Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Housing for the Homeless - Question for Short Debate

– in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 14th May 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Bird Lord Bird Crossbench 4:30 pm, 14th May 2020

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to support people who were previously homeless into permanent housing after the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Question was considered in a Virtual Proceeding via video call.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, the Virtual Proceeding on the Question for Short Debate in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bird, will now commence. This debate is time-limited to one hour. I therefore remind noble Lords that the time limit for Back-Bench speakers is one minute.

Photo of Lord Bird Lord Bird Crossbench

Good afternoon. I am grateful for this opportunity to raise a very pressing issue that bothers us all. Anybody who has been involved in homelessness or anyone who walks the streets of our cities will have seen over a considerable period thousands of people there who are completely beyond the legal remit. They are not a part of the social compact that we have as citizens and as voters. They are outside society and have remained outside of it for many decades, certainly since the early 1960s.

When I was a rough sleeper and a beggar in those times, if you so much as sat down in public and went to sleep or if you were begging, you would be pursued by the police. That was the old way of doing things. Obviously, we did not want to keep using those old draconian Vagrancy Act-style methods, so instead what we did was just ignore the homeless on the streets. We left everything to charities and organisations like Crisis, Shelter and St Mungo’s. They have done an incredibly rich and useful job for us all, but the time has come when we cannot allow the streets to return to what they were pre Covid-19. We cannot decant the homeless from the places that fortunately they have taken up—not all of them; some people are still out there. I meet and talk to them, and I am sure that many noble Lords have seen them on occasions when they have been out and about in city centres. There are not enough places for the homeless.

What happened when we began to respond to the Covid-19 crisis? Mr Jeremy Swain, who was working with the rough sleepers initiative and was the tsar, so to speak, and Dame Louise Casey were put in charge by the Government to lift people off the streets and put them into places of safety. They were taken away so that they could be socially isolated. I want us all to commend the hard work of Dame Louise Casey, Jeremy Swain and all those organisations which came together to do this wonderful thing. They broke away from the fact that for decade after decade we had been ignoring these people and had left them outside of democracy. We left them on the streets to die in an abuse of human rights of an untold kind.

We have brought people in and they are now as comfortable as can be, bearing in mind that it is very difficult for someone to come in from the streets where they were living a limited life and being put into a fine place like a Trusthouse Forte hotel—I cannot remember where they have all been put. Oh, I am sorry, my wife has just reminded me that they have been put into Travelodges and Holiday Inns. They would be wonderful places to be at any other time, but maybe not for people who are socially isolating when what they want to do is get out and have a cigarette, walk around the block and maybe talk to someone.

The Government have taken responsibility. This is the first Government since way back during Victorian times to have said that people living on the streets are their responsibility. They have lifted them up and put them into places of safety where they are living as well as can be expected.

Fortunately, Covid-19 will end and we now need a plan. What will we do? Will we decant these people back on to the streets? Will we pretend that things are as they were, or have we seen the promised land, in the sense of government responsibility and our own responsibility, and will we say, “No, let us not put them back on the streets, let us put them in a place of safety. Let us put them in therapeutic communities where they can deal with all the demons that have led them to end up on the street—all the social problems, all the cocktail of social failure, all the damage they have done to themselves and has been done to them when they were younger, all this”? These people have come out of local authority care, out of the prisons or out of our Armed Forces; through problems with mental health, they have dropped down and need our help. We cannot decant these people back on to the streets.

I am very pleased to say that Dame Louise Casey, who I have known for many years and have had many fish and chip suppers with—she is a lovely lady—and Jeremy Swain, who I know as well, and he is a lovely geezer, have come up with an idea. The task force has said it will find a way to provide for people once the Covid curfew is over. I want the Government to say, “We will not allow this situation to happen again. We will have to find a way to respond to it.”

