HL Deb 06 July 1992 vol 538 cc1001-32

3.58 p.m.

Lord Henderson of Brompton rose to move to resolve, That this House calls on Her Majesty's Government to amend the Income Support (General) Regulations 1987 (S.I. 1987, No. 1967) by inserting in Part III of Schedule 2: "8A Boarder Premium: The condition is that the claimant is a member of a family of which at least one member is a child or young person and that family has been placed by a local authority under the Housing Act 1985 Part III in temporary accommodation that does not provide all meals or self-contained facilities for preparing meals."; and by inserting in Part IV of Schedule 2: "(8) Boarder Premium (8) £10 in respect of a claimant who satisfies the conditions in paragraph 8 (A) and each other member of his family."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so I observe with pleasure that it follows only a week after that tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, concerning the family. This Motion concerns about 12,000 families (which is about 19,000 people) who are trying to live in extremely cramped quarters and without anywhere to cook for themselves. They are provided only with breakfast and otherwise they have to obtain their meals from outside; hence the need for my Motion.

I would like the House to consider the plight of those who have to live and feed their children on income support and without the small boarder premium which I am asking the House to petition for to the Government. They cannot provide all meals or self-contained cooking facilities in most of the bed-and-breakfast accommodation. I am asking the House to urge the Government to make this small addition of £10 per week per person living in such accommodation. I shall come to justify it later, but I reckon that the total cost will be small (about £15 million) in relation to the total cost of income support.

This small amount of money should also be seen in the context of the incalculable benefits that will accrue to these poor parent families on income support both in terms of human development as the children grow up and in terms of welfare. When considering this matter, one must also take into account the fact that there will be no need, or less need, for the kind of subsequent rescue operations which have to be mounted when people eventually get out, if they ever do, of this kind of accommodation and go into society, having lived in squalor and dire poverty. It is also much more likely that if they can feed themselves they will subsequently be less dependent on the state —on both the social services and health services. That is my main reason for moving this Motion—apart from the fact that none of us can wish our fellow citizens to live in dire poverty and in conditions that actually create squalid undernourishment.

Perhaps I may say a brief word about bed-and-breakfast accommodation in the miscalled "hotels". This accommodation is provided for the families for whom the local authorities have simply failed to provide housing. It is supposed to be temporary but can, I believe, last for as long as two-and-a-half years. It was described by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, who I am glad to see will participate in this debate, in 1989 during the Committee stage of the Social Security Act. These are her words. She described bed-and-breakfast accommodation as: a scandal in our society and, what is more, an expensive scandal".—[Official Report, 29/6/89; col. 883.]

The noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, also spoke on that occasion—I am sorry that she is not here today—and said of these so-called "hotels": These are nowhere near what any of your Lordships think of as a hotel; they are dosshouses/hostels where people live several to a room".—[Official Report, 29/6/89; col. 886.]

Breakfast is usually provided. It may be the only nourishment that is provided for that day. If there is a kitchen stove, it will be at the bottom of the house and will have to be shared with all the other residents in that house. Therefore, anyone at the top of the house who wants a cooked meal other than breakfast has to go down to the basement and compete with all the other residents for the use of that one stove. She—presumably it is a she who usually does the cooking—will have to go down to the basement with her children because she cannot leave them at the top of the house. She will then try to cook a hot meal, which will almost invariably be a convenience meal, brought in from outside, which is of course very much more costly than any meal that she could contrive herself on the stove. Clearly it is impossible to cook economically on a stove at the bottom of a house. Not only does one have to take one's children down, but afterwards one then has to climb back up the stairs with the children and the hot food to the room where one can eat it. It is appallingly dangerous when one thinks that the hot food could fall on unruly children. There have been cases of severe burns. No one would like that situation to continue.

The alternative to trying to compete with one's fellow residents for the single stove on which one can cook convenience foods is to eat out. But that of course is impossible on income support. Indeed, it would be impossible to do that even on income support plus this small premium. I hardly need to labour the comparative costs of eating at home and eating out. All that I am asking for in this Motion is a modest increase in the amount of money that is available to these poor people of £10 per week per head —not £10 per day.

I feel that I hardly need to substantiate what I have said further, but from the number of occasions on which we have raised this matter previously—this is the first time that I have raised it—it is clear that the Government must have some objections to this idea, and I feel that I should try to answer them. In passing, perhaps I may say that whenever this matter has been raised, which is about four or five times since the old eating-out allowance was abolished in April 1989, it has always been raised on a non-party basis and support for the idea of something like this premium—although not exactly in this form—has always come from all parts of the House.

The first objection from the Government is how the cost can accurately be calculated. I can answer that quite simply. The eating-out allowance was roughly £10 per head when it was abolished. In May 1989, shortly after it was abolished, the national total of homeless households—households, not people—numbered just under 12,000, with 11,460 households in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. Very recently, in March 1992, the Department of the Environment's Homelessness Tables indicated that out of a total of homeless households 12,050 were in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. That is a very slight rise. The numbers involved are therefore very much the same in 1992 as in 1989. That means that there have been something like 12,000 families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation over those three years. It is a very reasonable calculation to say that those families represent 29,000 people—that is, an average of two-and-a-half people in each family unit. At £10 per head per week, the premium would therefore cost £15 million per annum, and we reckon that that is the maximum. I invite the Government to agree those figures. If they are challenged, perhaps the Minister can kindly point out where I have gone wrong.

I maintain that the boarder premium would be easy and simple to administer, but the Government apparently fear that it would be complicated. I cannot see what the complications could be. To my mind, the scheme would entail adding only one single extra entry to the income support form and providing only one single additional facility to the income support computer program. Surely that is not complicated?

There are then the questions of whether the new premium would be too costly and whether the cost can be accurately calculated. I have already dealt with the calculation of the cost and, as I have said, it would be tiny by comparison with the cost of income support as a whole. Surely nobody could possibly say that it would be too costly to give £10 per week per person to those who are suffering from malnutrition. I must proceed to assert, on evidence, that there is malnutrition among both adults and children living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, replied to a Question on the boarder premium from the noble Lord. Lord Hylton, who most unfortunately cannot be here today, on 13th February this year. That is the last occasion on which this issue has been raised. He said: there is no evidence that income support levels are not adequate to provide people with a satisfactory diet".—[Official Report, 13/2/92; col. 842.]

I must refute that statement because there is clear evidence. I wish to quote from a joint report of 1989 by the Health Visitors Association and the General Services Committee of the BMA entitled Homeless Families and their Health. The report noted that in 1989, which was before the Minister's assertion that there was no evidence of malnutrition—

Lord Henley

My Lords, I think that this is quite important. I did not say that there was no evidence of malnutrition. What I said —and I was very careful to say it in these words—was that there was no evidence that people could not maintain an adequate diet on income support. It might be that people do not necessarily maintain an adequate diet on income support. But I was saying that there was no evidence that it was not possible. That is something very different from asserting that there is no malnutrition.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, I must say —and I appeal to the House—that I find that to be a distinction without a difference. If the noble Lord would like to substantiate that when he comes to reply I have no doubt that the House will be happy to hear from him.

The report stated: Both adults and children in bed-and-breakfast accommodation are malnourished. There is a high incidence of weight loss in adults and of low birth weight in babies". Is that or is that not hard evidence? I very much hope that the Minister will not attempt to describe that as anecdotal evidence as he did on a previous occasion not so long ago when I adduced evidence. I would say that it is authoritative and cannot be gainsaid.

The evident hardship and malnourishment of those on income support in bed-and-breakfast accommodation and without this premium is something that no government, surely, can live with happily. I therefore invite noble Lords on all sides of the House to join me in pressing the Motion and asking the Government to agree to it.

Moved to resolve, That this House calls on Her Majesty's Government to amend the Income Support (General) Regulations 1987 (S.I. 1987, No. 1967) by inserting in Part III of Schedule 2: "8A Boarder Premium: The condition is that the claimant is a member of a family of which at least one member is a child or young person and that family has been placed by a local authority under the Housing Act 1985 Part III in temporary accommodation that does not provide all meals or self-contained facilities for preparing meals."; and by inserting in Part IV of Schedule 2: "(8) Boarder Premium (8) £10 in respect of a claimant who satisfies the conditions in paragraph 8 (A) and each other member of his family."—(Lord Henderson of Brompton.)

4.12 p.m.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, for doing the House a service by bringing this issue before us. I hope that your Lordships will in due course make a decision. In his modest and dispassionate speech the noble Lord said that it was hardly necessary for him to state the case. However, having heard the facts contained in his presentation and, indeed, the Minister's intervention, I am glad that he did state the case. I can do little more than underline some parts of it.

