HC Deb 04 February 1987 vol 109 cc985-6
4. Miss Maynard

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his latest estimate of the number of homeless people in England.

Mr. Ridley

About 100,000 households were accepted as homeless by local authorities in the year ending September 1986, all of whom have, or course, found accommodation.

Miss Maynard

Does the Secretary of State agree that the figure is so high because the total building programme every week since the Tory Government came to power in 1979 is 2,000 fewer homes than the weekly record under the previous Labour Government?

Mr. Ridley

I think that the hon. Lady has got it wrong. This is the number of people who have been accepted as homeless by local authorities and have either been found new tenancies in council houses or in hostels or bed-andbreakfast accommodation. They are not the people without homes, just the people who are classified as homeless.

Mr. Squire

Will my right hon. Friend accept that many homeless people find homes ultimately through what are termed houses in multiple occupation? There is a Bill covering that due for discussion shortly, around which strange rumours circulate. Does he agree that if the Bill should not proceed further there is still a responsibility on the Government to improve the conditions of so many of the properties?

Mr. Ridley

I agree that there is a need to provide more accommodation in certain parts of the country for such people. That is why we have given extra resources to the Housing Corporation so that it can attract private money to run up as many hostels as quickly as possible to house these people— high quality hostels and temporary accommodation of all kinds. That will be a major contribution to helping alleviate the problem.

Mr. Hancock

Can the Secretary of State tell us what help he will give to an authority such as mine which has faced an increase of 49 per cent. in the past financial year in the number of homeless people? Will he reconsider his plans to designate the 80 authorities for special help from the Housing Corporation and include Portsmouth within those 80-odd districts?

Mr. Ridley

I do not have the details of Portsmouth's problems. However, we have already made our allocations for housing for this year. I hope that Portsmouth will allocate the vast proportion of its resources either to improving run-down accommodation or to providing homes for the kind of people whom we have been discussing.

Mr. Heddle

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Labour-controlled local authorities which leave their local housing stock empty for three, six, nine, 12 or even 18 months would do better to use it to house the homeless? Does he further agree that the eight inner London local authorities highlighted in the Audit Commission report last week have taken twice as long to relet vacant houses as any other authority and thus wasted ratepayers' and taxpayers' money by housing people in inadequate homeless accommodation?

Mr. Ridley

My hon. Friend is correct. On 1 April last year, 113,000 council houses were empty and a quarter of those had been empty for more than a year. As my hon. Friend has said, the problems are greatest, for example, in the famous eight London boroughs, where the inefficiency and ineptitude are greatest causing the deepest suffering to those who are without homes. When we hear on top of that that the eight Labour controlled councils in London are spending about £20 million a year on nonsense and political propaganda of one sort or another, we realise that that money could be used to house the homeless rather than being wasted on gesturing and zealotry, which is the curse of the modern Labour party.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Fraser.

Mr. James Lamond


Mr. John Fraser

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that the disgraceful figure of 100,000 homeless a year is a record for the number of people who find themselves without a home? Will he accept that we regard it as a callous misjudgment to believe that people are properly housed when they are living in hostels or bed-and-breakfast accommodation, which the Secretary of State's Department acknowledges costs massively more than the cost of building a new home? That is a crazy form of economics and the Secretary of State's words will be greeted with dismay and people will be aghast at his comments.

Does the Secretary of State not recognise that if a Government reduced the number of homes being built for rent by almost 100,000 a year, the consequence will be the disgraceful figures that the right hon. Gentleman has announced to the House this afternoon?

Mr. Ridley

I will not enter into the controversy as to whether the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) is a windbag. However, there are 113,000 empty council properties, many of which have been empty for a long time. The solution to the problem is to improve those properties so that people can be housed in them. It is not simply a matter of throwing more good money after bad where councils are not prepared to take the necessary steps to make housing available to the homeless. That position shocks me. Yes, the figure of 100,000 homeless is very high. However, the hon. Member for Norwood must not confuse that with the number of people who have nowhere to live. He knows perfectly well that that figure is the number of people who have been rehoused in one form or another. I will not have that mistake deliberately made by the Labour party.

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