Bear in mind also that there will be enormous pressure on budgets and on the streets because, post Covid-19, there will be people who will have problems, who have been left high and dry, who have been left beached by the crisis. There will be people with mental health problems, and people who have run away from blasted, broken relationships. Lockdown will have left them very vulnerable if they are in abusive relationships —we have seen enormous increases in women suffering domestic violence. What do we do about them? What do we do about the people who have been left high and dry without the means of sustaining themselves, because their business or their job has disappeared, or the place where they live has disappeared? We will have a bit of a rocky ride when we get to the end of this, and now is the time to begin the process of thinking this through.

I know it is a historical exaggeration to make a comparison with 1941, when Winston and Clem dug Beveridge out of retirement and had him work on a plan. Obviously, he published his findings in 1943 and they laid the basis of the welfare state, but we need a plan now. We need to do the work. What are the Government prepared to do? Will they talk to people like us, who have been going on resolutely for decades? Do not leave people out on the streets, because it is a human rights abuse. Because it is a human rights abuse, why are we ever entertaining people dying earlier, falling into mental ill-health and all these problems? Now is the time: we need to know what the plans are. The Government need to pull together a Beveridge-type response to the social crisis which will overwhelm them if they do not respond to it. Homelessness is obviously only the tip of the social iceberg—there are all sorts of other things—but we have to be strong here, and not in any way talk about returning to the old days.

The Big Issue has been removed from the streets. I was fortunate that when I talked to Jeremy Swain we worked out that we had to stop the Big Issue on the first day of lockdown and remove sellers because of their health and the problems that they might pass on to people who buy it. Unfortunately, that means that the Big Issue disappeared from the streets. We are putting it together and if anybody has a bundle of money and wants to help us, throw it our way. We would love it, especially from Her Majesty’s Government.

However, the point is that we are going to be there, trying to help people to get back. We will have to go back to the idea of a hand up, not a hand out. At the moment, we are helping people and supporting our vendors, but we are stuck. We are not expecting them to work because they cannot.

This is a great opportunity to break the morass that for almost the whole of my working life has enabled us to see homeless people on the street left outside society —no longer citizens, no longer performing persons. The social contract that we have with the Government, the state, our local authorities and all that did not extend to them. Let us extend it. We must put our arms around the homeless. Let us not decant them back on the street, because that would be a mockery of our democracy and of what we have been through when we have seen so many people pull together for the benefit for us all. Let us have one for all, and all for one.

Photo of Lord Sheikh Lord Sheikh Conservative 4:41 pm, 14th May 2020

My Lords, I have been involved in providing meals to the homeless and have had limited contact with them. According to official figures, in 2019 there were 4,266 rough sleepers in England. They are the most vulnerable group in society. Some of them have physical and mental conditions. I commend the Government, local authorities and charities for finding accommodation for 90% of rough sleepers during the pandemic. However, there must be an effective long-term plan, backed by ethical investments, to find suitable permanent accommodation for all homeless people. This should be a holistic programme that involves input from the Government, local authorities and various organisations. Will the Minister tell us to what extent this is being done? We welcome the establishment of the task force headed by Dame Louise Casey. We appreciate that the Government are committed to ending rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour 4:42 pm, 14th May 2020

My Lords, I spoke about the problem of homeless people, particularly in London, on 29 April. In his reply, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord True, said that

“the Government believe that we have reached some 90% of those we wish to.”—[Official Report, 29/4/20; col. 266.]

That does not quite tally with what was in the Guardian today, which says that only 1,000 homeless people have been offered hotel rooms, which is better than nothing, out of 8,555 rough sleepers. I suggest that the noble Lord, Lord True, needs to change his wish or try a bit harder.

