HC Deb 16 March 1988 vol 129 cc1097-8
13. Mrs. Clwyd

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how many homeless families there are in England and Wales at present.

Mrs. Roe

Local authorities in England secured accommodation for 27,500 households accepted as homeless under part III of the Housing Act 1985 in the October—December quarter. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has responsibility for these matters as they affect the Principality.

Mrs. Clwyd

Is the Minister not thoroughly ashamed of the fact that there are twice as many homeless people now as in 1979; that in our wealthy society people are living in cardboard boxes and in unhealthy and overcrowded accommodation, and that councils are allowed to buy bed-and-breakfast accommodation but are prevented from using their money more wisely and economically by building homes for people? Why has the Chancellor done nothing for the poor and the homeless?

Mr. Roe

The primary responsibility for helping the homeless rests with local authorities under the Housing Act 1985. It is for local authorities to decide how to fulfil their duties.

Homelessness is a long-standing problem and the increase reflects the underlying social changes. I advise the hon. lady that there are now more divorces—we have the second highest divorce rate in Europe— that there are more illegitimate births and that more young people are now leaving the family home.

Mr. Bowis

Will my hon. Friend put the problem into context by giving the number of vacant homes that are owned by local authorities and the number of homes that are lost to housing by the Labour party's Rent Act?

Mrs. Roe

There are more than 112,000 empty local authority properties, and no fewer than 25 per cent. of them have been empty for more than one year. Local authorities must make better use of their existing housing stock. The number of local authority properties standing empty for more than a year is nearly three times the number of families who are in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. We have sought to help to get empty local authority properties back into use through our estate action scheme. We have approved schemes totalling nearly £5 million for 1,200 dwellings since August 1986 and, more recently, through our £25 million supplementary allocation.

Mr. Soley

Only this Minister could believe that dealing with divorce will help the homelessness. Is she not aware that 200,000 families applied to be registered as homeless and that 100,000 were accepted, which is an all-time record? Is she not aware that this Government have cut public housing investment by two thirds and that that is what is causing the problem? Is she not aware that local authorities have less of their stock empty than the private sector or housing associations or, above all, the Government sector, which has no less than 6.9 per cent. of its housing stock empty?

Mrs. Roe

There is a reduction in local authorities' allocations from £1,360 million in 1987–88 to £1,290 million in 1988–89, but that is more than offset by the increase in capital receipts available to local authorities. Overall, local authorities' capital spending will increase by 4 per cent. The Government have urged that priority should be given to those in special need, and homelessness is taken into account when determining those allocations.

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