“The reality is that the numbers are rising” Brooks Newman on homelessness and rough sleepers

A couple of days ago there was a parliamentary debate initiated by Brooks Newmark, a Tory MP, on the unglamorous topic of homelessness and rough sleepers, mainly focused on London. The only backbencher to take part was the Tory MP for Truro and Falmouth, Sarah Newton, who made some brief and positive contributions. She deserves thanks for her genuine interest.

Unusually, I am going to put here without comment by me some of what Newmark and Newton said in the debate. It’s in Hansard (25 March 2015, column WH536 onwards) and should be widely read. It explains the increasing numbers of homelessness and rough sleeping people, very bluntly discusses the causes, and points to progress and solutions. It is a capital introduction.

Sarah Newton
“The Children’s Society looks after vulnerable 16 and 17-year-olds. It has told me that more than half the youngsters in that vulnerable age group who go along to local authorities are rejected. They are not properly assessed or given support, and some are labelled as intentionally homeless. In addition to the excellent work done by Crisis, the Children’s Society’s work draws us to conclude that there is a severe need for a proper review in the next Parliament of what local authorities are doing to implement their statutory responsibilities to conduct proper assessments.”

Brooks Newmark
“…the government changed the methodology used for local authority rough sleeping counts to make them more accurate in tracking annual trends…

…there has been a continued growth in returner rough sleepers in London, and that is a matter of concern. One possible factor in that is the cuts that many local authorities have made to their Supporting People budgets. Those cuts mean that people who leave the street do not get the support they need to sustain accommodation in the long term.

Turning to some of the key causes of homelessness, people become and stay homeless for a whole range of complex and overlapping reasons. Solving homelessness is about much more than putting a roof over people’s heads. Anyone can become homeless, but certain individual factors make it more likely, including relationship breakdown, leaving care, substance abuse and physical and mental health problems. A recent report for Crisis on the experience of single homeless people found that almost half of them had experienced mental ill health, drug dependency, or alcohol dependency, or had served a prison sentence.

Structural factors also play a major role. The continued shortage of housing and the ongoing effects of the economic recession are major drivers of homelessness. The welfare and housing systems have traditionally acted as a buffer between unemployment, poverty and homelessness. Government reforms, particularly cuts to housing benefit, are eroding that safety net. In particular, housing benefit has been cut by around £7 billion. Also, housing supply has not kept pace with demand for many decades. In total, almost 137,000 new houses were supplied in 2013-14—well below the estimated 232,000 required to keep up with demand.

…the Government, much to their credit, have invested £20 million in the homelessness transition fund, which supports 175 voluntary sector projects for single homeless people. The fund also supported the national roll-out of the No Second Night Out initiative. Indeed, No Second Night Out has been successful in supporting many new rough sleepers in moving off the streets. Some 67% of the rough sleepers worked with were taken off the streets after the first night that they were found to be sleeping rough, and the majority of them did not return to the streets once helped.

…the Department for Communities and Local Government introduced the gold standard programme, which is a set of best practice principles for local authorities to sign up to, designed to drive improvements in housing options services. DCLG also invested £13 million in the Crisis private rented access scheme. Since the creation of the scheme, 153 voluntary sector-led projects have helped 9,320 vulnerable people into accommodation, with more than 90% maintaining tenancies for at least six months.

Crisis recently conducted a mystery shopping exercise, in which eight formerly homeless people visited 16 local authorities to examine the quality of advice and assistance that they provide to single homeless people. In well over half the 87 visits, the help offered was inadequate. In 29 cases, they were simply turned away without any help or the opportunity to speak to a housing adviser, despite the mystery shoppers portraying individuals in very vulnerable situations, including someone who was forced to sleep rough after losing their job, a young person thrown out of the family home, a victim of domestic violence and a person with learning difficulties.”

The data for homelessness and rough sleeping by council areas is at the two following websites:

Homelessness data (Table 784)
Rough sleeper data

This post contains parliamentary information licensed under the Open Parliament Licence v3.0

It will be an interesting time next week in parliament.

Monday 6 December: the Lords have their second committee day on the Parliamentary voting system and constituencies (PVSC) bill.

Wednesday 8 December: the Lords have their third committee day on the PVSC bill. In the Commons Sarah Newton (Conservative MP for Truro and Falmouth) introduces a ten-minute-rule bill “to require the secretary of state to begin negotiations with certain local authorities with a view to those local authorities leaving the current national housing subsidy system and becoming Council Housing (Local Financing Pathfinders) by April 2011”. The “certain local authorities” include Cornwall Council. [Added 9 December 2010: You can read her introduction of the bill in the Commons here, Hansard 8 December 2010 column 320]

Thursday 9 December: the Commons decide about raising the tuition fees cap to £9000 a year.