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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:09 am on 24th July 2019.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 10:09 am, 24th July 2019

I have been a great believer in social housing. I have supported it all my life, and I regularly have people coming to me trying to access it. It is incredibly important for those who cannot afford to buy their own home—even more so today. Alongside that, when it comes to social housing, we must provide a benefit system, and the LHA enables people to stay in their accommodation, so the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I totally agree with what he said.

I have sympathy for those experiencing difficulties and recognise that people may be experiencing difficult times that prevent them from finding a job. I believe that help should be available to them, but there is another aspect of this issue, and that is getting the right qualifications to find a stable job—a reality that some people fail to face up to in school. In 2017, 16.6% of Northern Ireland residents aged between 16 and 64 had no qualifications. I believe that these problems are intrinsically linked, which is the point I made earlier. It is not just the Minister’s Department; the Department for Education, the Department of Health, the Department for Work and Pensions and others all have a role to play. To tackle homelessness, we must tackle the problem of people having no qualifications, as low-skilled jobs are becoming harder and harder to come by nowadays.

Unfortunately, homelessness and deaths are linked, and I will give hon. Members some statistics—I cannot say that they are exactly linked together, but the stats may just tell us something. In Northern Ireland from October 2017 to the end of August 2018, an average of 13 homeless people per month had their housing applications closed due to death. Of the deceased, 63% were aged 60 or younger and the youngest was only 18. The majority, 93, were male. Their cause of death is unknown; I make that comment clearly. This is a problem, and I believe that these people should be helped. These figures are distressing, and it is horrendous that they cannot get a helping hand to lift them out of the difficult situation they are in.

A new strategy is required if we seek to solve the homelessness problem across the UK. Getting more people into work and getting people with the right qualifications would be steps in the right direction.

To conclude, support should be available to those in need, and certainly used as a springboard to get them into employment and keep this fine nation going forward, but in the short term we need affordable housing—Matt Western referred to social housing. That housing simply is not there at present. We need funding to build affordable housing, and for rent control as well. We simply should not have people on the streets in this nation, and we need to do all we can to ensure fit-for-purpose allowances in areas with a lack of one or two-bedroom accommodation, as compared with those on the housing stress list.