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My Lords, it is a privilege to follow and welcome my noble friend, whose inspiring maiden speech, rooted in her lived experience, showed how much she will bring to our deliberations.
I strongly support this Motion, in particular with regard to homelessness. The National Audit Office drew attention to the,
“unquantified cost of homelessness to wider public services”,
including health. Unquantifiable is the cost to the physical and mental health of homeless people themselves, and to their lives, with ONS statistics showing a 24% increase in the number of deaths of homeless people over five years. For the growing number of female rough sleepers, some of whom have fled domestic violence, these health problems are often aggravated by sexual harassment.
The other week, the Nottingham Post headlined the health costs of homelessness in the city. It quoted Suzey Joseph, an outreach nurse employed by Framework, a local homelessness charity, who said:
“They get infections, organ failure and get sicker and sicker until they die on the streets”.
I met Suzey recently and was impressed by how she is helping homeless people to get the healthcare they need. Will the Minister undertake to look at this initiative as a possible model to promote through the Government’s rough sleeping strategy?
The causes of homelessness are of course multiple, and it has suited Ministers to hide behind the mantra of complexity when challenged on the role played by their own policies. But complexity does not absolve them of responsibility. Like my noble friend Lady Warwick, I am particularly concerned about the impact of social security cuts and restrictions, including the cap, the two-child limit, the housing and other benefits freeze, punitive sanctions, universal credit and devolution to local authorities of responsibility for emergency assistance—at least 28 have abolished their schemes and almost all the rest have cut back drastically.
The evidence from organisations on the ground, research and the NAO all points to,
“the impact of welfare reform on homelessness”,
“to set out what work it has undertaken to identify any elements of welfare reform that are having an impact on homelessness and what steps it has taken to mitigate them”.
The report back—a full half page—is totally unilluminating and says nothing about mitigation.
In December, the Secretary of State for HCLG denied that the rise in rough sleeping is a political failure linked to government policies but, a week later, he acknowledged that there may be a link to social security cuts and that we,
“need to ask ourselves some very hard questions”,
as to why there are so many more people on the streets.
What progress have Ministers made in coming up with answers, over a year since the PAC asked them to investigate the link between homelessness and so-called welfare reform? As social security cuts push more and more people further and further below the poverty line, they are undermining the Government’s own rough sleeping strategy and thereby contributing to the rising death toll on our streets.