HC Deb 19 April 1995 vol 258 cc198-9
6. Mr. Khabra

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what recent assessment he has made of the extent of homelessness among young single people in England. [17910]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Robert B. Jones)

The assessment of the number of homeless young people and consideration of their housing needs is the responsibility of each local authority.However, in central London the Government's rough sleepers initiative has been particularly successful in helping young single homeless people. In November 1994, just two under-18s were found sleeping rough there.

Mr. Khabra

Has the Minister had time to read the report recently published by Crisis, a leading charity which cares for single homeless people, which shows that rates of tuberculosis among homeless people are comparable with those in third-world countries? Will he establish a working group to combat that danger and to co-ordinate agencies' work with help for homeless people? Does he agree that homelessness has a link with health? If so, what is his Ministry doing in relation to homeless people?

Mr. Jones

The hon. Gentleman asks me to establish a working group. Such a group was established last year under the leadership of the Department of Health. Furthermore, there is a sub-group on homelessness, on which Crisis has a representative. The report is likely to be available in a couple of months' time.

Mr. Garnier

Does my hon. Friend agree that, if Labour local authorities collected their rents efficiently and maintained their buildings properly, more houses would be available for homeless people?

Mr. Jones

Efficient use of existing housing stock is one of the most important strategies that any local authority can pursue. We try to encourage them to pursue, that in every possible way.

Mr. Betts

Does the Minister agree, however, that outside London the Government have effectively washed their hands of the problem of homeless young people? The Government have altered the housing benefits arrangements so that in many cases young people are not entitled to benefit. At the same time, those people have no alternative but to go into the private sector. Local authorities which could provide housing for them are denied an opportunity to do so because their capital receipts from housing sales cannot be used to build new homes. Does the Minister have one single initiative outside London to offer those people, who are suffering the most appalling housing and other deprivation?

Mr. Jones

As I have said, responsibility lies with local authorities. The hon. Gentleman is saying that Labour local authorities have washed their hands of the problem. When we judge the housing investment programme submissions of every local authority, we look for evidence that local authorities have proper strategies in place. If the hon. Gentleman is criticising his local authority, he should provide the evidence.