Local Housing Allowance and Homelessness — [Mr Adrian Bailey in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:57 am on 24th July 2019.

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Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Conservative, Walsall North 9:57 am, 24th July 2019

It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. It is also a privilege to follow Ms Buck, of whom I am quite a fan, because the Act she introduced—the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018—is an essential piece of legislation. I am delighted that the Government supported it. I frequently agree with her.

I felt the need to speak in this debate because I was concerned that too many Opposition Members would make it seem like a world of doom and gloom, as if the Conservative party was doing nothing to support homeless people—I understand it to be the opposite. Immediately before coming to Parliament, I had been with YMCA Birmingham for three years. Just before I left to become an MP, I was the assistant chief executive. Those were three of the most fulfilling years of my life, working for an organisation that provided accommodation to previously homeless young people. During my tenure, how did things look when it came to what the Government were doing?

When I joined, the YMCA had funding for £500,000 through the empty homes programme, which offers the opportunity to find buildings that are vacant—it is not just a question of building new things—and use them for accommodation, and in this case for previously homeless young people. Harry Watton House was previously used by Birmingham City Council to provide social care, but it had not used it for some time and we converted it into 34 flats.

Also during my tenure the Government, through the HCA, gave us a £1 million contribution towards a building in Erdington, where we were providing 34 extra units of accommodation. We had accommodation of different types, because someone’s journey from street homelessness to sustaining a tenancy of their own goes through many stages. We had a 72-bed direct access hostel, where people were provided with just a room with a sink, plus shared shower and kitchen facilities. That property is currently undergoing a £3.6 million renovation with money from this Government. It will mean that people can come in straight off the street, straight out of prison or, sadly, from military service—they are frequently former members of the armed forces who just find life too chaotic when they leave.

“Chaotic” is how we could describe those people’s lives. When we were servicing their rooms or doing repairs, we would frequently find machetes or other items under their mattress—that was the type of world that they had been involved in before coming to us, and they felt safe and secure only when they had such weapons with them. Our job was to stabilise their lifestyle and get them ready for the next stage: supported accommodation. In 2015, I was terrified when the then Chancellor announced that he would cap housing benefit at local housing rates, and that that might apply to supported housing. However, YMCA campaigned vigorously against that proposal and made a powerful argument to the Government, and fortunately it was not imposed on us.

As I say, we had direct access accommodation, we had Harry Watton House, which offered supported accommodation, and finally we had our building in Erdington, thanks to £1 million from the Government; it must have been a fine building, because Princess Anne turned up to open it. All YMCA’s work—offering support and counselling, bringing in third parties and third sector organisations to help people who were on drugs or had other lifestyle problems—was supported by the Government through supported housing funding or capital funding.

The hon. Member for Westminster North mentioned the Mayor of London. Well, in the West Midlands Combined Authority we have a Mayor of our own, Andy Street. His first priority on becoming Mayor was to tackle homelessness across the region. It is far from being the case that Conservatives or this Government are not aware of the homelessness problem, not doing everything they can to address it, not taking the matter seriously or not working hard to support those in most need.