§ 2.56 p.m.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ Whether the arrangements made to cater for the homeless over Christmas and the New Year period in London and other major cities were successful.
My Lords, yes. The "Open Christmas" campaign run by CRISIS accommodated between 500 and 600 rough sleepers each night during Christmas week. Under the Government's rough sleepers initiative, over 500 hostel places and 700 places in longer term accommodation are being provided over the next few months.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, I am grateful for that reply. However, is the Minister aware that according to CRISIS—which was formerly Crisis at Christmas—the provisions made for the homeless at Christmas came entirely from the voluntary sector? An early announcement was made that £15 million would be set aside for that purpose; and I understand that was reiterated by Sir George Young on 18th December. He mentioned £12 million. Can the Minister say what has happened to the £12 million? Has it been distributed? Also, what has happened to the outstanding £3 million of those resources?
My Lords, the department offered to fund CRISIS to enable the "Open Christmas" campaign to run for longer than a week. CRISIS were 8 not able to accept that as the lease on the building was strictly time-limited and their volunteers had to return to work. The Government have put massively increased resources aside for the problem amounting to £96 million over three years for the single homeless initiative, plus increased funding to voluntary organisations working with the homeless rising from £2 million this year to £4.5 million for 1991–92
§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
My Lords, I thank the Minister for what he said regarding CRISIS. As he said, that was formerly Crisis at Christmas, a charity which was started in 1967 specifically to look after the single homeless in London. However, is he aware that at least 1,800 people were looked after in London during the week of Christmas this year? They were provided with food and shelter. They also received dental help, a new suit of clothes, medical equipment, a haircut and many other things. They were able to talk to counsellors who were attempting to help them get on their feet in the outside world. Would the Minister also agree that over 4,000 people offered their services at Christmas to help these people?
My Lords, as my noble friend points out, the enormous effort of volunteers is extremely important. A huge amount of work was done by all the volunteers over Christmas.
§ Lord Stallard
My Lords, can the Minister advise the House on the current level of homelessness? Is he in a position to say when the hostels and long-term accommodation beds announced by the housing Minister will be made available?
My Lords, there are about 23,000 hostel places in London, and probably 50,000 throughout the country. The shortage of places is probably only 10 per cent. The total homeless figures for rough sleepers is probably around 5,000 for the country. The 700 places, particularly in the move-on accommodation, should free places in hostels which will allow many more people to get into them.
§ Lord Stallard
My Lords, I must press the Minister for an answer to my question. Can he tell us what is the current level of homelessness? In addition, can he say when the permanent beds as well as the hostel beds will become available? I refer to those that were promised by the housing Minister.
My Lords, I do not know the answer to the question concerning the current level of homelessness. The point raised by the noble Lord is rather far from the Question on the Order Paper. That is specifically about the arrangements for Christmas and whether they were successful.
§ Lord Mellish
My Lords, we have heard that the arrangements over the Christmas period went well, and we are very glad to hear it. Will the Minister say something about the fact that the Government have introduced a different attitude and style in the past couple of months since the changes in the Government? I believe it is Sir George Young who is responsible for doing a great deal more for the homeless. Can the Minister say in simple terms what he is doing?
My Lords, I have pointed out what the Government are doing so far. A £3 million scheme was announced today in another place by my honourable friend. The scheme is part of the Government's strategy to tackle specifically the problem of young people sleeping rough in London. It focuses particularly on young people coming to London from elsewhere. The scheme seeks to develop innovative ways of supporting them in their own communities.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
My Lords, can the Minister say exactly what he means by rough sleepers, and what category of homeless people are covered by that description?
§ Lord Ennals
My Lords, I cannot accept the thesis that questions about homelessness are wide of the Question which was how homelessness was dealt with over the very short period of Christmas. Does the Minister not agree that there would not have been the need for Crisis at Christmas had there not been a grave problem of homelessness? He gave some credit to the Government for new expenditure. Does the Minister not agree that if the Government reduce their expenditure and programme for housing in general, that will lead to homelessness which will inevitably lead to additional money having to be spent in order to deal with what is the scandal of homelessness? All those people who were helped by Crisis at Christmas are now back on the streets.
My Lords, the Government have done a great deal. They have enabled the housing associations to almost double the amount of hostel places in London from 11,000 in 1981 to about 20,000 today. The single homeless initiative will provide additional move-on accommodation enabling large-scale resettlement to take place, thus freeing places into which people can move directly from the streets.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, perhaps I may follow up on the question asked by my noble friend Lord Stallard. Is the Minister aware that the number of households now registered as homeless is almost 130,000? The figure has more than doubled in the past decade. Is he aware that there is an inexorable rise in the number of people sleeping rough in London and the other major cities? Therefore, does the Minister not appreciate that unless the Government initiate further measures to deal with this situation urgently, he or one of his colleagues will be back this time next year defending the Government's position once again?
My Lords, the Government agree that sleeping out on the streets is unacceptable. As I have pointed out, we have many measures with which we hope to deal with this problem.