HC Deb 26 October 1983 vol 47 cc272-3
8. Mr. Fisher

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what steps he intends to take to tackle the problem of homelessness.

Mr. Gow

Statutory responsibility for assisting the homeless rests with local authorities, which decide their priorities within the resources, including capital receipts, available for their housing investment programmes. Homelessness is a factor used by my right hon. Friend in determining housing investment programme allocations. Its weighting was increased for the current financial year.

Housing associations also play an important role, providing hostels and shared accommodation for single homeless people; and the development programme which my right hon. Friend has approved for the Housing Corporation this year includes an increased allocation of £31 million for this purpose.

My Department continues to provide grant-aid to voluntary bodies helping the homeless.

Mr. Fisher

When the Minister has finished washing his hands of the problems of the homeless in this country, will he consider providing some extra money to help them with their problems? In particular, when he is determining HIP allocations, will he consider increasing loan sanctions to local authorities with particular needs in this respect?

Mr. Gow

I think that the hon. Gentleman prepared his supplementary before he heard my answer. The Government are well aware of the special problems of the homeless. That is why we have taken the measures that I announced in my answer.

Mr. Winnick

When will the Minister recognise that allowing local authorities to build only a few council dwellings increases homelessness? Are the Government not ashamed of the fact that for two to three years the amount of council house building has remained at the same level as in the 1920s? When will the Minister accept responsibility for the tens of thousands of people who are unable to resolve their housing problems for the reasons that I have stated?

Mr. Gow

I am happy to report that housing starts in the public sector this year are significantly higher than they were in the comparable period last year.

Mr. Alton

I welcome the Minister's announcement that the total amount of money available for homelessness is to be increased in the present financial year, but will he give some indication of whether next year's public expenditure cuts are likely to have any impact on that programme? Will he look again at the general needs index, which is used in determining the funds available to housing associations, because some voluntary groups, which do magnificent work in this sphere, fear that much of their money is being siphoned off into other parts of the country where the problems are perhaps not so great as in their own?

Mr. Gow

The general needs index is reviewed each year, and this is the time of year when that is done. My right hon. Friend will make a statement as soon as possible about expenditure next year.