In all parts of the House over several years we have spelt out the misery of bed-and-breakfast accommodation for homeless people. Ministers and noble Lords on all sides have accepted that it is a thoroughly unsatisfactory way of dealing with homeless people. In my view it is a humiliating and degrading way of dealing with people who, through no fault of their own, are homeless. On 27th July I am addressing a conference in London on families at risk. Bed-and-breakfast accommodation is certainly one of the risks to which families are exposed. I shall spell out what I mean.

The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, referred to the the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. As he is not present perhaps I may quote from his speech of 11th July 1990. He said: I would go so far as to say that to push a family with children into bed and breakfast accommodation is about the worst disaster that can befall them. Let us look at the position from the mother's point of view. She is accustomed and intends to cook, cater and provide for her children. During the period of enforced inactivity she is in effect being deskilled. She is losing those attributes of which she may justifiably be most proud". He concluded: We risk breaking up those families by a degree of imposed poverty".—[Official Report, 11/6/90; col. 100.] There are several ways in which families are put at risk by bed-and-breakfast accommodation. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, has dealt with one of them —malnutrition. There is much evidence that many mothers go without adequate food in order to protect the standard of feeding of their families. Secondly, there is a great risk of disease. In most bed-and-breakfast accommodation there is no refrigeration. Mothers can buy only small amounts of food. The accommodation may be far from clean. The buildings are often unsatisfactory. Sometimes food deteriorates and ants, cockroaches and mice leave telltale traces. There is also the danger of burning. I saw a statement by a family GP in Safe as Houses, which was published by the Child Accident Prevention Trust in 1991. He said: I have seen many children with burns and scalds, some severe, which are directly due to the overcrowding and lack of facilities in the hotels. I feel angry every time I see one of these children, knowing it need never have happened". There are other dangers too. There is the risk of family break-up. Although most of the families are single-parent families, it is not so in all cases. How can family life be sustained in a bed-and-breakfast hotel where people are often required to be out during large parts of the day and privacy is almost impossible? Sometimes there may be just a single mother who is unable to give the love, care and affection that her children need from her. Loving family life is impossible under these circumstances.

As the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, said, the position has not improved in recent years. Prior to April 1989 people living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation received an allowance in their weekly benefit to compensate for inadequate cooking facilities. Until then the Government thought that that was a proper way to spend public funds, but then decided that it was not. They were wrong. The loss of this allowance in April 1989 has had devastating consequences. Families living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation at the time of the changes lost an average of £10 per child per week. People living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation are now expected to budget as they would in their own homes. But circumstances in one's own home are different from circumstances of bed-and-breakfast accommodation.

I quote from the Bayswater Hotel Homelessness Project of 1990, which states: The main thing is the kitchen. In your home you can go there whenever you feel like it, and don't have to worry about the baby getting burned or falling down the stairs. You don't have to keep going up and down"— sometimes four or five storeys— with your pots and pans, which is really dangerous". In many of these homes the kitchen is shared between 10 and 20 families. It is sometimes closed during certain parts of the day and cannot be used by the mother at all.

Before 1989 families could buy take-away food, because they had that extra money, and take it home. They could eat out in cafes or snack bars. In other words, they had the money to use their judgment; but they can no longer afford the luxury of doing so.

One has to say that the Government have had ample time to remedy this wretched situation. In the debate on the Social Security Bill in June 1990 the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said: However, I must stress that the Government firmly believe that the solutions to the problems facing those families lie fairly and squarely in the hands of local authorities and not in changes to the benefit system. The Government's prime objective is to get people out of manifestly unsuitable and expensive bed-and-breakfast hotels by increasing the supply of permanent accommodation". He added that certain funds were being made available for the purpose and that that was, specifically to increase the availability of permanent accommodation for those living in bed and breakfast accommodation and will provide about 15,000 extra lettings over two years".—[Official Report, 11/6/90; col. 100.] The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, gave some figures for the present number of families—and, indeed, of individuals—living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. They show that the number has increased in the past two years since the Minister made that statement. I may have slightly different figures, but they show that in April 1989 there were 6,984 households living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation in London alone. The difference can perhaps be explained because my figures apply to London, whereas the noble Lord's figures represent the position across the country.

Today, if my figures are correct, there are more than 7,000 households living in such conditions—not just under 7,000, but more. Since the Minister gave assurances that action would be taken to ensure that new houses would be provided or other suitable accommodation so that people would not have to remain in bed-and-breakfast hotels, the situation has not got better; indeed, it has become worse. I very much hope that when the Minister replies he will either say that the position has deteriorated and to what extent or, if we are misled and the information is better, give us the figures and their sources.

From the point of view of the organisations involved, the situation is worsening. To me it is a little like the recession which has contributed very much to the situation with which we are dealing today—promises, promises. Indeed, there have been enough promises to get through even a general election! No doubt the Minister will give us the up-to-date position. However, if the situation is worse than when this Chamber took a decision after nine o'clock one evening—not the best time to have a vote, but we are now debating the Motion in the cool light of day—I hope that unless he receives a satisfactory answer the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, will press the matter.

I believe that the situation is such that we must find a way to help these families. It is really no good the Minister saying that the country cannot afford the small extra sum of money needed to enable mothers to look after their children when they are living in poverty and when they are homeless. I hope that the Minister will respond to pressures from all sides of the House to deal with what has become a really great tragedy. It is not only a great tragedy for people; it is a tragedy that we should allow the situation to continue. I trust that the Minister will give us some assurances on the matter.

4.24 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, it would, I am sure, be a matter of general agreement in the House that it is the duty of governments to ensure that none of the citizens of their country suffers from those extremes of poverty which if described on the printed page would lead to immediate revulsion at the thought that human beings were expected to live like that. If still confronted with the conditions exposed in Dickens' novels we are certain that we would do something about it. Our predecessors felt this and as a result we have the welfare state that we have, of which most of us, of all parties, are basically very proud.

But many of us, and I speak inter alia from that feeling in the Christian Churches which is a major part of their work in the world and which is particularly represented by the body, Church Action on Poverty, on which I serve, are very worried about what is happening at the lower edges of our society today. When one is confronted by such a situation the best strategy may well be not to tackle the total question head on but to tackle the edges of the problem where there is the greatest misery because of largely unintended special circumstances.

In such matters the harm is usually obvious and the cost of curing it is small. Such, for instance, is the problem of the 17 or 18 year-olds which my noble friend Lord Russell and myself, along with other noble Lords, continue to bring to the Government's attention. Such also is the problem brought before your Lordships this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. The whole of the bed-and-breakfast scheme is a crying scandal and should not be tolerated. It is a matter for wholesale reform; but the improvement of some of the fringe conditions is an appropriate goal for the kind of fringe reform which the noble Lord is tackling this afternoon.

I shall not spell out the case histories; there are enough of them and I believe that the facts are not at issue. I merely say that this is a minor reform which will make the difference between terrible (and dangerous) misery on the one hand and, on the other, merely tolerable misery—if there can be such a thing —for a large number of families.

When I had two parishes in Kew recently we ran a scheme which actually had the same effect as would that which has been proposed. We ran a scheme in a hall whereby the families from the hotels in the parishes could come and make their own meals and get away from the bed-and-breakfast hotels for the middle of the day. Something like that should happen practically everywhere, but we cannot leave it just to private charity; it falls firmly into the area of dealing with extreme misery which, as I said a moment ago, is acknowledged by all to be within the responsibilities of government as a whole.

The cost of putting the matter right is small. I do not believe that the difficulties of implementing such reform are large. Indeed, I have just come hotfoot today from a conference held by the Benefits Agency where it outlined and boasted of—I think with justification—its growing competence in dealing with claimants and claims. I am quite sure that it can be managed and that it can be afforded. I think I probably detected from the earlier remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, that one of the suggestions put forward was that this was really a matter for nutritional education and information. But that is not to live in the real world of families existing in such conditions.

I beg your Lordships to accept the Motion. I hope that the Government will accept it. They will do themselves no harm; indeed, they will do themselves much good. The proposal will not cost money and will do a great deal of good for many of the people that they have to govern. If the Government do not accept the Motion I hope that your Lordships will press the matter to a Division.

4.28 p.m.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, I have listened, and indeed I shall listen, very carefully to the case for and the case against the noble Lord's Motion. I fully accept that I have very little expertise on the subject. I fear also that I shall not be in total agreement with my two noble kinsmen who are to sum up the debate. Therefore, I shall listen with great care to my noble friend Lady Faithfull, whose opinion on the matter I and I am sure your Lordships greatly respect.

I wish to make a general point on the way in which the Government and sometimes Brussels make such regulations. I accept that due to ever-changing and new technology it is necessary to pass enabling Bills and those Bills need regulations in order for the Government to govern. I accept with gratitude the work done by your Lordships' committee which inspects regulations to ensure that they are within the scope of the particular Acts. However, what worries me greatly nearly every day is that for all practical purposes there is no method of amending the regulations. Although 90 per cent. of them may well be sensible and practicable, on many occasions the odd small part is neither sensible nor practicable. It therefore brings the whole regulation into disrepute.

