MS1 - Emergency Funding to Combat the Homeless Epidemic

Before the drudgery of daily work begins, Members may convene in the Chamber to discuss any manner of motion that is brought before the House. Likewise, this is the opportunity for Ministers of the Crown to address the House.
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Will Black
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MS1 - Emergency Funding to Combat the Homeless Epidemic

Post by Will Black »

Mr. Speaker,

I rise today to outline the emergency action the Government will be taking to address the national crisis of rough sleeping.

As a result of the past five years of austerity policies imposed by the Coalition Government, we've seen an unravelling of our country's social fabric that has led to a dramatic rise in the number of people sleeping rough across the United Kingdom. Since 2010, roughly 2 million more of our fellow citizens find themselves homeless and without the necessary resources to reclaim their lives. The Government has decided it is appropriate to call this issue what it is: a national crisis that requires emergency and immediate action.

Since 2010, homelessness services and resources aimed at combatting rough sleeping have been cut dramatically. Over the past five years, we've seen roughly £1 billion pounds cut for services targeting single person homelessness. As local authorities are the main providers of these services, they have born the brunt of these cuts. In light of this fact, the Government has decided to adopt a new strategy aimed at shoring up funding, resources, and support for local authorities and the work they do to alleviate homelessness. This strategy is built upon three key pillars of action: ensuring there is sufficient funding to meet existing need and prevent homelessness in the first place, certainty for local authorities that funding will be provided as part of their overall financial settlement rather than via small bidding rounds, and sustainability in order to drive a long-term reduction in homelessness.

In order to achieve these aims, and in recognition of the enormous problem we face as a nation today, immediate and emergency action must be taken. Today, I am announcing that the Government has decided to provide £1 billion in emergency funding through a ring-fenced grant provided to local authorities, made available immediately and paid for by accessing reserve funding in the Treasury's £3 billion consolidated fund. This funding will be complimented by an additional £1 billion provided to homelessness services each year for the next 3 years, excluding the Government's upcoming November budget. This long term funding plan will ensure that the Government is prepared to help local authorities down the line, providing them with the continued financial assistance we need to meet our aim of alleviating homelessness by the end of this Parliament.

The emergency funding made available to local authorities will be used to combat the complex and overlapping factors that contribute to homelessness across the country. Funding will be utilized to finance initiatives that include, but are not limited to, providing temporary housing, crisis intervention services, job placement services, mental health care, transitional service homes, and providing financial assistance with acquiring food. This injection in much needed emergency funding will allow local authorities to work collaboratively with businesses, local leaders, and charities to provide the right mix of cross-community support needed to alleviate this crisis.

I would like to take this opportunity to personally commend both the Secretary for Social Security and the Chancellor for the excellent work in crafting this strategy and authorizing the use of emergency funding. The rampant rise of homelessness and living insecurity across Britain is a stain upon our nation, and underscores a critical societal failing in our ability to support those who have fallen on hard times. I know I am not alone when I say that I am provided with daily, constant reminders of the scale of the challenge we face. As a London based MP, I've spent the last five years of life commuting from my home to the House of Commons. Each day I would see scores of rough sleepers on the streets, good natured and honorable men and women who have been failed by our country's social safety net and the systems in place that were supposed to support them. I refuse to allow this crisis to go on any longer, and to watch as more and more people find themselves with no place to live and with their hope diminished further by the day. As a country we have the means and ability to fix this problem. The action laid out by the Government through this Ministerial Statement proves just that, and commits the political will and financial means necessary to see this solution through.
Will Black MP


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Re: MS1 - Emergency Funding to Combat the Homeless Epidemic

Post by Will Black »

Mr. Speaker,

There was a figure I'd like to briefly submit a correction to before the debate on M1 continues. In my original statement I accidentally said "million," when I meant to say thousand. To clarify: in England, discounting London, there are roughly 2,000 more people sleeping rough today than there were five years ago. In London specifically there are over 7,500 people sleeping rough, an increase of nearly 4,000. There are of course well over 200,000 people across England who are classified as "homeless," and therefor lacking a permanent and secure home.
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Gavin Holmes
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Re: MS1 - Emergency Funding to Combat the Homeless Epidemic

Post by Gavin Holmes »

Mr Speaker,

I thank the Prime Minister for his statement.

There is no one in this House who does not recognise that rough sleeping and homelessness is a sign of a collective moral and policy failure. There is no one in this House who does not recognise the urgent need to tackle it, its causes, and its effects.