The noble Lord, Lord Bird, spoke about progress, but that is surely made best by local authorities, which are starved of cash, despite the Prime Minister saying that he will do whatever it takes. He is not doing it. Where is the money? This is a massive failure of central government. The National Health Service gets a lot, but the Government are still starving local authorities of the cash to deal with rough sleepers and longer-term needs. I hope the Minister will give us some comfort when he replies.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat 4:44 pm, 14th May 2020

My Lords, if we are to deal with the underlying problem of rough sleeping we must identify the individual cocktail of events that has led somebody there. We tend to think of them as a category of people. All of them will be a series of individual stories. Will the Minister say whether there is any plan to test for underlying reasons why a person has failed to get the support systems outside? Will they particularly check for what is commonly referred to as special educational needs, such as dyspraxia, dyslexia and attention deficit disorder—anything that would mean that someone would find it difficult to handle the process of filling out forms, attending meetings on time et cetera? If we can get a handle on this and get coping strategies into this group, we may well help ourselves.

Photo of Lord Harries of Pentregarth Lord Harries of Pentregarth Crossbench 4:45 pm, 14th May 2020

My Lords, I warmly welcome the Government’s initiatives in this area—both the £3.2 million allocated recently to councils as a special response to the virus and the previous money made available. In their 2019 manifesto, the Government pledged to end rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament. An unlooked-for benefit of this terrible virus, and the toll it is taking on lives in causing distress, is that it gives the Government a real window of opportunity to make that pledge a reality. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to address the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, of how many rough sleepers have still not been housed; it is very important to get an accurate figure.

However, the point is that this valuable initiative now needs to be built upon to find permanent places for rough sleepers to live. I will make two brief points on this. First, charities and faith groups are usually to be found on the front line of this work. It is essential that the cells or hubs that the Government recommend setting up include not just council departments and NHS staff, but those who are, day by day, in touch with rough sleepers and know their needs and problems. I believe I have come to the end of my minute. I end by saying that I very much welcome the Government’s initiative and hope that we will see the end of this blight on our society very soon.

Photo of The Bishop of Durham The Bishop of Durham Bishop 4:46 pm, 14th May 2020

My Lords, I applaud the achievement of accommodation having been offered to 90% of rough sleepers. The community collaboration that achieved this reflects the focus of the housing commission set up by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury of building strong communities alongside homes. What plans do Her Majesty’s Government have to create multiagency partnerships to create an integrated homelessness system?

Those who are homeless with NRPF are particularly vulnerable when discharged from temporary Covid-19 accommodation since they cannot access social tenancies. What consideration have HMG given to the pathways offered to NRPF migrants who have been temporarily accommodated? I welcome the establishment of a rough -sleeping task force. Does the Minister agree that this task force must also consider those at risk of homeless due to the crisis? Last winter, church night shelters provided a lifeline to 2,000 rough sleepers. To avoid a peak in rough sleeping next winter, what plans do HMG have to protect those at risk of homelessness?

Photo of Baroness Blower Baroness Blower Labour 4:47 pm, 14th May 2020

My Lords, I live in London and I am therefore most familiar with the situation here. I understand that there are 4,000 rough sleepers in hotels across London. Without government support, these people will certainly end up back on the streets. To avoid this there must be capital investment from the Government, with landlords bringing empty houses back into use, and, of course, access to affordable, good-quality private rented sector accommodation procured centrally to avoid local authorities competing for limited stock. Ultimately, a significantly funded programme of housebuilding by local authorities to provide public housing is clearly needed. Adequate housing for all is surely an ambition to which we all aspire. As a human rights issue, it is something that we simply must achieve.

Photo of Lord Young of Cookham Lord Young of Cookham Conservative 4:48 pm, 14th May 2020

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bird, not just for this short debate but for the work that he has done over the past three decades in helping rough sleepers to rebuild their lives. The pandemic offers a real chance to make a step change in policy—the “great opportunity” that he referred to and the window of opportunity referred to by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries.

The Government’s target to end rough sleeping in five years was 90% achieved in five days thanks to the heroic work of Louise Casey and her team, but rough sleepers are not a static population. As some leave the streets, other join them. It is this latter group that risks slipping below the radar if we focus solely on permanent housing for rough sleepers, a point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. Can my noble friend the Minister assure me that every effort will be made to help new rough sleepers off the streets before they become acclimatised to this way of life, so that the achievements of recent weeks are consolidated and made permanent?

