Homelessness

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 27th January 2004.

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Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education) 9:30 am, 27th January 2004

Actually, no I do not. I shall discuss the supply of affordable households in a moment, because there is no matter in this whole issue where the Government have more to be ashamed of than the provision of affordable housing, where, since 1997, the provision of new housing has dropped at a startling rate.

There are some particularly problematic issues within those overall figures of which the House should be aware and should have at the back of its mind as we debate the subject. Some groups suffer disproportionately from homelessness. Although, given the balance of the population, most people affected are white, the rise in homelessness among some of our ethnic groups has been particularly startling. In 1997, 6,900 Afro-Caribbean homeless households in priority need were accepted by local authorities. In 2002, the figure had risen to 12,000—a 100 per cent. increase in five years. Other ethnic groups witnessed a 50 per cent. increase in the same period, from 5,000 households to 9,000. If asked, groups that specialise in this issue and represent homeless people will say that today, particularly in London, this problem disproportionately affects our ethnic minorities; we should be mindful of that when we address the issue.

Another stark piece of information that I found when reading the background statistics was that the causes of homelessness, and the suffering from homelessness, tie in very closely with some of the most vulnerable groups in our society. Again I refer to the figures for the past five years. In 1997, local authorities accepted 5,220 homeless households in priority need that contained a household member vulnerable through physical handicap; in 2002, that figure was 6,890. In 1997, authorities accepted 6,910 homeless households in priority need that contained a household member vulnerable through mental illness; in 2002, it was 10,680. In the same period, acceptances of homeless households in priority need that contained a young person increased from 3,100 to 6,900. Therefore the people who are affected, and who are being affected on a greater scale year by year, are vulnerable groups—the mentally ill, the physically handicapped, and young people who have run into family problems. We need to really understand the problem and we need to tackle the problem particularly for those vulnerable groups, because they are the least capable of dealing with the situation.

Those patterns reflect a real social challenge. This is not just an issue about availability of housing; it is actually about social breakdown and real challenges that exist in our society. The homelessness problem will not be addressed simply by building houses; it can only be addressed by far broader policies, especially those that focus on the family.

To pick up on the remarks of Mr. Love, the provision of housing, the infrastructure of housing and the real shortage of housing lie at the heart of the problem. He mentioned affordable housing. In fact, the construction of affordable housing is one of the present Government's great failings. They have made plenty of announcements but matched them with precious little action. Yesterday I did a search on the website of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to see what it said about affordable housing. I discovered that since June 1992, the Government have made 43 different news announcements about affordable housing. The search engine did not allow me to search further back, but if one extrapolates on that basis, Labour Governments have probably made the best part of 150 to 200 announcements over the past five years about their plans on affordable housing. That is impressive stuff; there is lots of interest in the subject.

We constantly see big news stories about the Deputy Prime Minister's vision for solving the housing crisis. In the past 12 months alone there has been a series of announcements and big stories. I did a search for newspaper headlines on the subject in the last 12 months. They included, "Prescott says homes plan will need 'phenomenal' cash amount"; "Prescott makes promise of 200,000 homes, but maintains green belt will be safeguarded"; "Prescott plan for 200,000 homes"; "Taskforce aims to boost supply of low-cost homes", and even the rather endearing, "Four-homes Prescott mocks Middle England".

However, the reality is stark and clear and it is a definitive example of where this Government are all talk and precious little action, because between 1992 and 1997 we built 326,983 affordable homes, reaching a peak of 70,000 a year, but after 1997 the level of new build plummeted. Between 1997 and 2002, that 326,000 figure under the previous Parliament had fallen to a total of 188,760. In 2002–03, only 31,000 new affordable homes were built, compared with almost double that number in the run-up to the last general election.