Local authority estimates suggest that over 2,700 people were sleeping rough last year. It is likely to be an underestimate, with many going noticed by public services. There is no doubt that our country must be doing more, with our fantastic charities leading the way.

What the Government announced today is substantial. There is no getting away from that. Committing £4 billion over the lifetime of this Parliament does bring questions about value for money and the efficiency of public spending. If this country is to tackle rough sleeping and homelessness, every single penny must be spent effectively as possible.

Yet I fear, Mr Speaker, in a chase for securing a headline worthy amount of money, there has not been the thought necessary to ensure investment leads to results. The Government has opened up its cheque book, written the sum to be spent, and not thought how to ensure it is spent in a way that delivers the most change.

It is clear to anyone who listened to the Prime Minister that there is no plan: no plan on reforming services, no plan on ensuring the public and charitable sector work together better, and no plan on tackling the causes of homelessness or rough sleeping. The plan is to pass the buck to local authorities, and do little else.

It is not enough for the Prime Minister to provide warm words and a lot of cash to local authorities if he wants to, as we all do, end the scourge of homelessness and rough sleeping. He, and the Government, has to provide leadership, set expectations and hold local government to account. There is no indication, either in the Prime Minister’s statement or the speech by the Secretary of State for Social Security, that they plan to do so. We need a national strategy to tackle homelessness, not a government strategy to pass the buck.

Let me go through the gaps in the Prime Minister’s statement:

Firstly, Mr Speaker, there was no mention about what this money will be expected to do in year one, year two, year three or year four. Beyond the rhetoric we’ve come to expect from the Prime Minister, there was no targets or metrics to judge success and failure. Looking at the statement made by the Prime Minister, there are a number of different things that the Government could have set out as targets for local authorities but haven’t. Why isn’t there a target for getting more rough sleepers and homeless people into good work? Why isn’t there a target for ensuring everyone has access to the food they need? Why isn’t there a target to ensure health services are available for those who need it but can’t get it? These are big gaps that the Government needs to fill in.

The Department for Social Security tweeted that “nobody should be living on the streets”, but there is nothing about whether this money means that ‘nobody will be living on the streets” - and if it is, when we can expect that to happen. Nor can we judge local authorities or central government by what ‘not living on the streets’ means: is success every rough sleeper in temporary accommodation or a hostel or is it in secure and permanent housing?

Further, the Prime Minister made no mention of those rough sleepers and homeless families who are invisible to local authorities and charities. As I mentioned, official statistics are likely to be an underestimate and it makes the job of ensuring public spending tackles the issue so much more difficult. If we don’t know how many people need help, how can we provide the help in the best possible way? A national strategy could tackle this problem but such a policy doesn’t appear to exist.

So the Prime Minister set out for local authorities how they will be held to account by central government, what are the targets, and how this funding will be directed to the many rough sleepers and homeless families who are not seen by local authorities?

Secondly, Mr Speaker, there was no indication as to how the emergency funding and the funding over the following three years will be distributed. If the Government plans to provide this funding according to current formulas for councils, we risk entrenching the disadvantage faced by rural areas.

Many rural local authorities have either have high rates of rough sleeping and homelessness or have experienced significant increases in recent years. Indeed, local authorities like Cornwall and West Berkshire have rates per 1,000 higher than many local authorities in London or the biggest cities. Indeed, it is far easier to be hidden homeless or hidden rough sleeping in rural areas so the undercounting is likely to be far larger in rural councils than in urban ones.

But providing services for homeless families or rough sleepers is far more costly and far more difficult in rural areas. The simple fact of providing any public service in a rural area means higher costs, yet rural councils are not often compensated with a fair funding formula that recognises that. This funding could be an opportunity to change that - and I hope the Government will.

Can the Prime Minister confirm if the Government will be providing additional funding to rural areas so they can tackle rough sleeping and homelessness, despite the additional costs they face in doing so?

Thirdly, Mr Speaker, there was no indication as to the expectations the Government will place on local government regarding duties or reforming their services and working practices, especially for dealing with individuals with complex needs.

Can the Prime Minister inform the House if the Government will be reforming the local authorities duties towards preventing and relieving homelessness? And whether the Government will be expanding the duty to rehouse beyond those in priority need?

