I could not agree more, both about the inappropriateness of bed and breakfast accommodation for vulnerable young people—I will mention that later—and about the need to remove the two tiers in the system at the moment for those who are in priority need and those who are not. Experience in the rest of the United Kingdom shows that reform is possible. The mantra in this debate should be that nobody is turned away when they present themselves as homeless.
We know that the increase in the number of homeless young people is despite the fact that 16 and 17-year-olds are supposed to be protected by both the Children Act 1989 and the Housing Act 1988. Charity advocacy services say that they often have to help young people who are not given the adequate protection that this House has asked local authorities to provide under those statutes. It is not just charities saying that. The local government ombudsman says it, too, stating:
“The use of bed and breakfast accommodation often leads to families and young people living in cramped conditions and sharing facilities with adults who may be vulnerable or have significant social problems.”
Research, both from the Minister’s Department and from Crisis, has found that young people who experience homelessness are considerably more vulnerable as a group than other homeless people. They often first experienced homelessness at a very young age, with a third of young people surveyed having become homeless for the first time before the age of 15. Homelessness at a young age that is not resolved can lead to an ongoing cycle of homelessness, with a significant minority of all homeless people—four in ten—having first become homeless before the age of 20. It is critical that we prevent that cycle before it begins.