Mr. Robert Hughes
To ask the Secretary of State for Health what action he is taking to tackle the problem of homelessness among young people and people with a mental illness.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has today announced a number of initiatives to address the problem of people sleeping rough in London. My Department is also initiating a number of measures specifically to address the needs of two particularly vulnerable groups of homeless people—young people, and those with a mental illness. We hope to be in a position to make a further announcement on plans that we are developing for this latter group in central London as soon as possible.
It is important that young people who arrive in London without adequate support have somewhere to go where they can receive help and advice in a safe place, and where efforts can be made to pave the way for a return home. For a number of years, my Department has provided funding for the Children's Society to run a refuge of this kind for runaway children in London, and this year we have agreed a further grant totalling around £200,000 over three years for it to run a short-stay annex attached to this refuge.
I am particularly keen to develop work with young people outside London who are at risk of becoming roofless and possibly heading for the capital. This requires close working between a number of local agencies and 751W voluntary bodies. I intend to make funds available to help establish a number of projects in towns outside London run by voluntary organisations in collaboration with local agencies. We will allocate £250,000 from my Department's budget to start up these projects in the present financial year, and the provision of resources for future years will be discussed in the public expenditure survey process over the next few months. The projects will be targeted at young people who are, or are at risk of becoming, roofless. Their specific aim will be to help these young people find a stable environment which enables them to stay in their home community. The details of the scheme will be discussed with the voluntary sector and local authorities, and I hope that it will yield valuable lessons for service providers more generally.
A significant proportion of young runaways appear to have been at some time in local authority care, and there is clearly scope for improving the arrangements that local authorities make for children in their care, particularly in preparing them for leaving it. The Children Act 1989 gives local authorities enhanced duties and powers, and my Department will shortly be issuing draft guidance on how they should fulfil their leaving care responsibilities under the Act. I have also this year agreed a grant of £118,000 to a voluntary organisation, First Key, to provide authorities with advice on good practice in leaving care; and research has been commissioned from Leeds university to assess various approaches to leaving care policy and practice which should help local authorities to develop and improve their services.
Taken together, these measures will make an important contribution to overall Government policies aimed at reducing the risks of young people leaving home or care and coming to live in our cities without adequate protection or support.