HC Deb 15 March 1995 vol 256 cc894-5
16. Lady Olga Maitland

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on progress on the problem of homelessness in Greater London.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

The number of households accepted by London local authorities as statutorily homeless continues to fall. Last year 9.9 per cent. fewer households were accepted than in 1993, which is 24 per cent. below the 1992 level. In central London, the Government's £182 million rough sleepers initiative has reduced the number of people sleeping rough by three quarters.

Lady Olga Maitland

I thank my hon. Friend for that excellent news. Will he join me in congratulating the voluntary agencies which work so closely with his Department? They have the experience, expertise and knowledge, and they know very well that there is no reason for anyone to sleep rough on the streets of London.

Mr. Jones

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I have no problem in joining her in paying tribute to the voluntary agencies. They do a very good job in respect of rough sleeping and in respect of preventing homelessness elsewhere. However, it is also only fair to pay tribute to the many local authorities which have put a great deal of effort into preventing homelessness, as opposed to dealing with the problem once it arises.

Mr. Gerrard

I welcome the fall in the homelessness figures, but what effect does the Minister expect to see in respect of next year's figures as a result of the cuts in income support for mortgage payers and the caps on housing benefit? Would the Minister like to predict what effect that will have on next year's figures?

Mr. Jones

As local authorities appreciate the importance of preventive action, I certainly expect that to feed through in terms of the homelessness figures. As the rough sleepers initiative has gathered pace, and as we have managed to house those people who are willing to be housed, the problem will come down to a hard core of those who, because of drugs, mental illness or drink problems, are perhaps unwilling to be housed—unless one opts for enforced action, which raises a number of moral issues.

Mr. Hendry

Will my hon. Friend ensure that the most recent figures, which show a drop in the homelessness numbers, are sent to organisations such as Shelter? Does he not find it slightly strange that such organisations issue press releases whenever the figures are worse but have been strangely silent over the past two years while the figures have been improving?

Mr. Jones

That is reflected in the fact that Opposition Front-Bench Members' welcome for the splendid figures has also been conspicuously absent.