HL Deb 13 February 1992 vol 535 cc841-2

3.33 p.m.

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

What response, if any, they have made to representations of the London Homelessness Forum about the cost of food for persons placed in temporary accommodation by local authorities under the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Henley)

My Lords, following representations from the London Homelessness Forum, revised guidance was issued to local authorities in August 1991 which stressed that where people are temporarily housed in board and lodging accommodation, authorities should aim to ensure that any food provided is adequate. Where food provision is considered inadequate, or where residents do not wish to take meals, authorities are advised to negotiate bed only arrangements.

The Department of Social Security continues to keep all social security matters under review and as part of that process, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, together with my honourable friend the Minister of State for Housing, met representatives of the London Homelessness Forum on 10th December last.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply and in particular for his reference to the guidance issued. Does he accept that the thrust of this Question is towards 28,000 or so people mainly in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, almost all of whom lack independent, self-contained cooking facilities? Does he agree that a premium—a modest premium—of perhaps £10 a week per individual would avoid a great deal of hardship?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I cannot confirm or deny the figures given by the noble Lord. The figures that I have refer to something of the order of 13,000 family units, which might certainly equal the figure of 28,000 individuals that the noble Lord mentioned. Certainly, we are not happy that there are still any families having to live in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. We have always made it clear that local authorities should only use this type of accommodation as a last resort. As regards whether we should introduce a boarders' premium, I think that this would signal a return to the inequalities of the old system. It would be complex and therefore expensive to administer and it would not be easy to explain to people why their benefit should then drop as a result of moving into more permanent accommodation.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, is the Minister aware that 90 per cent. of bed-and-breakfast establishments have completely inadequate cooking facilities'? Can he imagine the problem for a mother having adequately to feed her small children under those conditions? One bed-and-breakfast establishment that I visited had two cooking stoves to service 18 families. Under those circumstances, will not the Minister seriously consider the idea of a £10 premium which was put forward sensibly by the Homelessness Forum?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I have explained that I do not think that a boarders' premium would be a sensible way forward. I also said that we are not happy that there are these people living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. We feel that it is up to the local authorities to enforce good standards and we are certainly encouraged by what is happening in London, where the majority of people in bed-and-breakfast accommodation are living, through the work that has been done by what I am told is called BABIE—the Bed and Breakfast Information Exchange—which is helping to ensure that there is some control on costs and better control on standards.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the standard of nutrition among these families and among other people living in that kind of poverty is very low indeed? What do the Government intend to do about that?

Lord Henley

My Lords, there is no evidence that income support levels are not adequate to provide people with a satisfactory diet.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, in view of the announcement today of a further increase in the number of housing repossessions, is it not almost certain that the tragedy that we are discussing today will get worse rather than better?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I certainly do not accept that. The numbers in London and the South East in bed-and-breakfast accommodation are in decline. It is not necessary that anyone should be in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. We have stressed to local authorities that it should always be a matter of last resort.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, given that, as my noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs said, 90 per cent. of families do not have access to adequate cooking facilities in bed-and-breakfast accommodation; given that cafe food is costly; and given that there is well-established research showing that many of the adults and very many of the children in bed-and-breakfast accommodation are suffering from malnutrition, will the Minister not reconsider his views?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I shall not reconsider my views. I have made it quite clear that we do not consider a boarders' premium appropriate. We think that it is up to the local authorities to maintain adequate standards and to see that, if possible, adequate cooking facilities are provided. I notice that the noble Baroness referred to the cost of cafe food. I notice also that some members of her party are attending a dinner this evening at a cost of £500 per head.