Rough Sleeping

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:23 pm on 25th February 2021.

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Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government 12:23 pm, 25th February 2021

I would like to update the House on the Government’s progress towards ending rough sleeping. I know that many colleagues on both sides of the House share my interest and commitment to this issue so today I am pleased to report that the rough sleeping annual statistics for 2020 have been published, and that the number of people sleeping rough across England has fallen for the third year in a row. In fact, we have seen the largest fall in rough sleeping since the annual snapshot began.

Across England, the number of people sleeping rough has fallen by 37% over the past year and almost halved since this Administration took office in 2019. I am heartened that this fantastic result has been mirrored in London, where there are particular challenges in tackling rough sleeping, but where none the less there has also been a 37% fall in the number of people sleeping rough.

Some of our largest cities have seen exceptional reductions. In Birmingham, for example, the snapshot records just 17 individuals, down from 52 last year. A number of places recorded no rough sleepers at all in the statistics, including Ashford and Basingstoke. These independently verified statistics are our most robust measure of rough sleeping. They enable us to estimate the number of people sleeping rough on a single night and to compare change over many years. As colleagues know, these numbers represent lives rebuilt, families reconnected and communities strengthened.

These encouraging figures highlight the success of our ongoing Everyone In programme. We launched Everyone In almost a year ago, at the start of the pandemic, with the simple aim of bringing in as many people as possible off the streets—reducing the transmission of covid-19, protecting the NHS and saving people’s lives. By January, Everyone In had successfully helped over 26,000 people who were either sleeping rough or in very precarious accommodation and at risk of sleeping rough to move into longer-term accommodation. Through the programme, we continue to support an additional 11,000 people in emergency accommodation while longer-term solutions are found. In total, at least 37,000 people are in safe and secure accommodation today as a result of this exceptional effort.

Local authorities have each drawn up their own plans to support those accommodated during the pandemic, with our support and guidance. Those plans have been backed by £91.5 million through our Next Steps accommodation programme. Our ongoing Everyone In initiative is widely regarded as one of the most successful of its kind, and I am pleased that the United Kingdom has avoided some of the scenes that we have seen in other great cities and communities around the world, which bring shame on those places that could have done more. Research published in The Lancet showed that the measures we took in the first phase of the pandemic alone may have avoided 21,000 infections, 266 deaths, 1,100 hospital admissions and 330 intensive care admissions of homeless people.

Our priority now is to ensure that we maintain this momentum and end rough sleeping altogether. To that end, we will bring forward 6,000 homes for rough sleepers, backed by over £400 million of funding, over the course of this Parliament. That is the largest investment in accommodation of this kind, and I am proud that it will leave a national legacy of support for those helped by Everyone In.

Meanwhile, we will continue to invest in the initiatives that were already in place before Everyone In and that are helping to drive down the numbers of people sleeping rough. Those initiatives were created before my tenure, and I pay particular tribute to my two immediate predecessors, my right hon. Friends the Members for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire) and for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), who put in place and reinvigorated the rough sleeping initiative created in the early 1990s by another of my predecessors, the now noble Lord Young.

The £112 million of funding from our rough sleeping initiative this year has helped 291 local authorities, and further funding next year will continue to boost outreach teams, establish first-stage accommodation and introduce targeted support for mental health, employment and life skills, and wider support. We also continue to learn from and build on our Housing First pilots. The first three pilots, in Greater Manchester, Liverpool and the west midlands, are currently supporting over 800 people into safe and secure homes. Today, we are strengthening our commitment to Housing First through the publication of the “Mobilising Housing First” toolkit, which sets out examples of best practice and recommendations for areas keen to implement Housing First at a local level, using the funding that we have made available.

Over the course of the year, we planned and prepared for further targeted interventions to support areas with higher numbers of rough sleepers. This included the Protect programme to provide extra support to high-need areas, and the cold weather fund to bring forward additional covid-secure accommodation over the winter. Latterly, we have had the Protect Plus programme, which helped councils to redouble their efforts and, in particular, to ensure that rough sleepers are registered with a GP, are woven into the vaccination programme in their area and receive the vaccination when their time comes.

Westminster, a borough that faces unusual pressures—not least because of the very high numbers of non-UK nationals—has consistently had the highest number of people sleeping rough since the snapshot approach was introduced. As a result of this targeted approach and the exceptional efforts of the council there, we have seen very significant progress. The number of people sleeping rough in Westminster has fallen by 27% since 2019 and is believed to be at the lowest level in recent memory.

In recognition of how instrumental the community, charity and faith sectors have been to our national effort, I am today announcing further funding for the voluntary sector to support their work. That will help local community night shelters to provide accommodation that is covid-secure in time for this autumn, in case that is needed, and is dignified and focused on sensible, sustainable housing solutions for rough sleepers. It will also support Homeless Link, Housing Justice, StreetLink, St Basils and the National Homelessness Advice Service delivered by Shelter. I pay particular tribute to all those and many other community and charitable organisations.

Taken together, these interventions have led to a dramatic reduction in rough sleeping of a kind not seen in many years. The additional data my Department has published today shows that the number of people sleeping rough on a single night has continued to fall since the annual snapshot. Over the winter period, numbers have fallen to 1,743 in December and to just 1,461 in January. Many of the individuals will have been offered accommodation, but will not have chosen to accept it for a wide range of reasons.

While those are not official statistics of the kind of the November count that is also published today, they demonstrate the incredible achievements of council officers and outreach staff, who have been at the frontline of tackling rough sleeping in the past few months, operating under extraordinary circumstances to meet the demands of the extremely cold weather that we have seen recently. Their work is often unglamorous and unnoticed, and I pay huge tribute to them for what they have achieved.

We have made great strides over the past 12 months, but we do not view that as an end in itself; it is only a beginning. In the next financial year, we will be spending more than £750 million to continue tackling homelessness and rough sleeping so that everyone who has been extended a helping hand off the streets during the pandemic has no need to return to them again.

Our ambition is that no one should need to sleep rough. To achieve that, we must raise the safety net from the street and address the causes of rough sleeping. We believe rough sleeping is a symptom of family breakdown, of domestic abuse, of the treatment of ex-offenders, of the historical inadequacies of our immigration system and, above all, of poor health, substance misuse and mental health.

At the heart of the strategy that we will be laying out in the weeks and months to come will be the marriage of health and housing. The partnership between those is surely one of the central lessons of this pandemic. We will fortify those partnerships between local homelessness and health services, and between central and local government and the NHS, all of which have been strengthened enormously over the course of this year. I will work closely with the Department of Health and Social Care to tackle drug and alcohol addiction and mental health, and with the Ministry of Justice to ensure that prison leavers have access to housing upon release. We will seize this opportunity to build back better—not merely mending or returning to a status quo, but building a better country post-covid-19, in which no one needs to sleep rough. I commend this statement to the House.