Rough Sleeping

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:34 pm on 25th February 2021.

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Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Shadow Secretary of State for Housing 12:34 pm, 25th February 2021

The Government promised to bring everyone in, but these figures show that at least 2,688 people spent the pandemic on the streets, and every person on the streets is a policy failure. That figure is likely to be a major underestimation. Figures for London put the true number at more than four times today’s estimate. First, will the Housing Secretary commit to providing a richer and more frequent picture of homelessness and rough sleeping across the country?

Even before the crisis, rough sleeping was a shameful sign of Government failure, and we went into last year with more than twice as many rough sleepers as in 2010. The picture on wider homelessness is even worse. There are a quarter of a million homeless people in England, of whom almost 130,000 are children, and the situation is even worse in SNP-run Scotland, where the number of people in temporary accommodation has reached an all-time high.

Nobody should be sleeping rough, especially during a pandemic, so can the Secretary of State tell the House why he thinks that 2,500 people fell through the gaps and had their health and wellbeing exposed at the height of the pandemic? Is it because the Government refused to suspend “no recourse to public funds”, as Labour has called for? The UK Government have continued to leave local authorities in the impossible situation of having unclear guidance and no funding to help those most at risk. Could it be because the initial commitment to provide councils with “whatever it takes” was abandoned, and they are now being asked to raise council tax to pay for essential services? Could it be because the Government have failed to prevent people from becoming homeless and arriving on the streets during a pandemic?

Councils and local authorities should be rightly congratulated on their hard work—and I do congratulate them—in these extremely challenging circumstances, often despite unclear Government guidance, but there is a real risk that gains made last year will be lost. None of the funding mentioned by the Secretary of State today appears to be new. Meanwhile, the Government have quietly scaled back support for Everyone In, which brought down rough sleeping numbers. There are currently 11,000 people in emergency accommodation. However, the Government have promised only 6,000 new housing units for rough sleepers. What will happen to the other 5,000 people in emergency accommodation right now, or the 26,000 people in move-on accommodation or precarious private rented sector homes where they have no security and face homelessness again when their contracts run out in as little as six or 12 months? The Housing Secretary mentioned his commitment to Housing First, so why did the Government extend the pilots to 2023, rather than just rolling out the approach now?

We cannot return to business as usual. The Government pledged to end rough sleeping for good, but their consistent refusal to address the root causes means that more people will continue to arrive on the streets every day. The Government said this morning that the increase in rough sleepers is likely to be down to people losing their jobs and being unable to pay rent. Unemployment is predicted to soar, with 190,000 private renters set to lose their jobs by the summer, so why have the Government once again frozen local housing allowance, given that 700,000 universal credit claimants already cannot cover their rent?

Will the Minister close the loopholes in the so-called eviction ban, which have resulted in at least 500 people being evicted from their homes over winter? Will he commit to ending section 21, to give people security in their homes and prevent the leading cause of homelessness, as he said he would? Will he commit to providing the additional truly affordable housing that will be essential to finding permanent homes for people in temporary accommodation? Finally, the Government’s former rough sleeping tsar, Louise Casey, has criticised the Government for failing to grasp the scale of the crisis, the consequences for lives and life chances, the urgency of the need and the scope for solving it. The public want this. Will he heed her words?