Photo of Lord Blunkett Lord Blunkett Labour 4:49 pm, 14th May 2020

I too commend the noble Lord, Lord Bird, and the initiative of the Government, which has been impressive. As a patron of the Cathedral Archer Project in Sheffield, I know that it is struggling now to raise the resources to be able to continue its work and to be able to link it to what has been described by other contributors as the holistic approach. Many rough sleepers have multiple problems and need multiagency work with them, including on alcohol and drug misuse. If we can get this right now, we could avoid what is a crisis at Christmas, which then ends up with people back on the streets.

Photo of Baroness Janke Baroness Janke Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions) 4:50 pm, 14th May 2020

My Lords, many young people today under 25 face homelessness because a family member is shielding or because the stresses within a vulnerable family make them unsafe. They struggle to get the support they need. High house prices and rents mean that over two-thirds of young people today are paying more than 30% of their income on housing costs. The Government can help young people move on from homelessness or avoid it altogether through equalising universal credit for young people living independently with that of the over-25s, restoring work allowance for vulnerable claimants, paying the most vulnerable a grant instead of the five-week wait for universal credit and raising the local housing allowance for homeless young people and care leavers, as announced in the 2020 Budget. Lastly, an accessible framework of support and advice is essential if we are going to help vulnerable young people and care leavers to move on for good and escape the scourge of homelessness and rough sleeping.

Photo of Lord Truscott Lord Truscott Non-affiliated 4:51 pm, 14th May 2020

My Lords, the Government could abolish homelessness at a stroke. Since 2011, the cost of HS2 has doubled to £106 billion and is rising. This obscene waste of money and white elephant should be scrapped. For the same money the Government could build 1.7 million social houses and eradicate homelessness once and for all. HS2 will employ 30,000 people, but building almost 2 million homes would employ millions of people—desperately needed employment at this time when Covid-19 will lead to a projected unemployment rate of almost 10%. I say to the Minister, “Scrap HS2, end homelessness, create much-needed jobs and save the environment.”

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Labour 4:52 pm, 14th May 2020

My Lords, it is right that local and national Government took speedy action to take many off the streets at the start of this Covid emergency. Rough sleepers of all people would have got the roughest end of this pandemic. I welcome the announcement of a dedicated fund of £3.2 million, on restoring local housing allowance rates, on halting possession proceedings and of course on the appointment of Dame Louise Casey. However, local authorities are still taking homelessness applications, as the noble Lord, Lord Young, said, and life after Covid could include a substantial increase in new cases. This must be the time, as the noble Lord, Lord Bird, said, for a new beginning, and I ask the Minister: what permanent housing is being planned for the thousands of rough sleepers invited in at the beginning of the emergency? Do they agree with Crisis and others that we really need to lift LHA rates permanently to cover average rents? Do the Government also agree that building far more social housing is now essential?

Photo of Lord Mann Lord Mann Non-affiliated 4:54 pm, 14th May 2020

Some local authorities have excellent systems already for dealing with homelessness and not all homeless people are the same. Putting someone with a drug or alcohol addiction into a Travelodge away from town is not necessarily a recipe for success. Therefore, will the Minister ensure that there is a proper evaluation of the successes and problems of the scheme, with an honest assessment of problems that have occurred where addiction issues have not been addressed? Who will carry out that evaluation and will it be made available to us?

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

I call the noble Lord, Lord Desai. The noble Lord is not responding, so I am going to call the noble Lord, Lord Balfe.

Photo of Lord Balfe Lord Balfe Conservative 4:55 pm, 14th May 2020

My congratulations to my good friend the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on securing this debate. I hope the Minister is enjoying his new life in replying to it. I want to concentrate on one issue. I live in the city of Cambridge, where we have a homelessness problem and a council that does its best to cope with it. But one of the city council’s initiatives is to help the voluntary collection of money for homeless charities in the city. I suggested to it that it should do that as a statutory thing, but apparently it lacks the powers. Will the Minister look at giving local authorities the right to collect for charity, and the right to ask council tax payers to add a voluntary donation to their council tax when they pay it each month? Obviously, it needs thinking out—you cannot do it in a minute. However, it is a practical thing which, combined with government gift aid, would make a big difference.

