HC Deb 09 January 2002 vol 377 cc527-9
3. Roger Casale (Wimbledon)

What steps he is taking to promote better co-ordination between Government Departments in relation to combating social exclusion. [23444]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mrs. Barbara Roche)

The social exclusion unit works with all other relevant Departments in developing policy to combat social exclusion. Part of the unit's implementation strategy includes establishing units in other Departments that can co-ordinate activity across Whitehall.

Roger Casale

I thank the Minister for that reply. Does she agree with Churches Together in Wimbledon and many other voluntary and charitable organisations in my constituency that we should continue to strengthen the role of the Government in tackling the plight of homelessness and rough sleepers in major cities, such as London, and that a joined-up approach to government, involving many Departments working together, may be essential to achieve lasting success in relation to those issues?

Mrs. Roche

Yes. I congratulate the rough sleepers unit, led by Louise Casey, on its remarkable achievement—a 62 per cent. reduction in numbers. By March 2002, the unit will have provided more than 1,000 additional places in hostels. The joined-up approach has been achieved because different Departments—for example, the Ministry of Defence, which has done some very good work in this area—are working with the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department of Health to ensure that people engage in prevention work as well.

Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey)

Does the Minister agree that one of the factors that leads to social exclusion is inadequate mental health services for children and young people? Will she personally examine the system of funding young people's mental health services? Does she believe that there should be education, social services and health care, or it is that, at the lower end, the burden is placed on the Home Office because the young people become subject to prison sentences? In particular, will she reply to me about the funding of Young Minds—an excellent organisation that is unable to get funding from any of those different joined-up Departments?

Mrs. Roche

The right hon. Lady makes a very serious point about the fact that this issue involves not just one Department; it goes across several Departments, which is why she may well be interested in several of the social exclusion unit's current projects, which range from the educational achievement of young people in care to ex-offenders. I undertake to write to her about the details of the funding issue that she raises, but a number of Departments have worked together to address the subject of young people, especially children at risk.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

What methodology is used to target social need and overcome social exclusion? Do the Government plan to revise the means by which social need is targeted?

Mrs. Roche

The hon. Gentleman raises an important subject. There are many reasons why people go in and out of poverty. Of course, income levels are part of that, so the most frequently used measure is that of households below 60 per cent. of median income, but there are other causes. For example, lack of skills or qualifications and poor health can have an effect, which is why a co-ordinated approach is needed.

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

I applaud the Government on their wish to tackle social exclusion. It is a noble objective but, as the Minister will recognise, it is important to judge it by results rather than by rhetoric. Will she reconfirm the commitment made by the Prime Minister in 1996 to end the waste of families sleeping in bed and breakfast accommodation"? If she reconfirms that as a Government objective, will she share my disappointment that, in fact, the number of families sleeping in bed-and-breakfast accommodation has increased by 152 per cent. since 1997 to an all-time high?

Mrs. Roche

I am amazed that the hon. Gentleman raises this issue given the position that his Government took on dealing with housing and homelessness. Of course, there is an obligation not only to tackle rough sleeping but to examine the number of families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation and to see what can be done about them. That is why the Government are engaging in a programme with social landlords to make sure that much more social housing is available.