I have in mind regulations that affect my patch, if I am allowed to use such an expression, such as those emanating from the food and environment legislation which involved pesticides, provisions on food and the various regulations under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The noble Lord's Motion today suggests a redrafting of the regulation on income support. I suspect that my noble kinsman Lord Henley will say that it contravenes the custom of the House. Therefore, I ask him whether he will draw the problem of how to bring more sensible arrangements into regulations to the attention of whoever has the intellect to solve it.

I see that my noble kinsman is writing this down. My suggestion probably does not contravene the custom of the House. But for all practical purposes it is more or less impossible to redraft the regulation, as we may well realise today. Some of the regulations are misguided and the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, suggests that this one is. Others severely handicap the few of us who now try to produce wealth and avoid unemployment in productive industry and agriculture.

4.32 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Chester

My Lords, I have to say that I do not like the proposal: it seems to me that it does not reach the root of the problem. As has been said, we are well aware that the real problem is the supply of rented housing. Although there has been progress since the Housing Act 1988 and considerable efforts are being made to release accommodation over shops and so on, we still have an enormous way to go. We know that such housing would answer the problem.

Secondly, I do not like the proposal because it does not solve the problem of balanced and nutritious diets. With £10 extra a week for takeaway food it is not likely to he possible to provide people with proper nutritional back up. It will save people from starvation: it will not give them a nutritious diet.

Thirdly, I do not like the proposal because £10 a week per person, with four in a family, is £2,000 a year. That could, where suitable, be used to install a refrigerator, a cooker or power supply and cover fire regulations in one swoop and enable people to do what is best—cook for themselves. As we have already learnt, that is the most nutritious way.

Fourthly, I do not like the proposal because central provision of meals, as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, illustrated, would he a fine way forward, similar to the luncheon clubs for the elderly, providing a decent meal and better use of money.

However, although I do not like the suggestion, the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, will be pleased to know that I fully support it. I do so because although there are other options, there are not enough in place to solve the desperate problem. We know it is desperate and inhuman, and in our heart of hearts each of us is ashamed of it.

The Church produced the fine report, Faith in the City which called attention to the problem and pressed hard for remedies. Clearly, we wish to encourage everything to be done to remove the root cause of the problem, the basic misery of bed-and-breakfast accommodation, through the provision of housing. While the system remains, it is often the most vulnerable members of society who end up in the worst bed-and-breakfast accommodation. One's heart goes out to them.

One report states that only £1.12 per person is left for lunch and supper each day. Even if one cooks for oneself, it is impossible on that to maintain a proper diet. I fully support the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, not because I like the proposal but because it is vital and necessary, in a Christian and human society, to meet the needs of those who have been caught in this trap.

4.35 p.m.

Lord Desai

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, brings before us an urgent and important matter. Anyone who has to read the statutory instrument which we are debating would agree that it is mind-bogglingly complicated. We have created a welfare state which is extremely complex to administer and which eventually ends up not caring for those whom it was intended to look after.

We have also constructed a welfare state which, by building in false economies, has become more expensive in both the short and the long run than we wish. The whole false economy of bed-and-breakfast accommodation illustrates this perfectly. If the amount of money which local authorities spend on bed and breakfast were spent properly, it would provide decent housing for many people. If the Government had allowed all the money earned from selling council houses to be used to build decent housing and if they had stopped making excuse after excuse, the lives of many people would have been helped.

However, it is worse than that. If the Government were to spend the interest earned on that money and saved in their coffers, it would have paid for the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, several times over. Let us not be told that we cannot afford it. By spending more money, we might eventually save money. Not only would we save it, we might improve lives. The most important point made by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, concerned the quality of life of children. If we do not take care of the possibility of malnutrition at an early stage in children, there are sufficient studies to demonstrate that they will be deprived for life and will be left behind in the future struggle to earn a decent income.

If we do not wish to consign even more people to a life-time cycle of deprivation, we should now think of better ways of dealing with the problem. Obviously, if people had decent housing they could rely on the unpaid labour of the woman to provide a decent meal for all of them. What we have now is that the unpaid labour continues but lack of facilities means that the woman in charge cannot provide decent meals.

It must be said that whenever formulae are calculated on how much money should be given, they are never generous. Let us not imagine that what is on offer right now is in any sense generous. It never is. I too prefer a proposal that would be more sensible and generous, but I know that it is not possible. If this proposal were accepted or, the proposal being rejected, if the Government would look properly and thoroughly into how to tackle the housing crisis, we should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, for having brought the matter to our attention.

4.40 p.m.

Lady Kinloss

My Lords, I am most happy to support my noble friend Lord Henderson of Brompton in his Motion which arises from the abolition of the former eating-out allowance in April 1989. The national total of homeless households was then 31,510, of whom 11,460 were living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. The national total of homeless households has reached nearly 62,000, of whom 12,050 are living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. Those figures are published in the Department of the Environment's Homeless Tables for March 1992.

The number of households living in other forms of temporary accommodation has risen by 30,000. This shows that local authorities have made a genuine attempt to limit their use of bed-and-breakfast accommodation by developing alternative forms of temporary accommodation. The problem for families living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, especially those with toddlers, is that the hotels used usually lack sufficient cooking and refrigeration facilities or have no cooking facilities in rooms. How can a mother feed her children, herself or her husband satisfactorily under these conditions? If there is a kitchen, it appears that it is usually in the basement. How can a mother be expected to carry heavy pots of hot food upstairs with small children clinging to her skirts? That is the kind of problem that leads to accidents.

If no refrigeration is available food will not keep. That will also lead to greater expenditure. It is reported that families often have to vacate their rooms between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. That matter was also referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Ennals. Where are people supposed to go between those hours? If it is pouring with rain, I imagine they will have to go into a cafe, or somewhere else, thereby adding to their expenses through having to buy something in order to stay there. How can one feed small children satisfactorily under these conditions without adding considerably to one's expenditure? Such people would be more comfortable staying in their room, however cramped, as one assumes they would at least be dry.

A joint report by the Health Visitors Association and General Services Committee of the BMA entitled Homeless Families and their Health published in 1989 states: Both adults and children in bed-and-breakfast accommodation are malnourished". A report published by the London Food Commission, Maternity Alliance, SHAC and Shelter entitled Prescription for Poor Health published in 1988 states: The lack of money was also an important restriction on diet". The report published before April 1989 also found that those living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation had a poorer diet than a comparable study of people with low incomes in the general population, suggesting that bed-and-breakfast accommodation accentuates financial problems. This report, which was published before April 1989, showed that even with the eating-out allowance it proved difficult, if not impossible, to have a properly balanced diet. How much more difficult is it to have a properly balanced diet without sufficient money to keep the family properly nourished? It is important for pregnant women and babies to have a proper diet. I trust that the Government will examine the situation more closely and accept this Motion.

4.43 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, for moving this Motion which seeks to amend the Income Support (General) Regulations 1987 by inserting in Part III of Schedule 2 the words of the Motion.

The present position has been clearly explained by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, and by other noble Lords. I hope the House will forgive me if I, in part, reproduce much of what has been said by other noble Lords. This Motion would not be necessary if we did not have the expensive and distressing policy of accommodating homeless families in so-called hotels which are commonly known as bed-and-breakfast accommodation. That accommodation is privately run for profit—I might add for substantial profit. To me it is amazing that both Her Majesty's Government and local authorities have for more than 20 years approved of this policy which is so expensive and non-productive.

However, the policy has been running for many years and it is not a party political issue. All sides of your Lordships' House and both parties in another place have been responsible for placing homeless families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. At the same time I pay tribute to the Minister for Housing and Planning, Sir George Young, for so manfully grappling with the present housing problems. We hope he will be able to see the end of bed-and-breakfast accommodation for homeless families. Therefore this Motion should not be regarded as something permanent.

If I understood my noble friend the Minister aright, he said that families can live on income support. However, we are discussing a situation where families live on income support in impossible conditions. I agree with the Minister but I do not think he has taken into account the impossible conditions which have been described by many other noble Lords under which families on income support have to live.

Other noble Lords have referred to the health of the children of such families. I have talked to health visitors who have told me that children living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation are below normal weight and are not as healthy as children who do not live in such accommodation. The children in bed-and-breakfast accommodation have to be attended to more frequently by health visitors. However, health visitors feel a sense of helplessness and hopelessness because whatever service they give —and health visitors give a high service—they cannot help the children.