Photo of Baroness Kennedy of Cradley Baroness Kennedy of Cradley Labour 4:56 pm, 14th May 2020

Like many noble Lords, I hope that the new government task force led by Dame Louise Casey is a success. If it can provide rough sleepers with long-term and safe accommodation, the old adage that something good can come out of something bad would have real meaning. I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham that the task force should also focus on homelessness prevention, especially among private renters. I will use the time I have to ask some practical questions about the task force. When will its membership be published? I hope that it will be cross-departmental and include faith groups and third sector organisations, and those who understand the needs of rough sleepers in our cities, towns and rural communities. Will the task force receive extra funding to do its work? Will it publish its terms of reference, work plans and minutes, as many want to engage positively with its work and help contribute to its success?

Photo of Lord Crisp Lord Crisp Crossbench 4:57 pm, 14th May 2020

My Lords, the swift action that has been taken is impressive and unprecedented. It provides an extraordinary opportunity, but it is vital that it starts early, and that from day one people are thinking about rehabilitation and providing that hand up, rather than a handout. Are assessments already being made of the multidimensional needs of the people living in this temporary accommodation and, if so, is there some summary of what those assessments look like, so that action can be properly targeted? Finally, while it is really important that we do this, it will be expensive—of course it will—but the costs will be cheaper in the long run by doing it. I well remember a remark of the noble Lord, Lord Bird, that many of the Big Issue sellers have had something approaching £1 million of public money spent on them in all settings. Getting this right is really very important.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, while the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, is speaking I shall hand the chair over to the noble Lord, Lord Rogan.

Photo of Lord Liddle Lord Liddle Labour 4:58 pm, 14th May 2020

My Lords, in one minute I have time for one point. It is about the very important role that local government has played and the heroic efforts that councils have made throughout the country to provide decent accommodation for local people in this Covid emergency. I note this as a member of Cumbria County Council. What will happen when this emergency is over? Will we throw these people out on the streets again or are we going to try to make proper long-term provision? That would require adequate government funding of local government. The costs to local government of this Covid emergency are estimated at £10 billion. So far, the Government have provided £3.8 billion and are hesitating about meeting the rest of the gap. But unless this gap is met and the funding continued, how on earth will the homeless continue to be provided for?

Photo of Lord Shipley Lord Shipley Liberal Democrat 4:59 pm, 14th May 2020

My Lords, I will raise three issues in relation to the use of hotels. First, how will the Government support people with no recourse to public funds, who will become homeless after the pandemic if they continue not to have access to those funds? Secondly, will the Government work with those councils managing the challenges created by other councils which place vulnerable people, without support, in hotels outside their areas? Thirdly, do the Government recognise the need to fund specialist homeless services as a means of reducing problems seen with the general use of hotels?

Many people who sleep rough have complex needs and experience multiple exclusion. Thankfully, in my city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne the number of people sleeping rough has fallen dramatically since the end of March, with safe accommodation being provided. I pay tribute to all those who have helped to achieve this, but some people cannot be accommodated in the long term under existing legislation. They urgently need help to stay off the streets.

Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Labour 5:00 pm, 14th May 2020

My Lords, addressing the worst forms of homelessness requires that there be sufficient settled accommodation, and it certainly requires an increase in the supply of affordable housing in the true sense of that term. Also, as in times past, the housing crisis requires a significant programme of council house building. It is clear that we have a housing crisis in this country. It is not on the scale of or as dangerous as the Covid-19 pandemic, although for some, it might be as real.

