HC Deb 21 June 1995 vol 262 cc336-7
5. Mr. Corbyn

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his estimate of the total number of homeless people in London. [28031]

The Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration (Mr. David Curry)

Last November, a count by voluntary sector agencies found 288 people sleeping rough in central London.

Mr. Corbyn

Does not the Minister think that it is quite disgraceful that anyone should be sleeping rough in London? Can he explain why 28,000 families have been accepted as homeless by London's local authorities, and why hardly any building by local authorities or by housing associations is going on? Why are the Government relying on hostels to solve the homeless crisis? Does not the contrast between the 20 million sq ft of empty office space in London and the enormous housing waiting lists, and the enormous number of homeless people, suggest that the Government have got it badly and totally wrong? The Government's real priority must be to build houses for affordable rent so that people can get a clean, decent and safe roof over their heads, rather than experience the misery of bed-and-breakfast or hostel accommodation.

Mr. Curry

The hon. Gentleman has got it wrong again. He knows that the rough sleepers initiative has been a great success in the past few years. That has been due to the remarkable co-operation between the voluntary organisations—to which I freely pay tribute—and my Department. The principle of that co-operation has been to find people who have difficulties and move them through into hostels. They will then be put into permanent accommodation so that they can move into some form of settled life. That will never be available for everybody, as some people with particular problems with drink and mental illness will not be able to live autonomous lives without a great deal of assistance. The system is working extremely well, and I have given an undertaking that it will be followed by a new rough sleepers initiative. I am pleased to pay tribute to all of the volunteers who have worked so hard to make the scheme succesful.

Mr. Brooke

I congratulate my hon. Friend and the voluntary sector on the progress which the figure of 288 rough sleepers represents. But does he agree that definition in this problem is important? Would not a regular and comprehensive indexed scale of the problem—agreed with the key charities—be helpful, both in the context of policy making and informed questioning?

Mr. Curry

My right hon. Friend is right in that regard. We have a clearing house which helps to identify people who find themselves in that position and which can find accommodation for them. It is also important that we ensure that the voluntary agencies share information more effectively with each other. We have identified the schemes which are working most effectively, and we will see how we can focus those schemes on people with particular problems—for example, mental health, alcohol or drug problems. The infrastructure is largely in place, and making sure that it works efficiently is a key priority.

Mr. Simon Hughes

When will the Minister announce the Government's proposals to come to the rescue of long leaseholders who are contemplating the prospect of becoming homeless because they have bills of up to £27,000 for capital charges which they cannot possibly begin to pay? A working party has bounced ideas around the Department, but nothing has been said on the subject for months. Those people are desperate for some news, and they want to be rescued from a predicament which they never envisaged.

Mr. Curry

I will send the hon. Gentleman the announcement that we made last Monday.

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