HC Deb 01 December 1993 vol 233 cc1034-6
10. Mr. Nigel Griffiths

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what further steps he is taking to combat homelessness.

Sir George Young

The figures announced yesterday will mean that more families can move into home ownership, releasing their present local authority or housing association home to homeless families and others in housing need. Some £30 million is being made available to local authorities to run cash incentive schemes; and more Housing Corporation resources will be provided for its successful tenants' incentive scheme. That is good news for families in housing need, who will benefit from new lettings made available. It is good news for tenants and good news for the housing market.

The Housing Corporation estimates that, with the plans announced yesterday, we will comfortably exceed our target of 153,000 homes funded through the Housing Corporation over the first three years of this Parliament. We now estimate that about 53,000 homes will be completed next year, making a total of 173,000 over the three-year period.

Mr. Griffiths

Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Edinburgh churches and other organisations that are arranging a sleep-out for homeless people on Friday in which I will participate? Does he recognise that the vast majority of people who have homes and incomes are appalled by the plight of homeless people and by the fact that the Government have presided over such an alarming increase in the number of homeless people and done so little to help them? What concrete measures does he propose to ensure that young single homeless are properly accommodated?

Sir George Young

It is not the case that homelessness is increasing in England. For the past four quarters, acceptances by local authorities of those who are statutorily homeless has fallen. I hope that the hon. Gentleman welcomes that. Fewer and fewer of those accepted as homeless are in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. There has been a fall of 41 per cent. over the past 12 months in the number of families in bed and breakfast.

In terms of the single homeless, a substantial number of rough sleepers have been assisted by the Government's rough sleepers initiative in London, and the number sleeping rough on the streets has fallen from about 1,060 three years ago to about 360. I am determined to make further progress and to see that number fall yet further.

Mr. Hendry

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on those policies, which are bringing down homeless statistics for the first time since records began. Can he confirm that there are 800,000 empty properties, representing 13 empty homes for every family in temporary accommodation? The Government are right to target resources on bringing those homes back into use, and is not that exactly what my right hon. Friend is doing?

Sir George Young

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that there are 800,000 empty properties. He is also right to promote schemes to bring those properties back into action, such as, for example, the housing association as managing agent scheme. Everybody who wants to bring decent homes within the reach of more people should do all that he can to encourage such schemes to get off the ground so that those homes can generate income for their owners and provide decent shelter for those who might otherwise be in unsatisfactory accommodation.

Mr. Battle

Do not the Minister's replies demonstrate a shameful complacency? Everyone except the Government seems to agree that 300,000 new homes are needed in the next three years. Is the Minister aware that today, more than 200 homes will be repossessed, more than 500 families will be registered as officially homeless, more than 60,000 families are trapped in temporary accommodation and more than 8,000 will sleep out, not only in London but in towns and cities throughout the country?

Why, then, is the Minister backing a Budget that is hammering down on housing investment, cutting £500 million from housing associations and local councils and effectively, at a stroke, cutting out 10,000 new homes? Would it not be economic common sense to go for housing investment, to use the backlog of local councils' capital receipts to generate jobs in construction and manufacturing and to provide homes to rent that are desperately needed—or will the Minister now tell us that his Government have decided that in our society we shall be scarred by homelessness well into the next century?

Sir George Young

What really matters for those in housing need is not the number of new homes that housing associations built each year but the number of new lettings that housing associations provide. The Government are refocusing the resources of the housing associations into more cost-effective schemes, such as the tenants incentives scheme, shared ownership and do-it-yourself shared ownership. The number of completions next year, at 53,000, is roughly double the number of completions that were achieved in 1991-92. It is not the case that the Housing Corporation will not make a real impact. The Housing Corporation believes that, during the next three year, it will maintain the output that it envisaged completing at the beginning of the year.

Mr. Fabricant

Is my right hon. Friend aware that although Conservative Members welcome the reduction in the number of the homeless, Shelter claims that there are more than 2 million homeless people in England?

Sir George Young

A number of figures are bandied around in the housing world. The figure of 2 million homeless people which was produced by Shelter is one of the most absurd figures that I have seen in three years as Housing Minister. Shelter has included in the 2 million figure everyone who is on an assured shorthold. The assured shorthold is now the most common form of letting in the private rented sector. If one were to describe as homeless everyone who had an assured shorthold, one would include many hon. Members.