What might we take from the pandemic? It is that, when the state mobilises, it can address huge challenges. We have seen billions and billions of pounds of public money applied, quite properly, to support individuals, businesses and communities. We have seen the mobilisation of the skills of the public sector through multidisciplinary and multiagency working. We have seen productive partnerships between the public and private sectors. We have seen the intellectual power of our science space brought to bear. In due course, we must enjoin all this capability and these approaches to solve the housing crisis, which we have had for too long in this country.

Photo of Baroness Uddin Baroness Uddin Non-affiliated 5:02 pm, 14th May 2020

My Lords, I commend my noble friend Lord Bird for his persistent efforts to eradicate homelessness and applaud the government initiative. I too call on the Government to assure this House that all persons recently taken out of the wilderness of homelessness and housed under emergency legislation will be provided with long-term, safe and secure housing.

Equally, there are hundreds of thousands of homeless families across the country living in sub-standard, expensive, long-term temporary housing. In light of our more enlightened social consciousness, will the Government seek to secure permanent housing solutions for these vulnerable families?

Finally, in the light of the 30% rise in domestic abuse cases, what action is being taken to ensure that women fleeing violence and abuse will not face the plight of perilous homelessness, particularly those women with no resource to public funds?

Photo of Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Conservative 5:03 pm, 14th May 2020

My Lords, first, I commend my good friend the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for what he has done with the Big Issue. He has made a positive difference. I encourage people to set up a postal subscription to it in these difficult times, to provide practical help.

I welcome my noble friend the Minister and congratulate MHCLG on the effective, swift action it has taken. Like others, I look to the task force and Dame Louise Casey—two staples of government life, and a heady mix—to come up with some constructive proposals. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, I think that we need to know the terms of reference, when they will publish recommendations and how this will be taken forward.

The formidable challenge of our time will be managing what happens as we come out of the pandemic. How do we ensure that these people remain off the streets and have proper homes? Those are the challenges, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response on that.

Photo of Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Labour 5:04 pm, 14th May 2020

My Lords, if we thought rough sleeping was bad before Covid-19, we can rest assured that it will be a lot worse when we soon enter one of the toughest economic downturns our country has seen. However, it does not need to be. Both this Government and the last Labour Government have shown that great strides can be made when you put your mind to it. This Government have shown that in their response to dealing with Covid-19, and the last Labour Government did so by delivering on the planned rough sleepers initiative.

As the noble Lord, Lord Bird, said in his intro, we need a plan for when we come out of this. May I push the Minister to go into detail on that plan? My noble friend Lady Kennedy touched on the task force’s membership. When looking at the membership, I encourage the Minister to look to involve and include those representatives from local government who have a huge amount of experience in dealing with these issues.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green 5:05 pm, 14th May 2020

I welcome the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, to his first debate; I am sure that we will have some superb answers from him. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on securing this debate and for all the work he has done. I have been concerned about homelessness for a long time and I have two practical suggestions from Liberty about the regulations which, at the moment, penalise the homeless beyond all sense.

First, homelessness must be defined—and defined broadly. If you do not have a clear and encompassing definition, authorities will probably rely on an inconsistent or narrow interpretation of what homelessness is, which risks criminalising the homeless.

Secondly, homeless people must be excluded from the prohibition on gatherings. There is a possibility that homeless people will be moved along, fined or criminalised in circumstances where they cannot be expected to keep apart from groups.

Photo of Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Labour 5:06 pm, 14th May 2020

My Lords, I refer to my registered interests. I raised the issue of permanent accommodation in this House on 30 April, as did others. The Minister said that the Government were focused on options for accommodation for rough sleepers going forward. Can the Minister be more concrete today? Will he, for example, refer to the recommendation from St Mungo’s, one of our foremost homelessness charities?

On 6 May, I asked again about affordable social housing. The Minister said that the only way to have long-term stability and affordability was to build more homes in the right places—I agree. The Minister then referred to the Government’s plans for home building. Can the Minister today confirm that this means that building more homes of all tenures, but specifically social housing, is a mainstream issue for our road to economic recovery as well as for ending rough sleeping for good? Can he confirm that specific provision will be made for it in the next review of public spending?