I know there is particular concern with how current local government practice, often with the best intentions, is ill-suited for people with complex needs. Complex needs make it difficult for appropriate assistance to be provided, especially as local services are siloed and unwilling to work together. Many vulnerable individuals are not able to cope with the detailed assessment process for housing support. And of course, many are put off from applying in the first place.

The conditions places on accessing permanent or secure housing are often counterproductive. Being housing ready - whether that is free from drink or drugs - is a big step required, and often a barrier that rough sleepers struggle to meet. We forget that the lack of secure housing is often a cause of these problems. The cost of failing to be housing ready is high: it repeats the cycle of rough sleeping and a return to the streets, costing the taxpayer and making life significantly worse for the individual. We should look again at what is necessary before we provide independent housing to an individual who is rough sleeping, and whether we can make it easier.

Can the Prime Minister set out how the Government will be supporting local authorities to reform their work with individuals with complex needs?

Fourthly, Mr Speaker, there was no indication as to what national government and national public services will be doing to improve the support they provide to rough sleepers and homeless families.

Too many homeless families or rough sleepers fall through the gaps in our public services, and just spending more money locally will not close them. We have to do things differently nationally if we are to ensure that no one is left without the support they need, especially individuals or families who are at risk of homelessness and are in touch with national public services.

We must not forget that for many rough sleepers or homeless families, they will have been in touch with public services well before the crisis point. Risk factors will have been there, and trained professionals could have spotted the need for help. The loss of a job or relationship breakdown can often be the major causes; they are easy to spot; it is easier to provide help. We should do so. It is easier and cheaper, and better for the individual to step in early.

Can the Prime Minister set out how he will use the points in everyone’s life where we come into contact with public services to provide preventative services that stop the causes of homelessness or rough sleeping?

Further, the Prime Minister has reshaped government departments to separate housing policy in the Department of Communities and Local Government, while rough sleeping and homeless policy is under the Department for Social Security. This is despite the Government’s only policy being greater funding for local government. It does not make sense. I am really concerned that this division of policy responsibility will not deliver the outcomes the Government expect, even if they are not clear on what those actually are.

Can the Prime Minister explain why housing policy is being separated from policy on rough sleeping and homelessness when the long term solution to the latter is found in the former?

Fifth, Mr Speaker, there was no indication as to what local authorities could not use the funding for when tackling rough sleeping or homelessness. I want to focus the House’s attention on a sad increase in hostile architecture to make lives more difficult for rough sleepers.

Take Camden Council, run by Labour. In 2012, it commissioned a bench designed to deter use by rough sleepers for sleeping. The designers said the bench was necessary because “if we start designing in to accommodate homeless then we have totally failed as a society. Close proximity to homelessness unfortunately makes us uncomfortable so perhaps it is good that we feel that.”

There was no mention of the use of hostile architecture by the Prime Minister in his statement, despite the use by councils. Can the Prime Minister condemn the use of hostile architecture and commit to ensuring not a single penny of the money announced today goes on these methods?

Without an overarching strategy and the accountability of local government, there is nothing to prevent local authorities to use this money to invest in street furniture designed to drive rough sleepers away from support and move them on, out of sight and into a neighbouring council.

Furthermore, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, in 2014 described anti-homeless spikes in a private development, opposite a homeless shelter, in Southwark - a Labour run council - as self defeating and stupid. Crisis, the homeless charity, right said that rough sleepers “deserve better than to be moved on to the next doorway along the street. We will never tackle rough sleeping with studs in the pavement”.

Southwark Council, before they were removed, blamed the planning system for allowing these spikes. While that excuse is unsatisfactory, we should be committed to giving local councils the powers to reject private developers targeting rough sleepers.

Can the Prime Minister also commit to reforming planning law to allow local authorities to reject the use of hostile architecture in new developments?

Mr Speaker,

The Conservative Party recognises that we need to tackle rough sleeping and homelessness. We need to get families off the street and into safe, secure accommodation as soon as possible, while also preventing people from ever falling into such terrible situations.

But we do not recognise the outline of any plan from the Government. We’ve got a big number backed up with little substance beyond passing the buck to local government, and expecting them to pick up the slack. Rhetoric is no use: the public wants national leadership, reform and value for money. The Government must deliver it - otherwise our country will spend £4 billion and rough sleeping and homelessness will still scar our nation.
Gavin Holmes
Conservative Party
MP for Penrith and the Border (2010 - )

Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer (2015 - )

Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (2014 - 2015)
PUSS for Children and Families (2012 - 2014)
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