on that advice?
One important thing in the rough sleeping initiative and the impact evaluation that we published a couple of weeks ago was the work on looking at the method we used to carry out the counts. The information and data that we have clearly proves that changing from a count to an estimate, or vice versa, did not have any impact on the reduction figures. Lots of different authorities represented by different political parties have made changes back and forward, but we have to be led by the evidence.
In 2010, the annual count of homeless rough sleeping in Brighton was 500; it is now 1,200. Deaths on the street were a rarity; now, they come more than once a month in Brighton and Hove. What policy has changed between 2010 and now? Surely we need to understand the policy failure before we can fix it.
As I said to Caroline Lucas, there are absolutely issues in Brighton, as there are throughout the country. The rough sleeping initiative is having an impact: in the places where we are trialling the rough sleeping initiative, there has been a 19% direct fall since 2017 and a 32% reduction compared with where we would have been had it not been introduced. There is no shying away from it, though: there is much more to do in Brighton, as there is in other cities, towns and villages all around our country.
Every winter, the pretty village of Altnaharra in the epicentre of my vast far-northern constituency is the coldest place in the UK. As has been said already, the cold kills so many people sleeping rough. Have the Government looked at best practice in northern countries such as Norway, Sweden and Finland, to see how they are tackling this issue?
Yes, absolutely, and we continue to have those conversations. I would be happy to keep in close contact with the hon. Gentleman and to have conversations as we move towards the winter. He should of course note that the cold weather fund has opened and we have doubled the money available since last year. I encourage his local authority to apply. I am more than happy to keep him updated as and when we look at the matter further.