Mothers in bed-and-breakfast accommodation share kitchens under almost impossible conditions. I enjoy cooking and I realise that to produce the cheapest possible hot-pot requires leaving it in an oven or on top of a cooker for an hour and a half to two hours. At least that is how I make a hot-pot. In bed-and-breakfast accommodation five people may be using the same kitchen and the same cooker. How can they all produce a good, cheap dish? As that is an absolute impossibility, parents have to buy food outside. Good food bought outside the home is expensive. When I go to Marks & Spencer's or Sainsbury's I am absolutely appalled at the cost of the dishes they sell. Consequently, mothers in bed-and-breakfast accommodation will buy food at a fish-and-chip shop because that is the cheapest alternative. People say that fish-and-chips constitute a healthy meal but to eat fish-and-chips every day is not good for one's health. That is not a good practice in terms of the health of children.

An enormous amount of money is spent on providing bed-and-breakfast accommodation but we are getting no return for that. I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Desai, who said the provision of bed-and-breakfast accommodation is not cost-effective. It is running the country into debit and the health service is suffering as a consequence.

I should have hoped that it would be possible for children in bed-and-breakfast accommodation to receive free school dinners. The children of families on income support can receive free school dinners. However, children do not like to be singled out from other children in this way. When we were discussing the education legislation some years ago I moved an amendment which sought not to abolish free school dinners. I am still sad and sorry that I lost that amendment because, if it had been accepted, all children would have benefited, and the homeless children we are discussing would not refuse school dinners because they do not wish to be singled out and made to feel different from other children.

Under Part III of the Children Act 1989 a responsibility is laid on local authority social services departments to meet the needs of children in their area. What is a social services department to do when children in bed-and-breakfast accommodation cannot be properly fed (and health visitors report that that is so) and properly looked after? What will happen if the local authority takes the children into care? It will be vastly expensive, quite apart from the fact that it is quite wrong for the children. If the local authority social services department does not take the children into care it is infringing the Children Act 1989. There is a dilemma in relation to the legislation.

The resolution would be in line with the Children Act, which states that the welfare of the child is paramount. However, how can the welfare of the child be paramount if the child is living in such conditions and not getting enough food to eat?

The Children Act 1989 also lays down that parents have a responsibility for their children, and rightly so. But living under the conditions which obtain in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, how can the parents have responsibility for their children? How can they give those children what they need? Once again, the Children Act 1989 is in conflict with the regulations. I suggest that the matter should be dealt with.

I support the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, and the Motion which he has brought before your Lordships' House. If he divides the House, which I hope he will not have to do because I hope that the response of my noble friend the Minister will be in line with what we are seeking, I shall support the noble Lord, Lord Henderson.

4.52 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Baroness on a matter of this kind. I read in a well-informed article in The Times the other day that when the noble Baroness disagrees with the Government the Government lose. I hope that the Government will adjust their attitude in the light of her speech and therefore make sure that they are on the winning side.

The philosopher Wittgenstein remarked, of what one cannot speak, of that one should be silent. I could speak about this subject for ever, having been associated with the homeless for many years, as the House has often heard. However, I shall refrain from doing so and speak for only two or three minutes.

I see this as a critical moment in the social history of this country, and more particularly in the history of the Conservative Party. It may be that as a Conservative defector of over 50 years I am not quite as well qualified to speak on the matter as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham. I shall bring him into the argument. When I was personal assistant to Lord Beveridge—who would have been horrified by what we are opposing today—drawing up a plan for subsistence, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, was leading the progressive Young Conservatives. I think that at heart the noble and learned Lord is probably still a progressive young Conservative, even though he sometimes conceals the fact. That was the Conservatism of the immediate post-war period. Then we had the Conservatism of great men like Lord Stockton, Lord Butler, the noble Lord, Lord Home, and others.

Then in the 1980s the Conservative Party, to put it crudely, became possessed of a different kind of spirit. I shall not refer to it by its usual name because that would seem offensive to a remarkable person who has recently joined us. The 1989 Act was the culmination of that heretical Conservatism which had taken over that famous party. Now we are told that the Conservative Party is a caring party. We were told during the election that Mr. Major is a man of the people, which I am sure he is, and that his aim was a classless society, and all the rest of it, and that he had known unemployment. To put it crudely and simply, I hope that today the Government will prove that they are a different party from the party of the 1980s.

4.54 p.m.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, one of the problems with being in this position on the list of speakers is that everybody has said what one was going to say. In most cases I would sit down at this stage and say that everything has been said, but today the subject is so important that I am afraid that your Lordships will have to put up with me.

I should also like to say how heartily I endorse the opening words of the right reverend Prelate. If only bed-and-breakfast accommodation was unnecessary we would not have to go through all this.

The noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, has moved a very reasonable Motion calling on Her Majesty's Government to provide boarder premiums for all members of families with children placed in temporary accommodation by local authorities.

Once again we have a situation in which it is clear that the actions of one department of government are having an adverse effect on another department and that those effects have not been considered. Parents are constantly being exhorted by the, Department of Health to provide wholesome, nourishing food, prepared in a clean environment, for their children. In this instance we find local authorities, which really have very little alternative, placing families in accommodation which I am sure would horrify Members of your Lordships' House. Families with children and infants are expected to cope with their day-to-day living in overcrowded and often filthy conditions, with a bare minimum of facilities for cooking and washing up. We have all heard the horror stories.

The Government, through the Department of Social Security, have done absolutely nothing to assist parents who find themselves in those unfortunate conditions to make proper provision for their children. The result is a sharp decline in the children's health. Gastroenteric infections are common because the raw materials for meals cannot be stored in hygienic cupboards or refrigerated when necessary. Imagine trying to keep milk, meat or fish fresh for more than a few hours in the weather conditions which have prevailed in the past month. Imagine trying to prepare food and to cook it properly in the same room where you sleep and wash yourself and your clothes, as well as crockery and pans, in an inadequate wash-basin, in a room crammed with your belongings and with unhappy children trying to play around your feet. I should not like to do it for a day, let alone for weeks and months.

How does a woman in that kind of temporary accommodation ensure that her family has a balanced diet? As the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, so graphically described, that woman cannot prepare meat and two vegetables on a single gas ring, or on a cooker in the basement which must be shared with a dozen or more families, when she has only the most basic utensils. She is forced to rely on takeaway meals, which are expensive and often of dubious nutritional value.

It is a well-established fact that a poor diet leads to ill health. Even if the family escapes gastroenteric infections, the lack of a balanced diet causes a multitude of conditions from skin complaints, respiratory diseases and bone diseases to general malaise. Who knows what the long-term effects of that albeit temporary period of malnourishment will have on the future health of those children and their parents? I include the parents because often they will go without food themselves in order to ensure that their children eat.

It would not surprise me in the very least if I were to hear the Minister in his response to the Motion trot out the well-known arguments that the premium would be too complex to administer, that it would prove too costly and that it is the local authorities' responsibility to ensure that families who are unintentionally homeless are not placed in unsuitable accommodation. I know, and it has been said before, that in the Minister's opinion there is no evidence that income support levels are not adequate to provide people with a satisfactory diet".—[Official Report, 13/2/92; col. 842.] Income support levels may be satisfactory in normal circumstances, but the temporary accommodation about which we are speaking today is exceptional, and exceptional circumstances need exceptional measures.

There have been several reports on the effect homelessness has upon health, although most that I have encountered were written before the 1989 income support regulations came into force: in other words, while there were still supplementary benefit additions for those forced to eat out by their circumstances. There is the BMA report Deprivation and III Health written in 1987, a report on Housing and Health published by the British Medical Journal in 1991 and a joint BMA and Health Visitors' Association report, Health and the Homeless Family, published in 1989. If the Minister has not read them I recommend that he does. He might just change his mind.

All the reports stress the high incidence of gastroenteritis, skin disorders and chest infections in that section of the population. In addition, we know that homeless women are much more likely than other women to have problems during pregnancy, and between a quarter and one third of their babies will be of low birth weight compared with one in 10 of the general population.

It seems unlikely that the Government will have a sudden change of heart over their housing policy. This measure, as other noble Lords have pointed out, will not be too complex to administer and should at least help to provide those unintentionally homeless families with children who have been placed in temporary accommodation by their local authority with the means to obtain something towards a balanced diet. It might even save the National Health Service some money. I commend it to the House and particularly to the Minister.

5 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I hope the House will forgive my extreme incompetence in not having put down my name to speak in this debate. I knew perfectly well last week that the action in which I was involved in 1989 on behalf of the Government would he the subject of discussion today. But I confess that I had not appreciated that there would be a list of speakers. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me.

