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Homelessness - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:53 am on 20th December 2018.

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Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 11:53 am, 20th December 2018

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that contribution and, as she has done, I offer sincere condolences on behalf of the Government and the House to the family of Gyula Remes and his friends—I think he had many in this country as well as in his native Hungary. In answer to the noble Baroness, I do speak to homeless people, and not just in Westminster. She is right that it is a tragedy, but it is a tragedy everywhere—not just here but up and down the country—that this is happening.

However, we have to acknowledge that this is perhaps much more complex than the noble Baroness suggested. For example, from the figures that she has no doubt seen today—the first set of such figures; we never previously had ONS figures on this issue and we should welcome that we now have this analysis—we know they indicate that over a third of the deaths have drugs as an element. That is not to minimise the issue but to show that there are many aspects we need to grapple with. It is not just a question of providing funding without knowing where it is going. Many of the deaths are also related to suicide or alcohol; I think more than half involve those three elements. So while, yes, it is about ensuring that we get the figures down, it is, as I say, much more complex than she suggests.

I also pay tribute, particularly at this time of year, to the many third sector bodies and charities which help. St Mungo’s springs to mind, but many others are helping and we should knowledge the great role they play, as well as local authorities. I will highlight one thing in the Statement. In the other place the Secretary of State highlighted the £5 million fund for cold weather, which was announced in October. A lot of that funding is still not committed and local authorities can bid in for it. The Secretary of State will issue that message to them again today, but I encourage them to bid because there is money available, as well as the money we have announced in relation to the early adopters of the rough sleeping initiative.

Perhaps I could accentuate one other thing in answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and for the benefit of the House. These figures do not relate just to rough sleeping; they are homelessness figures. It is where homelessness is featured on the death certificate, and some of those deaths will be people who have not been sleeping rough but have been in emergency accommodation, for example. So, again, it is perhaps a bit more complex than a first sight indicates.