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

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, not least because the voluntary sector is at the forefront of innovative solutions such as the one she described, which can dissuade people from becoming homeless or prevent homelessness from occurring. I, too, pay tribute to the organisation in Wigan that she mentioned.

Another key issue for Government action must be the housing crisis. It is no surprise that we have the lowest rate of house building since the 1920s and have seen a dramatic increase in the number of young homeless people —the two must surely be related. The lack of housing supply is causing house prices and rents to soar, often pricing young people out of the market completely. When combined with low pay and insecure work, that creates a lethal cocktail that leaves young people extremely vulnerable. When young people are left exposed in that way, a proper safety net to help them before they end up on the streets is vital.

Under the current Government, some of the structures to support and help young people have been dismantled, such as the local welfare assistance schemes. The money for those schemes was spent directly by local authorities to help the most vulnerable people in their areas, and it could come, for example, in the form of a crisis loan if there was an emergency situation such as a broken boiler or a leaking roof. The loans went to people who desperately needed help and were a real lifeline. Under those schemes, money was also given in community care grants and used to fund charities that work with vulnerable people, such as the Cripplegate Foundation in Islington, which works with marginalised people, including victims of domestic violence. Many of those young people are the most likely to become homeless, and the work done by such charities has been vital in preventing that.

The money for the welfare assistance schemes was clearly a lifeline for many people, but the Government have decided to cut it. At first, of course, they did not admit to cutting it. The Government tried to sneak out the news in the local government finance settlement in late December 2013. They did not get away with that and were challenged by local authorities and charities. Finally, the Government agreed to consult on their proposals for the welfare assistance fund, which I welcomed. The consultation found that if the funding were cut, 75% of local authorities would not be able to afford to fund the schemes from the core grant. Having heard that, and knowing how important the money is, we might have thought that the Government would continue to fund local welfare, but no; they have gone ahead and cut the money.

That is bad enough, but what makes it worse is that Ministers will still not admit that that is exactly what they are doing. Listening to the local government finance settlement in December, it sounded as though £130 million remained available, but that was only smoke and mirrors. The reality is that the money was cut. The £130 million mentioned was simply money that the Government have identified for local welfare, but they expect it to be found by local authorities from the core grant.