It seems to me that the wheel has turned full circle. As the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, mentioned, in 1989 the Government asked your Lordships to approve a measure which, among other things, would remove the eating-out supplement in the board and lodging allowances. As I said, I responded to the two debates, both in Committee and at Report stage, on that year's Social Security Bill. At that time noble Lords sought to put this measure back on the statute book and were ultimately denied the opportunity by a Division in this House. During my sojourn in Northern Ireland I believe that your Lordships subsequently tried to persuade the Government to change their housing policy with regard to emergency housing by outlawing bed-and-breakfast accommodation. I may just be wrong about that, but that is the inference from what I have heard.

The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, now returns to the charge, effectively asking the House to reverse its decision of 1989 and allow an extra allowance, a boarder premium, for those unfortunate people on benefit who, having one or more dependent children, are living in temporary accommodation which does not provide all meals or self-contained facilities for providing those meals.

There is no doubt that there is a philosophical divide between the supporters of the noble Lord's Motion and the Government on this issue, which I agree is a very real problem for those people in that particular and deplorable circumstance. The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, was one of the many speakers—in fact I believe he was the first—to spell it out. But it is only fair to the House to say that I continue to believe that it would be invidious to have different rates of board and lodging allowance depending on where one lives, especially as there is no suggestion that levels are inadequate if cooking and storage facilities are available in bed-and-breakfast accommodation.

I also believe that bed-and-breakfast accommodation is the least desirable form of emergency housing. That is why DoE sectors continue to say, as they have done for some years, that they should be used only as a last resort. Bringing unlet house accommodation into temporary use, for example, or using any other accommodation which could well be cheaper would be far better but is not an option everywhere. One of the answers to the noble Lord, Lord Desai, about using the capital receipts from the sale of council properties is that the large capital receipts which we know exist are rarely in those areas in which the accommodation that we all want to see needs to be built. The Government are therefore still unable to outlaw its use, as noble Lords tried to persuade the Government to do in more recent times.

Obviously the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, provides an option; namely, that of giving extra money in these particular circumstances. But as we all know, the Government turned down that option in 1989 and presumably will seek to turn it down again. Therefore I believe that there is only one solution. Given that the integrity of the social security forms will be breached by this proposal and given that, for the moment at least, bed-and-breakfast accommodation is to stay as a long stop, I do not believe that the suggestion today of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, is the right one.

I return to the noble Lord, Lord Desai, who said —or almost said—that this is a housing problem that the Government still have not solved. Subsequent speakers in the debate agreed with him. The numbers are still much the same as they were three years ago, as the figures of both the noble Lords, Lord Henderson and Lord Ennals, show, even though they appear to be on a different basis. My right honourable friend the Minister for Housing, as we heard, has the objective of doing away with bed-and-breakfast hotels for such accommodation. That is all very well but there will still be a period in which they are needed as a long stop. Therefore, I should like to see a circular sent from my right honourable friend to local authorities to say not merely that bed-and-breakfast accommodation should be used only as a last resort (as the current circular says) but that bed-and-breakfast accommodation in which children are concerned and which does not provide either all meals or such cooking and food storage facilities as the new circular will specify should not be used after a certain date.

Clearly there are currently not enough bed-and-breakfast hotels with such cooking and storage facilities. Therefore the operators have a choice: either to bring the accommodation up to a suitable standard or go out of business—or that part of their business which is temporary housing for those people. Local authorities will be forced to use other accommodation. No noble Lord who has spoken today will object to that. I hope that the right reverend Prelate and my noble friends Lord Stanley and Lady Faithfull will see that that is a solution which reaches the core of the problem rather than, as it were, glossing over the subject. But I continue to say that a very real problem exists.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down perhaps he will recognise two weaknesses in the argument that he put forward. On 11th June 1990 his noble friend Lord Henley said that it was unreasonable to expect that bed-and-breakfast accommodation would have cooking facilities. He said: How many commercial hotels are there that have a cooker in every room? If such a situation existed, the establishment would not be bed and breakfast accommodation but would in fact be a block of flats or bedsits".—[Official Report, 11/6/90; col. 101.] So that could not possibly be an answer that the department would want from local authorities. In a constructive way the Minister had stressed that: the Government firmly believe that the solutions to the problems facing those families lie fairly and squarely in the hands of local authorities and not in changes to the benefit system".—[Official Report, 11/6/90; col. 100.] He went on to say that it really was a housing problem.

Two years have passed and the problem is greater than it was then. Does the noble Lord suggest that we should carry on for two, three or four years with the same problem remaining unresolved? It is a problem of money. If we believed that the Government intended to give housing opportunities to local authorities, maybe his argument would carry more weight. Will he comment on that?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I shall comment, but I am sure that my noble friend Lord Henley will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, for destroying my argument for him. That said, the problem is that some of the bed-and-breakfast hostels—not all but some of them—have inadequate cooking and food storage facilities. Knowing that, it would be quite practicable for the Government to issue a circular outlawing the use of those particular bed-and-breakfast hostels. I cannot see any harm in that. Whether the Government will do it is a different matter and one for my noble friend Lord Henley.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, for introducing this Motion and producing an excellent debate. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for his courage in contributing to the debate. I remember very vividly in 1989 when the noble Lord came to the Dispatch Box with the words of his noble friend Lady Blatch in his ears: "I believe that there is a dilemma for the Minister". The noble Lord began, "Yes, there is indeed a dilemma for the Minister". I am very pleased to find that the noble Lord still thinks about it. I listened to him with very great interest and am very glad he spoke. There are a dozen other speakers and we have a British jury drawn from every quarter of the House. The verdict of all other speakers is unanimous.

I believe that we are today addressing the second worst thing in the social security system. I am sure that my noble kinsman will not ask me to explain which is the first. I believe that the first priority of the social security system is to ensure that everyone has enough to eat. People living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation do not have enough to eat. That is the central point of the Motion.

I expect my noble kinsman will say that there is no evidence that people cannot manage on income support. I shall not argue that point with him. I do not believe that it is right, but that is not the point of today's debate. It is whether people can manage on income support without cooking facilities. That is an altogether different question. There are three ways in which my noble kinsman may argue that such people can manage adequately on income support without their own cooking facilities. If he has thought of a fourth, I shall be interested to hear it. He could argue that people may rely on communal kitchens. I listened with interest and total agreement to what the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, said about that. Those kitchens are under severe pressure. We have cases of 39 families relying on 12 gas rings. Alternatively, 35 families rely on one cooker and one fridge. Those are not practical ratios.

The noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, and others referred to the fact that such facilities are several floors away. I have a letter from a GP who practised recently in Bayswater. He is not the same GP who was quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Ennals. His letter states: I have seen quite horrifying scalds". One of the main causes is, from saucepans of hot food carried up from often several floors away, where the kitchens are in the basement of the tall narrow B&B hotels. You can imagine the mother trailing upstairs with hot food in one hand; an infant held in the other arm and the toddler trailing along behind. These sorts of situations are just asking for trouble and, sure enough, there is plenty of it". That is the voice of experience. I therefore do not believe that relying on the communal kitchens is adequate, especially since they are often closed from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., and in some cases for longer.

The second possibility is eating out. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, made a key point in 1989. Since she is not present she has kindly given me permission to repeat the point she made: that when one eats out one pays VAT on every mouthful so that the cost is immediately increased by 17.5 per cent. If my noble kinsman states that income support is adequate in those circumstances, then he is stating that it is 17.5 per cent. too high in normal circumstances. If he were to say that, I would not believe him, but his right honourable friend the Chief Secretary possibly might do so. My noble kinsman would be rather unwise to say that.

I have seen families in McDonald's in Kilburn sitting for an hour over one plate of chips. I do not believe that that is an adequate diet particularly, as has been said, if it has to be repeated many times over.

The same problem about cost applies to take-aways. I entirely agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, said about costs. It has also been pointed out that in much bed-and-breakfast accommodation there is no table so that families have to eat on the bed. Mothers also have to change the baby's nappies on the bed. It is therefore not surprising that gastroenteritis is a common problem in bed-and-breakfast accommodation.

Perhaps I may consider some of the arguments which may be put forward by the other side. I am sure that my noble kinsman will mention cost. Even in a public spending round as tight as I know that this round must be, £15 million is not a large amount to enable such people to have enough to eat. This is not Ethiopia. We are supposed to be a rich country. We are at least not yet a desperately poor one. I believe that we are rich enough not to allow malnutrition.

We also need to consider the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, about cost-effectiveness. To continue as we are is not a cost-free option. Such conditions, in particular the shortage of food, create strains. Those strains have costs. In November 1990, 8 per cent. of all admissions to St. Mary's Hospital, Paddington, were people from bed-and breakfast-hotels. That rate of admission is two or three times the rate for the local population. There may be an element of coincidence but I would be surprised if it were 100 per cent. coincidence. Statistically that would be a great improbability. Hospital admissions have costs. Gastroenteritis has costs. Low birth weight has costs; incubators are expensive pieces of equipment. Toxaemia in pregnancy has costs.