Photo of Lord Randall of Uxbridge Lord Randall of Uxbridge Conservative 5:07 pm, 14th May 2020

My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for his inspirational work on this issue. For many homeless people, a dog is their best friend and main companion. In particular, for anyone with a mental health problem, drug or alcohol dependency, their pet is their main support and very important to the recovery process. Therefore, during the current situation in relation to Covid, while rough sleepers are being moved into hotel and emergency accommodation in order to enable them to self-isolate, it is considerably unlikely that homeless people with pets will move into alternative accommodation if it means giving up their pet. Given that people experiencing homelessness, particularly those who are rough sleeping, are thought to be more at risk of contracting the virus, and given that they are unlikely to give up their pet, it is crucial that dog-friendly emergency accommodation is made available. I commend the excellent work of the Dogs Trust and its Welcoming Dogs scheme. Dog-friendly accommodation must also be available post lockdown, so that homeless people, some of whom have moved off the street for the first time in many years and are now interacting with essential services, are not forced to choose between returning to street homelessness or giving up their beloved dog.

Photo of Baroness Grender Baroness Grender Liberal Democrat 5:08 pm, 14th May 2020

This is a historic opportunity led by Dame Louise Casey. Evidence is already emerging that many of those rough sleepers who have been sheltered were originally in the less scrupulous parts of the private rented sector, which means that a further increase in the LHA, lifting of the benefit cap and a permanent end to Section 21 evictions are all critical to ensuring there is no return to widespread rough sleeping. I hope that the Government will support the Generation Rent campaign #ventyourrent to give voice to those people. Can the Minister give an undertaking that no one will be forced out of their emergency accommodation without an offer of suitable housing? Will the Government increase support for housing first and to local authorities?

This pandemic is global and we therefore need to treat it as such. What will the Government do about the rough sleepers with no recourse to public funds? If ever a moment called for a good Samaritan approach, it is now.

Photo of Baroness Wilcox of Newport Baroness Wilcox of Newport Opposition Whip (Lords) 5:09 pm, 14th May 2020

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for this debate. Both during and after this crisis, no one should be left homeless. Local authorities in all four nations must be supported by the national Government to allow them to take account of the demands of local housing needs. The absence of any credible funding strategy from the UK Government up until now has left local authorities unable properly to tackle homelessness.

This public health crisis has demonstrated that it is the state which can be relied on best to confront our greatest threats. We are a community; we are responsible for one another, and the interdependence of the public and the individual on health and homelessness is clear for all to see.

I was really pleased to hear the Prime Minister say in Parliament yesterday:

“We will be investing considerable sums to make sure that we build the housing and address the social issues to tackle that problem for good”.—[Official Report, Commons, 13/5/20; cols. 245-6.]

When will the Prime Minister publish the details of these considerable sums to build housing, and what does he intend to do to tackle the problem for good? His response is eagerly awaited, especially by those at the sharp end of this housing and homelessness scourge so prevalent in our society.

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Conservative 5:11 pm, 14th May 2020

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bird, on securing this debate and on his passionate advocacy for homeless people not only in this House but in his dedicated work over three decades, in particular as founder and editor-in-chief of the Big Issue. I am grateful also to noble Lords who have contributed this afternoon. I found the debate thoughtful and well informed, and I note particularly the history of rough sleepers from the period of the Vagrancy Act through to that where they were simply ignored, and to this golden opportunity to end rough sleeping for good. I thank the noble Lord for taking us on that journey.

The Covid-19 pandemic has represented a devastating threat to communities—personally, I lost my mother last month to this ghastly virus. It continues to be a threat all over the world. It is important to note that the threat has been particularly stark for certain groups, one of which is vulnerable rough sleepers, who, unable to self-isolate, cannot protect themselves or prevent wider transmission of this awful disease.

