Homeless Young People — [John Robertson in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:53 pm on 21st January 2015.

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Photo of Simon Danczuk Simon Danczuk Labour, Rochdale 2:53 pm, 21st January 2015

I thank Stephen Gilbert for securing this important debate. He made an excellent speech. That is not a compliment that I throw around lightly; I truly mean it. He made a great contribution on an exceptionally important issue.

It can often seem that modern politics is swamped by statistics, but some statistics really cut through and tell us something about modern Britain and the society in which we live. The current figures on the number of young homeless people fit that description. They tell us something about our society that we probably do not want to hear.

We live in one of the richest countries in the world—that is the reality—but last year more than 100,000 people approached their local council as homeless. We know that many of them are young single people with nowhere to turn and no one to rely on. Figures from the charity Homeless Link show that 53% of people using homeless services in England are between the ages of 16 and 25. That is a shocking percentage. For me there is only one word to describe the current situation: failure. I am sure all hon. Members would agree there is nothing that anyone could have done to bring homelessness upon themselves at the age of 16. When we see a young homeless person, it is a sign not of their failure but of our failure.

The main point I want to make is that we need to do more to prevent young people from becoming homeless in the first place. I want to pay tribute to the many organisations that help support young homeless people and keep them safe. In Rochdale, fantastic work is being done by Petrus, a charity that deals with young homeless people throughout the borough. Petrus is a real force for good. For example, it has been instrumental in helping young girls who have been at risk of on-street grooming in the town. In one case that I heard about, Petrus helped a girl who was described as “the most at-risk young person in Rochdale”. Petrus staff built trust with her, helped her realise she was being groomed and got her to a safe place out of town, but the work of Petrus goes far beyond simply keeping people safe. Its approach is to help young people rebuild their lives and give them opportunities to move on.

In another case, Petrus helped a young girl who was extremely vulnerable and difficult to deal with. Initially, it took her in for a weekend, but she ended up staying for a year. By the end of that year, the girl had become the only young person in the north-west to complete a work experience programme with AstraZeneca, which involved her travelling up to 90 miles to get to work. She progressed to such an extent that she even came here and spoke about her experience as part of the Youth Parliament. It is a really inspiring story and a testament to the fantastic work of the staff at Petrus.

However, even great charities such as Petrus are struggling to cope with the numbers of homeless people that we are seeing at the moment. Figures supplied to me by the charity Crisis show that in the financial year 2013-14 there were 927 households in Rochdale that made a homelessness application—nearly 1,000 in a small town like Rochdale. It is hard to believe. What is even harder to believe is the rate at which that figure is increasing.

Since 2010, the number of people in priority need in Rochdale has increased by 354%. More worrying is that the number of people found not to be in priority need has increased by 332%. I say it is more worrying because, as the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay pointed out, many of the people who are not in priority need are young people who then—literally—have to live their lives out on the street. They are single young homeless people. The fact that we have seen such a big increase recently is no coincidence. We have been through a recession, and that has had an effect, but we are now in recovery and still the number of homeless people keeps on rising. It is clear to me that the Government are simply not doing enough to address the causes of homelessness among young people.

Although the theme of the debate is Government support for young homeless people, my view is that the real problems start much earlier. What we need to focus on more is preventing young people from becoming homeless in the first place.