I know that when the public spending round takes place Ministers try to play beggar my neighbour. But it is not wise and is not in the public interest to shift spending into a demand-led budget like the health service prescribing budget. Costs may not be noticed in that budget but they can be considerable. Some figures in the today's Independent are a preview of the White Paper, The Health of the Nation. I understand that that will be published on Wednesday. Those figures indicate that the cost of treating anxiety and depression is £4.6 billion. Mental health patients represent 23 per cent. of hospital in-patient costs. The Government wish to seek a reduction of 25 per cent. in the suicide rate. If we agree to the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, it could contribute to that objective.

Will my noble kinsman undertake to consult his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health about the possible financial saving resulting from giving people an adequate diet? I know that my noble kinsman will say that I always look for false economies. I shall listen. If he puts forward a contrary costing, I shall listen to that too. I know perfectly well that I may have costed the matter wrongly but I am not yet convinced that the Government have costed it at all. I wish that they would do so.

My noble kinsman may put forward the argument of perverse incentive with regard to bed-and-breakfast accommodation. He has used it before. It is a curious argument. Recently my wife and I have been engaged in trying to prevent Brent Council from closing a women's refuge and putting all the women into bed-and-breakfast. We have so far been unsuccessful. My wife spoke to some of the women involved after the last council meeting. They were answering the argument that conditions in the refuge could be improved. They said, "Compared with bed-and-breakfast accommodation the refuge is a real palace". If my noble kinsman refers to a perverse incentive, he should remember that story. Even if he takes the argument seriously, he should remember the laws on intentional homelessness, which exist and have considerable teeth.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, my noble kinsman may fall back on what I think of as the Godot strategy—waiting for bed-and-breakfast accommodation to go away. It is rather a long time about it. Certainly it will not happen within the next year.

It would be easier to listen to a ministerial defence along those lines if Ministers showed more sympathy to the practical alternatives to bed-and-breakfast which exist at present. As my noble kinsman may have guessed, I have in mind Lawrie Park Hostel which was set up under the cold weather programme and is due to close in six days' time. That hostel offers three square meals a day. It is open all day and, most important in terms of cost-effectiveness, it has a remarkably good record in resettling those who go there off the streets. Often they leave to take up courses or jobs; or sometimes go back to their parents and into regular settled accommodation.

That hostel is cost effective. The Minister is resisting pressure to keep it open. If my noble kinsman were able to announce a change of front on the issue tonight I should take the strategy of waiting for the end of bed-and-breakfast a little more seriously than I am able to do now. Meanwhile, we have malnutrition and that calls for action—

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down perhaps I may point out that I did not enunciate what he called the Godot strategy. I was trying to force an end, not wait for an end, to bed-and-breakfast.

Earl Russell

My Lords, can the noble Lord forecast precisely the amount of homelessness that there will be in 18 months' time?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, of course I cannot, nor can I forecast the precise amount of bed-andbreakfast accommodation that there will be in 18 months' time.

5.22 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, who so movingly introduced his Motion tonight. I assure the House that we shall give it our full support. Indeed, all noble Lords who have spoken have supported the Motion, except perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. He was unhappy about the possibility that the House might wish to reverse a decision made in 1989. Many of us believe that that decision was wrong. Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, what he does when he is wrong. I hope that tonight we have the courage and the compassion to change our minds.

There are 12,000 families, perhaps 29,000 people, in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. I shall follow the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, and the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, and quote from a document published in 1989 as a result of research carried out by the British Medical Association and the Health Visitors' Association. The research related to homeless families and their health. It states: Bed and breakfast accommodation is often overcrowded, insanitary and lacking in basic amenities. Infectious diseases are common and easily spread. Diarrhoea and vomiting are common because of poor water supply and shared sanitation. Infestation with scabies, lice, fleas, bedbugs and mice is common. Both adults and children in bed and breakfast accommodation are malnourished. There is a high incidence of weight loss in adults and of low birthweight in babies. Most hotels lack adequate cooking and refrigeration facilities and some have none. Families often have to vacate the accommodation between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. These factors add to the difficulty of maintaining proper nutrition". The study states that in consequence women have twice as many problems during pregnancy and that children suffer poor physical and mental health, disturbed sleep, toileting difficulties, frequent infections and non-accidental injury.

The Minister intervened during the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, and suggested that for those in bed-and-breakfast accommodation malnutrition was a matter of mismanagement. I do not doubt that that may add to the situation, but I do not believe that anyone in the House tonight can doubt that malnutrition is due primarily to acute poverty which in some modest degree this Motion will help to alleviate.

The Minister said previously—and he was right—that bed-and-breakfast accommodation is no place for families. Perhaps he will say that again tonight. He may call on local authorities to do better; we all want that. But homeless families are not in bed-and-breakfast accommodation because local authorities are malevolent or even negligent. They are there because bed-and-breakfast accommodation is better —only just—than sleeping in a car or having one's children taken into care. Families in bed-andbreakfast accommodation are at the intersection of two crises—the local authorities' lack of housing to rent and their own lack of income to buy. They have a housing crisis.

Only a few years ago when I was a local authority housing chairman, one letting in 10 in my local authority would go to a homeless family. The figure is now more than one in two. In 1980 there were 60,000 homeless families and in 1986 100,000. Now there are 145,000 homeless families. With reference to the exchange between the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, all the evidence shows that the rate of homelessness will increase and will continue to put pressure on bed-and-breakfast accommodation.

Family breakdown, mortgage repossession and couples unable to rent or to buy are the deeper causes of homelessness. But that homelessness has risen at just the point when the local authorities' ability to meet it has been reduced. There are fewer council houses to rent and few if any houses are being built. As the Audit Commission has told us, during the 1980s more than one million houses in the socially-rented sector were lost to renting. Building land lies idle, building workers are unemployed and millions of pounds in capital receipts lie sterile in banks while families rot in bed-and-breakfast accommodation.

The Government may talk of empty properties. In local authorities the figure is 2 per cent., double that in the private sector and five times that in government stock. Local government may talk about the initiative to help the homeless; it is one that we have all welcomed from his honourable friend in the other place. Of course that applies only to London and more than half the number of homeless families are outside London. Collectively we have constructed homelessness where we could have constructed homes. In the absence of those homes, highly vulnerable families had to go into bed-and-breakfast accommodation if they and the children were not to become rough sleepers.

In addition to constructing homelessness we added trauma to injury when in 1989 we decided to reduce the income support on which families coped in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. When we cut that allowance, homeless families lost overnight £10 per week per child which could have been spent on food. During the Committee stage of the Social Security Bill my noble friend Lord Carter cited the case of a family which found that its income support had dropped from £105 to £63 and which then faced a further reduction of £17 amenity charges. Its income was halved and as food was in the left-over category that was cut.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, so movingly reminded us, cafe food and bought meals cost more than home-cooked food. We know that to be true every time we go on holiday. Yet families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation have little choice. Food cannot be cooked or stored in the bedroom. If it is the accommodation becomes a bedsit rather than bed and breakfast, as my noble friend Lord Ennals reminded us. If families try to cook they face unprotected fires, kettles and gas rings on the floor which lead to the burns, scalds, and fire hazards mentioned by many noble Lords. There may be a kitchen down several flights of stairs which is shared by 10, 12, or even 15 families.

I shall quote from the Bayswater Homelessness Project. Ms. H: a single parent living in B&B in Shepherd's Bush with her baby and toddler. Ms. H moved to the hotel with her two children last Christmas. Her room, which contains all of her possessions, is tiny. The kettle is balanced on a rickety chest of drawers crowded with bottles of cleaning fluid, shampoo and children's medicine. There are electric wires trailing across the floor. When she goes down to the kitchen to cook, she faces a dilemma. Should she leave the toddler locked in the room, with all the hazards this involves? Or should she try and juggle the baby, toddler and hot pans up three flights of stairs from the kitchen? To avoid these risks Ms. H buys sterilised baby food which can be eaten cold. This leaves little money in her weekly budget for herself and the toddler. They live mostly on chips". As DoE research reminded us, 90 per cent. of families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation have no adequate cooking facilities. As the noble Countess, Lady Mar, reminded us, women are the most vulnerable, particularly pregnant women and women of ethnic minorities who cannot continue their traditional cooking methods. One woman in four in bed-and-breakfast accommodation occasionally goes without food; one child in 10 regularly does so. I am sure we all agree that that is intolerable. And if it is intolerable, we should not tolerate it this evening.

The Minister agrees that families should not have to endure such conditions. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester, the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, and my noble friend Lord Desai have all said that decent housing is required. Wherever we may wish to place responsibility for that, it it is a long-term solution.

Meanwhile, we can at least help vulnerable families to buy their way out of malnutrition. That is why this Motion argues for a boarder premium which recognises that food costs much more for those living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation than for those who are not.