The Government were quick to recognise this and moved swiftly to bring rough sleepers in off the streets and out of the most dangerous shared sleeping environments. This work was spearheaded by Dame Louise Casey. I also commend Jeremy Swain, the government adviser on homelessness. The work involved local authorities and wider homeless agencies up and down the country working tirelessly to set up new accommodation, often using hotels, to ensure that these vulnerable people were given a space to protect themselves in.

Within just over a month, 90% of those identified as rough sleepers have been given offers of accommodation. That is 5,400 rough sleepers taken off the streets, which is a remarkable achievement. It involved a huge effort from local government and the wider homelessness sector which has ultimately saved many lives. This Government have led this work and made more than £3.2 billion in funding available to local authorities to manage the impacts of Covid, which includes their work on rough sleeping.

I want to focus on some of the points that noble Lords raised. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, is right that in order to end rough sleeping we need to look what causes these people to be roofless. My noble friend Lord Sheikh and the noble Lords, Lord Bird and Lord McNicol, pointed to the need above all for a long-term plan. Clearly, such a plan will involve local authorities and charities, and, as mentioned by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, faith groups will play a critical part in delivering it. That long-term plan could come only with the political will and top cover provided by a Government who are prepared to stump up the cash. In just two months, £3.2 billion of funding was given to local government, but there is money set aside in addition to end rough sleeping.

The opportunity is that that Dame Louise Casey will spearhead a task force to lead the next phase of the Government’s support for rough sleepers during this pandemic. At this stage many of the things that noble Lords asked for have not been finalised—the terms of reference, the membership and the transparency process have all to be worked on—but I am sure that the points made in the debate will be taken up by Dame Louise and the task force. The overriding objective of this task force is to ensure that as many people as possible who have been brought in off the streets in this pandemic do not return to the streets and that they are retained in safe, secure and settled accommodation. The task force will work hand in hand with local and regional government and the homelessness agencies and shelters to do this and draw together expertise from across society, including businesses, faith groups, the health sector and the wider public sector, and of course communities. It will also ensure that the thousands of rough sleepers now in accommodation continue to receive the physical and mental support they need over the coming weeks. We are aware that some of the individuals in this accommodation have not engaged with services for many years, so in this midst of this terrible pandemic there is hope that this could be an opportunity to turn their lives around for good.

As for the types of accommodation we will look to secure, rough sleepers have different types and levels of need. We will be encouraging local authorities to identify appropriate accommodation for each individual. My noble friend Lord Randall talked about dog-friendly accommodation; that was a point well taken. Many noble Lords asked about money. There will be consideration of how the additional £381 million of funding announced at the Budget for move-on accommodation for rough sleepers might support this endeavour. I also want to refer to the £750 million of funding announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to support charities providing vital services and helping vulnerable groups through the Covid-19 crisis.

The Government are aware that many voluntary and community sector organisations are facing significant pressures and loss of income at a time when they are needed most. In response, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has secured a £6 million fund to assist the homelessness and rough sleeping charity sector as it continues its vital work during the coronavirus pandemic. The purpose of the £6 million fund is to support front-line homelessness and rough sleeping charities in their efforts to help keep homeless people and rough sleepers safe and supported while responding to the challenges brought by Covid-19. Big Society Capital and Social Investment Business have also recently established a new £25 million resilience and recovery loan fund. This will enable social lenders to provide emergency loans without fees or interest for the coming 12 months. More widely, Big Society Capital has announced a £100 million emergency response.

In the words of the noble Lord, Lord Bird, this is the time for a big, bold plan. We believe that the Government, in setting up this task force and putting a considerable amount of money into support for rough sleepers, are going to seize that opportunity. But it will be a plan that requires every stakeholder, local authority, charity and faith group to make it happen. We are committed to supporting vulnerable rough sleepers, not just during the pandemic but long after it ends.

Photo of Lord Rogan Lord Rogan Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, the Virtual Proceedings will now adjourn until a convenient point after 6 pm for questions on the Commons Statement.

Virtual Proceeding suspended.