Homeless People and Rough Sleeping - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:29 pm on 1 March 2023.

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Photo of Lord Bird Lord Bird Crossbench 3:29, 1 March 2023

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to prevent homeless people who are living in hostels or supported homes in England from being pushed back on to the streets; and what progress they have made with their target to end rough sleeping by 2024.

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

Yesterday, the annual rough sleeping snapshot statistics were published, which showed a rise in the number of people sleeping rough on a single night. However, the long-term trends show the considerable progress we have made: rough sleeping levels remain 35% lower than at their peak in 2017. But we are not complacent. This Government remain steadfastly committed to ending rough sleeping. We are delivering 6,000 move-on homes through the rough sleeping accommodation programme, and our strategy, published in September last year, outlined how we will invest £2 billion over the next three years.

Photo of Lord Bird Lord Bird Crossbench

I thank the Minister for that Answer. My problem is with the extension of homelessness that has taken place—a 34% increase in the number of people facing no-fault evictions, which is the Section 21 that we need to address. We have 125,000 children in temporary accommodation and 100,000 households in temporary accommodation. These are the kinds of figures that are going to drive the Government’s plan for 2024 into the long grass, and I would like to know how they are going to address the increase in homelessness among people who have never, ever come anywhere near it and will end up rough sleeping.

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The noble Lord makes some very good points, and there are a number of very complex issues that contribute to the rise in homelessness, particularly in the private rented sector. We shall be legislating on private rented sector reform, and that does remain a top priority for this Government. We will bring forward legislation within this Parliament. On 16 June last year, we published our White Paper, A Fairer Private Rented Sector, which sets out our plan fundamentally to reform the sector and level out housing quality. The Government are committed to banning the Section 21 no-fault evictions to protect tenants and will introduce the renters’ reform Bill in this Parliament.

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Conservative

My Lords, the point that we want to establish is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Bird, knows, rooflessness is very different from homelessness. These latest statistics are very concerning indeed, although the overall trend being 35% down is positive. What I really want to know is whether the Minister knows how many have been sleeping rough a second night, which is obviously even more concerning. Have we made progress in that regard?

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The annual snapshot that we take in autumn is our official and most robust measure of rough sleeping on a single night. It is independently verified. I do not have the numbers for those who are out for a second night. But we know that the longer a person stays on the street, the more difficult it becomes to rebuild a life off it. As set out in the cross-government rough sleeping strategy, Ending Rough Sleeping for Good, we will have ended rough sleeping when it is prevented wherever possible and, where it does occur, is rare, brief and non-recurrent. We do have the No Second Night Out initiative, which pays for 14,000 beds and 3,000 support staff this year, with services ranging from emergency interventions to focus on preventions and a more sustained off-the-street accommodation offer with support.

Photo of Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top Labour

My Lords, this remains a real issue, and the Minister, I am afraid, is being rather complacent. We know that what has happened since 2010 is that there have been unprecedented levels of rough sleeping. We managed, in the early part of the 1997 Government, to reduce rough sleeping almost to nonexistence. We know how to do it. The Government know how to do it, but it is not happening. We now have the additional crisis that so many of the charities that are there to help those who are in most difficulty are going under, and their finances are stretched. The Government have got to do something—just what are they going to do?

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

We are absolutely not complacent, as I said in my initial Answer. In fact, between October and December, when the snapshot was taken, our management accounts show that homelessness reduced by 27%—although I acknowledge that that is partly as a result of seasonal variations, which happen every year. The Homelessness Reduction Act 2018 was the most ambitious reform to homelessness legislation in decades. Since it came into force in 2018, over half a million households have been prevented from becoming homeless or have been supported into settled accommodation. As a demonstration of our determination not to be complacent, we have put £2 billion into the fund to help reduce homelessness. The noble Baroness is entirely wrong to use 2010 as a comparator, because that is when the statistics were started on this basis. She might like to know that we are almost up to the level of highest number of households in temporary accommodation, which was in 2004.

Photo of Baroness Grender Baroness Grender Liberal Democrat

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the one silver lining of the awful tragedy of the Covid pandemic was the Everyone In project, led by the noble Baroness, Lady Casey? But the chance to keep every homeless person in was then, frankly, squandered. Will the Minister agree to look into that wasted opportunity—the extraordinary waste of the chance at that particular moment? Will she come back to the House and explain why the Government have wasted that one critical moment when everyone was in, which could have been used to hit that specific target in the Conservative manifesto? That is clearly not going to be reached, as evidenced by the statistics yesterday.

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I think we can all agree that the statistics yesterday were deeply disappointing. That is certainly a reflection of the cost of living, with a number of people being evicted from rental accommodation having fallen behind in arrears. However, there is much that we are doing to help: we have the rough sleeping initiative, Housing First, the Night Shelter Transformation fund, supported housing, and we are funding local authorities to provide assisted housing. We are doing a number of different things, which are all wrapped up in a £2 billion package, and, having spoken to the banks, I can assure the noble Baroness that we are all fighting the same war and that we still stick to our manifesto pledge to get rid of homelessness.

Photo of Lord Young of Cookham Lord Young of Cookham Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I raise a subject that I have raised several times before: namely, the 200 year-old Vagrancy Act, which refers to “rogues and vagabonds” living in stables and coach houses. Everyone agrees that this Act has nothing to do with helping rough sleeping. On the contrary, by diverting rough sleepers down the criminal justice route, it isolates them from the support which my noble friend has said is available. Two years ago, the Government said that they would repeal the Vagrancy Act. Can my noble friend give a date for when that will happen?

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

The Government does agree that the Vacancy Act is antiquated and not fit for purpose, and therefore we have committed to repealing it. We made that commitment during the passage of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act. Our commitment to repealing it has always been dependent on introducing modern replacement legislation to ensure that police and other agencies continue to have the powers that they need to keep communities safe and protect vulnerable individuals. As usual, I cannot give specific date when we will bring the legislation in; all I can say, as usual, is that we will bring forward suitable replacement legislation in a future legislative vehicle.

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, do the Government recognise that the cuts in funding for support to homeless people now mean that, since the 2010 level, 12,000 more people needing psychological support are in long-term homelessness, which is often due to adverse childhood experiences and their subsequent turning to alcohol, and that alcohol is now the cause of almost one in 10 of the deaths among the homeless? Without addressing those underlying psychological causes, the problems behind the homelessness of many people will never be addressed.

Photo of Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I can assure the noble Baroness that the homelessness strategy crosses all departments, including the Home Office, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Ministry of Justice, the Department of Health and Social Care, the Department for Education and the Ministry of Defence. My briefing from the DWP on this very point states that the local housing allowance policy is kept under regular review, we monitor average rents and a significant support package for renters was announced in the autumn Budget. We are doing everything we can to provide household support in order to help people navigate through this very difficult time.