I am sure that we shall not hear from the Minister any talk of perverse incentives because no family, even for a boarder premium, would willingly move into bed-and-breakfast accommodation if a permanent home were available. I hope that the Minister will not say that the scheme would be cumbersome to administer or costly to implement. The structure is straightforward. The cost may be £10 million to £15 million to the DSS but on transfer payments, the cost would be many times higher to social services and to the health authorities and many many times higher to the families in debt, distress and suffering from malnutrition.

5.31 p.m.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I have no intention of opposing the Motion on the grounds that it is out of order, as was suggested by my noble kinsman Lord Stanley, much as I may be tempted to on some occasions. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, will accept that it is not out of order. However, I shall pass on to the appropriate authorities the comments made by my noble kinsman Lord Stanley as regards the inability to amend statutory instruments.

I fully understand the sentiment that has given rise to the debate this evening. On the Government Benches we accept—I am sure we all accept—that life is not easy for a family in temporary accommodation. Indeed, one of the reasons why the Government have taken the many steps they have to assist families in those circumstances is that we are well aware of the risk to the continuation of the family unit itself when living conditions are unstable. Our anxiety as regards this matter is well demonstrated by the £6 billion which we have planned to channel to housing associations over the next three years, providing over 150,000 new homes for rent and low cost purchase by 1995–96. I think that is the nub of the issue here.

The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, also wishes to help these families and has proposed an amendment to the regulations which would certainly give some of them a very considerable increase in income. However, even leaving aside certain intrinsic defects in the proposal on which I will enlarge in a moment, there is the question of cost, which could be considerable.

I make no apology for mentioning cost. The cost to the taxpayer, the national insurance contributor, of the entire social security system is extremely high: some £70 billion per annum. That is a massive burden on the taxpayer. If one takes those in work and paying for the benefits, it amounts to some £10 per day for every man or woman who is working and paying taxes and national insurance contributions. The House should bear in mind the cost of Motions tabled for the consideration of your Lordships.

Obviously I shall pass on the comments made by my noble kinsman about costs to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health in order to see whether she believes that savings would be made were this Motion accepted. However, the cost of £15 million bandied about by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis and the noble Baroness then reduced it to £10 million—are not realistic. They do not take into account any incentive or disincentive or whether there may be growth in the use of such a premium. I suggest that the figure could be £35 million, particularly when one bears in mind the difficulties of limiting the provision to the group as set out in the Motion. The Motion would tend to perpetuate the distress it seeks to relieve. The Government wish to deal with the root cause of the problem: namely, as the right reverend Prelate and others have said, the availability of accommodation.

One other observation I think I should make at the outset is that the primary responsibility for providing homeless families with suitable accommodation lies with local authorities, which are required to do so by the 1985 Housing Act. Here again, the amendment proposed by the noble Lord would tend to be counterproductive since the need is for the authorities to offer suitable accommodation and not for central government to provide an incentive for them to offer any old accommodation, whether it is suitable or not.

The basic difficulty is that the amendment seeks in part to return to the complexity—and I do not apologise for using the words again—and perverse incentives characteristic of some parts of the pre-1988 social security system. The reformed income related benefits system has been built on a set of strong principles. Income support is both more straightforward, which means that claimants can much more easily understand its workings, and also more equitable. Allowances are now based unambiguously on age and family status, with flat rate premiums added to help those groups, such as families, who clearly have additional needs. In addition, lone parents—and I suspect that there may be many in temporary accommodation—are also entitled to a lone parent premium in addition to the family premiums.

A boarders premium would reintroduce a number of complexities, and it is here that some of the problems inherent in the proposal begin to appear. In the first place there is the question of whether and when there is any significant qualitative difference between boarding accommodation and other accommodation. Any definition of the target group for such a premium is likely to be either complex or unfair, as my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale said.

Boarding fades into rental and there is no clear dividing line between the two. As previous experience showed, it is very hard to justify the payment of a premium to some families while denying it to others housed in what is not obviously different rented accommodation.

Of course, the amendment before us offers a definition: families classified as homeless under Part III of the 1985 Housing Act. I am by no means convinced that the Government could defend the arbitrary group that that would represent for income support. It might, for example, include homeless families placed in short-term leased accommodation which may be of a far higher standard than ordinary bed-and-breakfast establishments. The provision of a boarders premium for this group but not for others in identical accommodation obtained under their own steam is just not acceptable.

There is also the problem of properly defining, to quote from the Motion, self-contained facilities for preparing meals". I do not wish to labour the point, but noble Lords will recognise the difficulty for claimants, and the income support adjudication officers, in deciding what that means in practice or what constitutes boarding. The section, as some noble Lords will be aware, of the old instruction manual dealing with orders contained 90 paragraphs, innumerable sub-paragraphs and reference to further material in particular circumstances. We do not intend to return to that absurd position. It is more appropriate to look at the central policy implications of such a move.

The changes made in 1989 which put boarders on the same footing as those in rented accommodation were part of a programme of simplification, but they were also an answer to what was an increasingly serious problem. Higher payments to people in this kind of accommodation encouraged people to seek it in preference to other types of accommodation. Equally, as many will remember, landlords were encouraged to provide more temporary and unsatisfactory housing and less of the more usual self-contained rental accommodation.

The Department of Social Security was greatly worried at the time about the misuse of public funds, both actual and potential, and of collusion between landlords in bidding up rents and sharing the proceeds or in offering what was described as boarding when by most standards what was available was simple rental. I should remind the House that before 1989 the department was frequently in the courts on these matters.

The 1989 changes put boarders on the same footing as tenants of other rented accommodation. A boarders premium would signal a return to the iniquities of the old system and would be unfair to those living in similar rented accommodation. Certainly I cannot think that claimants would be encouraged to move to more appropriate housing if they were to lose, for example, £50 a week for a family of five as envisaged by the Motion; and at £2,600 a year per family the incentive for landlords to pack in as many families as they could, with or without collusion, would be considerable.

I suggest that the policy arguments against classifying benefit on the basis of accommodation type are very strong and must weigh heavy on the mind of any government considering providing help to families by that method. Boarders now receive normal rates of income support and housing benefit to cover rent. That standardisation of the benefit arrangements has important advantages. Homeless families know, for instance, that when they are found permanent accommodation their income support payments will not be reduced.

It is an important part of government policy to help families in those difficult circumstances. As I suggested at the outset, this is a housing matter and we have taken a number of positive steps to help. In addition to the £6 billion to the housing associations that I have already mentioned, the Housing Corporation has a budget in 1993–94 of over £2 billion and housing associations are expected to make at least half of their new lets and their re-lets available to local authority nominees, a large proportion of which will go to the statutorily homeless.

In addition, the two-year special homelessness programme (1990–92) which targeted households in London and the South East was very successful. It looks likely to have produced, not the 15,000 units suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, but some 17,000 units to benefit homeless families who would otherwise be in temporary accommodation.

We shall be looking for evidence that local authorities, whose function it is to provide suitable housing for homeless families, are applying the lessons of that programme in their own housing strategies.

Much was made by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, and all other speakers of the inadequacy of the bed-and-breakfast arrangements. The Government agree. That is why again in August 1991 we strengthened the guidance on discharging their homeless duties issued to local authorities. The noble Lord might be aware that the advice contained in that guidance is that at all times care must be taken to ensure that the temporary accommodation meets acceptable standards. Hotels are not suitable as long-term residential accommodation for families. Where the use of such accommodation is unavoidable, authorities should ensure that it meets the statutory regulations on standards for houses in multiple occupation. As regards cooking facilities, the code advises that wherever possible authorities should try to ensure that bed-and-breakfast hotels and hostels in which families may have to spend protracted periods of time provide adequate access to cooking facilities.

The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, also asked about the number of people in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. We accept that local authorities continue to make use of that form of accommodation where it is necessary. But as at 31st March this year there were some 61,920 households in temporary accommodation. That is an increase on a year ago, but at the same time the number in bed-and-breakfast accommodation fell. We shall continue to stress that those homeless families—

Lord Ennals

My Lords, will the Minister give the figure for the fall?

Lord Henley

My Lords, the fall is relatively small: from 12,240 to about 12,000. Noble Lords may laugh but—

Lord Ennals

My Lords, I just asked a question.

Lord Henley

My Lords, the noble Lord's colleagues certainly laughed. While the numbers in temporary accommodation were increasing (I have mentioned an increase of 24 per cent.) the number in bed-and-breakfast decreased, albeit by a small amount. The percentage in bed-and-breakfast accommodation was decreasing substantially.

