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My Lords, it is most unfortunate that the terms of this debate, so ably moved by my noble friend Lord Whitty, are so broad that our time to speak on such important matters is so limited. As a result, I shall focus my short remarks on the pressing need for the Government to resolve this housing crisis, so that we can see an end to the diabolical increases in homelessness and the deaths of homeless people that we have seen over the past eight years.
By the Government’s own figures, the number of people sleeping on the streets has more than doubled since 2010, and charities warn us that this is a strong underestimate. It is shocking beyond belief that the Government started publishing only last December the numbers of people who have been dying in this situation. The news that 600 people died while homeless in 2017 should chill us all.
The factors contributing to this are clear. We have a chronic undersupply of affordable housing following 40 years of failure in housing policy, driven in part by the ideological selling-off of our council houses. This Government have pushed the situation to breaking point, with their record lows in council housebuilding. Their cruel austerity measures and the capping of local housing allowance have exacerbated people’s inability to pay expensive private rents.
Councils are struggling to find social tenancies for the homeless, and more and more people are becoming homeless because they cannot afford to pay their rent. When serving on Paddington council in the early 1960s, I witnessed the inhumane activities of a certain Peter Rachman towards his housing tenants. Rachman has gone, but the spirit of Rachmanism is alive today in the extortionate rents of this housing crisis and the increasing number of people forced to live in shocking conditions. The Government’s attempts finally to address this crisis of their own making come too late. We must tackle the root causes of homelessness by committing to a long-term vision for the building of social housing, giving greater security to renters and ensuring that people have access to the benefits and support they need to help them keep their homes. If the Government cannot facilitate the most basic human need in our society—for people to have shelter—they must move aside for a Government who will.