It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I am grateful to my hon. Friend Stephen Gilbert for securing such an important debate.
I recognise many of the issues that hon. Members have raised, which is why tackling homelessness and rough sleeping is a key priority for the Government. I have no doubt that being homeless affects every aspect of a person’s life. I do not want to see anybody in the frightening, difficult and challenging situation that my hon. Friend described, particularly because many of the individuals affected are extremely vulnerable.
I understand and share my hon. Friend’s ambition to eradicate homelessness altogether. However, a crisis in an individual’s life can happen at any time. The key things are preventing homelessness and helping individuals who find themselves in that situation. Whichever Government are in power, they can put significant resource into dealing with the issue, and I should put on record that we have put half a billion pounds into tackling homelessness and an additional £445 million into addressing some of the welfare reform issues involved. However, many of the key interventions are undertaken by charities such as Crisis and others, and the vast majority of the work is undertaken by local authorities, which do an enormous amount, and I want to pay tribute to the individuals involved. That half a billion pounds has prevented almost 700,000 households from becoming homeless since 2010, so a significant amount of prevention work is going on. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be interested to know that Cornwall has intervened for 5,000 households and supported those individuals, and I applaud its efforts to look after people who have found themselves in that difficult situation.
We should recognise that despite the tough set of economic circumstances, statutory homelessness is now lower than in 27 of the past 30 years, which is a significant change. However, the Government want to make sure that there is a strong safety net; it is particularly important that families and vulnerable individuals should have a house to live in. We have made sure that when particular authorities have been struggling to keep within the law as far as the six-week window on bed and breakfast accommodation is concerned, we have put additional money in to be able to intervene for those authorities. By working with them and with their peer councils, we reduced the number of such instances by 96% by December 2013. Those really high levels of reduction have continued in the years since.
The issue of housing supply was raised, and that could be a political matter—I recognise this is a political arena—but we should recognise that housing supply has not kept up with demand for many decades. Coming out of a recession, it is not just about pressing a button and getting housing going again. We need to have the skill set, the resource and the confidence in the market needed to build houses, and we have to make sure that councils have sufficient land to be able to do so.
However, I want to put on record the fact that 217,000 affordable homes have been built since April 2010, involving £19.5 billion of public and private moneys. The affordable homes programme will deliver 170,000 houses by March this year, and a further project to deliver 275,000 houses with £38 billion of public and private money is en route.
There are two interesting results: first, we have built more affordable homes than were built during any equivalent period in the past 20 years. Although I recognise that all Governments have struggled to deliver affordable homes, we are building a significant number. Secondly, more council homes have been built in the lifetime of this Government than in the 13 years of the previous Administration.