I shall continue with the advice that we offer local authorities. We stress that they should use bed-and-breakfast accommodation as a last resort only. There are alternatives; for example, rented accommodation in the private sector. We also advise that contracts excluding breakfast should be negotiated where the standard of meals provided is unacceptable. I should stress that that guidance was issued in August 1991. The Department of the Environment will be monitoring the effect of that new guidance. We shall continue to see what effect it has on the attitudes of local authorities.

I turn now to the DSS. Despite what the noble Countess, Lady Mar, said, we have not been idle with regard to the co-ordinated government effort. We have made real improvements in the help available for families. In 1992–93 over £600 million extra per year in real terms will have been made available through income-related benefits to families with children, compared with the position before the 1988 reforms. As recently as last April only, all income support rates were increased by some 2.9 per cent. over RPI. Further, there is no clawback from the benefit rates to reflect the reduced community charge liability following the 1991 Budget. That is significant help by anyone's standards.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, I accept that income support rates have increased for all families. I was trying to say—perhaps I did not make it clear —that those people are an exception. They find themselves in exceptional circumstances where they cannot cook proper meals and so they need extra money to pay for them.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am glad that the noble Countess was listening to me. I was suggesting that all income support rates were going up. I was then going on to repeat what I said earlier about the adequacy of income support levels. There is no evidence that income support levels are inadequate. I accept that for many people in bed-and-breakfast accommodation it is difficult to eat well on income support rates, but to say that the rates of income support are themselves the cause of malnutrition is going too far. There is no evidence of that.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I am sorry to intervene. I did not say that the rates of income support were the cause of malnutrition. I said that the rates of income support without cooking facilities were the cause of malnutrition.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am saying that in any circumstances it is always possible to survive on the rates of income support. Those rates are adequate. I accept that it is difficult for some people, and that is the point that I am trying to make. I know that my noble kinsman does not agree with me. I do not accept his assertions that the mere proof that some people are not eating well is evidence that malnutrition is the result of the levels of income support.

Earl Russell

My Lords, we should make this matter clear on the record. Is my noble kinsman saying definitely that it is possible to eat adequately in bed-and-breakfast accommodation without cooking facilities when living on income support?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I have been trying to make it quite clear that local authorities should not use bed and breakfast accommodation except in the last resort. They should certainly not use such accommodation if there are no cooking facilities whatever and there are children. If there are cooking facilities certainly the provision will be adequate. There will be difficulties for those where the cooking facilities are inadequate. I accept that. But the provision will not necessarily be the cause of malnutrition, as certain noble Lords have said.

I understand and share many of the concerns which have been expressed. But that does not alter the fact that the proposal before us has serious difficulties associated with it and, still worse, constitutes a step backwards to the less acceptable system which existed before 1988.

Having reformed the income related benefits scheme by applying a set of clear and sensible principles, the Government believe that it would be a mistake, indeed a delusion, to imagine that difficulties will always be overcome simply by grafting on ever more provisions and special exemptions to the social security system. It is far better to address the root of the problem which is the course on which we are embarked.

Our efforts to improve the position of people in temporary accommodation are beginning to pay dividends. Local authorities are reducing their dependence on bed-and-breakfast accommodation as a form of temporary accommodation for homeless people. Indeed, perhaps I may conclude by quoting the figures for homeless families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation in London. The number has fallen by 18 per cent. compared with the same time last year. In England as a whole the numbers in bed-and-breakfast accommodation have dropped in each of the last two quarters.

It would be a mistake to divert scarce resources into benefits whose effect would be to reverse this trend and return to the discredited arrangements of the past. I trust that the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, will consider hard before he presses this Motion to a Division. If he does press it, I must advise the House in no uncertain terms to reject it.

5.53 p.m.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, I am sure that the House would not wish me to go through all the speeches. I thank all those who have taken part for what they have said. They have all supported me. I have no doubt that they will have heard with some dismay the Minister's reply. He is batting on a sticky wicket. That is what it seems to all of us. He was finding some difficulty in replying.

In the debate on the Social Security Bill which took place three years ago, the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, whose contribution this afternoon I very much welcomed, was then in the Minister's place. About bed and breakfast he said that all Members of the Committee, including himself, wanted, to get people out of bed and breakfast accommodation and ensure that others never have to move into such accommodation. There is no question about that whatsoever". —[Official Report, 29/6/89; col. 891.] Three years later the number of people in bed-and-breakfast accommodation is the same as it was when the noble Lord said that. No improvement has taken place. Until it occurs such a temporary measure is necessary and those conditions have to be endured. For those reasons I must press the Motion.

5.55 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Motion shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 126; Not-Contents, 108.

Division No. 1
Addington, L. Hollis of Heigham, B.
Airedale, L. Holme of Cheltenham, L.
Ardwick, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L.
Attlee, E. Howie of Troon, L.
Aylestone, L. Hughes, L.
Barnett, L. Hylton-Foster, B.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Irvine of Lairg, L.
Birk, B. Jacques, L.
Blackstone, B. Jay, L.
Bonham-Carter, L. Jenkins of Hillhead, L.
Bottomley, L. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Broadbridge, L. John-Mackie, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Judd, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Kilbracken, L.
Callaghan of Cardiff, L. Kinloss, Ly.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Kirkhill, L.
Carter, L. Lawrence, L.
Chester, Bp. Listowel, E.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B
Clinton-Davis, L. Lockwood, B.
Cobbold, L. Longford, E.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Craigavon, V. Macaulay of Bragar, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. McCarthy, L.
David, B. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
De L'Isle, V. McNair, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Mais, L.
Desai, L. Mallalieu, B.
Dormand of Easington, L. Mar, C. [Teller.]
Elliot of Harwood, B. Mason of Barnsley, L.
Ennals, L. Mayhew, L.
Faithfull, B. Meston, L.
Falkender, B. Milner of Leeds, L.
Falkland, V. Milverton, L.
Foot, L. Molloy, L.
Gallacher, L. Monson, L.
Galpern, L. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Gladwyn, L. Mulley, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Murray of Epping Forest L.
Greene of Harrow Weald, L. Nicol, B.
Grey, E. Norfolk, D.
Gridley, L. Peston, L.
Haden-Guest, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Haig, E. Rea, L.
Hampton, L. Redesdale, L.
Hamwee, B. Richard, L.
Hanworth, V. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Rochester, L.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Russell, E.
Henderson of Brompton, L. [Teller.] Seear, B.
Sefton of Garston, L.
Hertford, M. Serota, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Shackleton, L.
Hollick, L. Shannon, E.
Shaughnessy, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Shepherd, L. Varley, L.
Stanley of Alderley, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Stedman, B. Whaddon, L.
Stoddart of Swindon, L. Wharton, B.
Strabolgi, L. White, B.
Swinfen, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Taylor of Gryfe, L. Wilson of Rievaulx, L.
Thomson of Monifieth, L. Wise, L.
Tordoff, L.
Aldington, L. Long, V.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Lucas, L.
Astor, V. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Beaverbrook, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L.
Beloff, L. Mancroft, L.
Belstead, L. Margadale, L.
Birdwood, L. Marlesford, L.
Blatch, B. Merrivale, L.
Blyth, L. Mersey, V.
Boardman, L. Morris, L.
Borthwick, L. Mountgarret, V.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Nelson, E.
Butterworth, L. Newall, L.
Cadman, L. Oppenheim-Barnes, B.
Campbell of Croy, L. Orkney, E.
Clanwilliam, E. Orr-Ewing, L.
Cochrane of Cults, L. Oxfuird, V.
Colville of Culross, V. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Cox, B. Peel, E.
Cumberlege, B. Pender, L.
Davidson, V. Pennock, L.
Denham, L. Prentice, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B. Prior, L.
Dilhorne, V. Rankeillour, L.
Ellenborough, L. Rees, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Rennell, L.
Erne, E. Robertson of Oakridge, L.
Ferrers, E. Rodger of Earlsferry, L.
Fisher, L. Rodney, L.
Gainford, L. Romney, E.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Saint Albans, D.
Glenarthur, L. St. Davids, V.
Goschen, V. Savile, L.
Gray of Contin, L. Seccombe, B.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Sharples, B.
Skelmersdale, L.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Strange, B.
Hemphill, L. Strathmore and Kinghorne, E. [Teller.]
Henley, L.
Hesketh, L. [Teller.] Sudeley, L.
Holderness, L. Suffield, L.
HolmPatrick, L. Thatcher, B.
Hooper, B. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Howe, E. Trefgarne, L.
Jeffreys, L. Trumpington, B.
Jellicoe, E. Ullswater, V.
Johnston of Rockport, L. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Kitchener, E. Vivian, L.
Lauderdale, E. Waddington, L.
Layton, L. Wade of Chorlton, L.
Leigh, L. Wakeham, L.
Lindsey and Abingdon, E. Wynford, L.
Liverpool, E. Young, B.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.