HL Deb 12 December 1994 vol 559 cc1086-8

2.55 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are aware of the recent reports from charitable organisations indicating that the number of homeless people in and around London could be as high as 100,000.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the report to which the noble Lord refers was produced by a body called Health Action for Homeless People to inform the Thames regional health authorities of potential demand on their services. Its methodology is flawed in a number of respects. Many of the people described by the report as homeless are in fact properly accommodated. The Government are tackling the problem of homelessness and the Rough Sleepers Initiative in central London has reduced the number of people sleeping rough in the capital by three-quarters.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I do not accept for one moment the Answer to my Question, which is based on a report from a responsible body? Is he further aware that the report states quite clearly that more than 100,000 people are sleeping rough or living in temporary hostels around London, according to figures shown today, but that the true number of those without a place to call their own is thought to be twice as great because of hidden homelessness? Is the Minister aware that that shows a gross deterioration in the situation over the past three to four years? Is the Minister also aware that in the Budget last week the Chancellor of Exchequer cut funding to the Housing Corporation so much that it can only budget for 15,000 starts in contracts which can be let in the next 12 months? Ministers at the Dispatch Box have promised me over the years that the target for Housing Corporation and housing association housing was to be 65,000 a year, but that figure is now to be reduced to 15,000. These figures can only get worse. What are the Government going to do about it?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, as I said in my earlier reply, I do not accept the gloss which the noble Lord has put on the report. The noble Lord then criticised the Government for cutting back in the Budget on moneys for the Housing Corporation. In an era of difficult times,, difficult decisions have to be taken. We have to try to find accommodation for people and one of the ways of doing so is by building more houses. We hope that over the next three years 180,000 additional lettings will be created. In addition, we have to see how the existing housing stock can be more efficiently used. There is plenty of potential there to make sure that for many people with housing problems their circumstances could be improved.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, is the Minister aware that charities, such as Centrepoint, and the London local authorities estimate that there are probably about 140,000 single homeless people in London? Above all, there are the very young 16 and 17 year-olds and the mentally ill who face the failure of our social security system and of care in the community. When the Minister says that the response we need is to provide more houses, how does he reconcile that with the fact that the DoE permitted London boroughs last year to build just 250 council houses to meet the needs of about 200,000 homeless people?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, before answering the question, perhaps I may congratulate Centrepoint on its 25th birthday, which I understand is this week. The noble Baroness refers to various statistics which have been produced by Centrepoint and others as regards homelessness in London. It is clear that while the problem is serious—and, as I said, the Government are addressing it—it is extremely difficult to analyse the problem. It is pretty certain that, looking back over the past few years, the nature of the problem has changed. With initiatives such as the Rough Sleepers Initiative, we are trying to tackle the issue in the right way. The figures that the noble Baroness gave do not help to solve the problem. As I said earlier, we must try to identify the problem precisely because if we do not we shall end up wasting large amounts of public resources and not benefiting people.

The Lord Bishop of Worcester

My Lords, although I welcome the progress that has been made by the Rough Sleepers Initiative, does the noble Lord accept that a core of young people and, indeed, children remain homeless? The Children's Society report, Running the Risk, states that 10,000 young people will lose complete contact with their families. Can the noble Lord tell me why the Rough Sleepers Initiative is to be disbanded in March 1996?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the Rough Sleepers Initiative was established for a six-year period and is due to end in March 1996, as the right reverend Prelate said. Over that period more than £182 million has been spent in endeavouring to tackle the problem that we are describing. One aspect of that programme was to build a capital reserve of about 3,300 units of accommodation. At the end of 1996, we shall have to look forward to decide what is appropriate for the future. The department is already having informal consultations with those involved in the outreach organisations to see how we can proceed. One thing is for sure, there is now a capital reserve of 3,300 units which did not exist before the initiative began. Inevitably, future provision will take a different form.

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