HC Deb 01 April 1987 vol 113 cc1084-5
6. Mr. Cartwright

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what further research his Department plans to institute into the issue of homeless young people.

Mr. John Patten

I have just announced major research into various aspects of homelessness, costing more than £300,000. We are also acting to help the homeless, for example, through our new mixed-funded housing association schemes, by a leaflet to encourage young people to take a realistic view about leaving home, and by our hostels initiative.

Mr. Cartwright

Is the Minister aware that the overwhelming majority of homeless youngsters coming to constituency advice services all over London are local youngsters who are homeless through no fault of their own? Does he have any idea of the number of young people in Greater London who are moving around, sleeping on friends' floors, or sleeping rough, because they have no chance of being housed by a housing association or by a local council? Will he consider a crash programme of emergency housing to deal with the growing army of homeless young people?

Mr. Patten

I know the depth of the hon. Gentleman's concern about this. Governments have never collected statistics about the young homeless as such, and perhaps we should begin to do so. We are discussing that aspect with the local authority associations. The hon. Gentleman is right that both national Government and local authorities have a responsibility. The most recent figures available to me show that about 40 per cent. of people accepted as homeless give the reason that their friends or relatives no longer feel able to house them, so there is also a wider responsibility.

Sir George Young

Will the research cover the problems facing homeless young people in Ealing, who are especially vulnerable due to the NALGO strike? Is my hon. Friend aware that the borough may be in default of its statutory responsibility under the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act because people cannot contact the department concerned'? If that is so, what remedy is available for homeless young people in Ealing?

Mr. Patten

The picture is similar to that which emerged a year or two ago in Brent. In the past year the Labour administration in Ealing has been ruining a perfectly well-run borough and failing to deliver services to people of all ages. It is an extremely serious matter when young people are unable to obtain the statutory help to which they are entitled.

Mr. John Fraser

Will the Minister take on board the point made by the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright), that it is extremely damaging to the cohesion and quality of our society and its economic health if thousands of single people cannot afford to live in the communities in which they grew up because they are unfortunate enough to be unemployed or homeless? Will the Minister establish a programme for local authorities and housing associations to provide accommodation at reasonable rents and with security of tenure so that young people can remain in the communities in which they grew up and thus maintain the quality of our society?

Mr. Patten

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman seems unaware that the Housing Corporation already has such a programme. The hon. Gentleman is in a good position to talk to Labour-controlled authorities such as Brent and Lambeth which have refused money offered to them on a plate this year to help with the problem of homelessness. In the same way, alliance Members might talk to Liberal-controlled Tower Hamlets about the 3,000 flats and houses being kept empty there.