Youth Homelessness — [Dame Siobhain McDonagh in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall am 11:24 am ar 1 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

[Dame Siobhain McDonagh in the Chair]

[Relevant document: e-petition 642986, Create a national strategy to end youth homelessness.]

Photo of Paula Barker Paula Barker Llafur, Liverpool, Wavertree 2:30, 1 Mai 2024

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered youth homelessness.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Dame Siobhain. I should declare that my husband is chair of YMCA Together, in Liverpool—it is an unpaid role—and that I am a national patron for YMCA. I pay tribute to the colleagues and friends from various organisations in the homelessness sector who are here today. We have representatives from New Horizon Youth Centre, Centrepoint and Depaul. Thank you for the work that you do and for being here today.

Those colleagues who know me well know that I have a very keen interest in all matters relating to homelessness —hopefully, some would say a serious interest. I am also very proud to be a co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for ending homelessness. I use my role to regularly raise awareness, where and when I can. I am more than happy to be considered a broken record on homelessness. Given that I care deeply about being a voice for those who may feel they have none, I will accept such a charge. I know that if I am a nuisance to the Minister—I have a lot of time for her, as she well knows—and my hon. and very good Friend Mike Amesbury, I will be playing my small part in moving the needle towards progress and change.

Homelessness is multifaceted. Different forms exist. They range from sofa surfing and rough sleeping, to being stuck in temporary accommodation, and so much more besides. Yesterday we saw the latest statistics released by the Department and they once again reveal the scale of the problem—more than 112,000 households and 145,000 children in temporary accommodation.

Of course, homelessness is caused by different factors: poverty, trauma, leaving care, being a victim of domestic abuse—the list goes on and on, and different demographics of people are affected in a multitude of ways. They include women, young people, those who define as LGBTQ+, our veterans, prison leavers and many more. The solution to the homelessness emergency therefore must be multifaceted. Yes, we desperately need to build more homes for truly affordable and social rent, but so too must we properly fund our local authorities and reform the welfare system—although not in the way that we have seen announced this week—and essentially we must tackle the underlying trauma that the vast majority of people who find themselves homeless have experienced in one form or another. All of this will require all of Government—not just one part—to put it front and centre. Anything less is simply not good enough.

Amid such an emergency, young people are often overlooked by the system. There is growing concern that ever greater revenue constraints being placed on local government lead to young people and young adults getting a raw deal from a system already at breaking point. Young people who experience homelessness are overlooked, in my opinion, by Government, by the Department and, yes, by Members from across this place. Although I know that there are local elections tomorrow, I am saddened that we are not seeing more Members here today for this incredibly important debate.

I am reliably informed that this is the first time in nearly 40 years that such time has been dedicated to the specific issue of youth homelessness. The previous time, in 1985, was largely because the late Alfred Morris, the former Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe and latterly Lord Morris, took it upon himself to raise the matter with the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment. I was reading through the Hansard entry and I despaired at the fact that that contribution, the words that Alfred Morris spoke in 1985, could be said here today, in 2024. The former Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe said there was

“no information available on the numbers of homeless adolescents and young people in London and the other major conurbations.”—[Official Report, 24 May 1985;
Vol. 79, c. 1303.]

He went on to talk about the lack of cross-departmental working to tackle the problem, saying,

“the present piecemeal approach to the problem of homelessness among young people is hampering other valuable work in this sector”,


The DHSS, the Department of Education and Science, the Department of the Environment, the Home Office and local authorities are all involved in different, but not very clearly differentiated, aspects of the problem.”—[Official Report, 24 May 1985;
Vol. 79, c. 1304.]

It is staggering to think 40 years later how little overall progress has been made. Even where it has been—for example, under the last Labour Government—surely it has since been eroded. We still do not truly know how many young adults find themselves homeless. The data collected by the Department could be so much better and so much more far-reaching. Given that we are almost certain to have a general election at some point in 2024, I truly hope that my Opposition Front-Bench colleagues will consider the demands that I will put to the Government today. Collecting better data on young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 will not alarm any fiscal hawk at the Treasury. It is good policy, and can be achieved very simply: by making amendments to the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

As it is, we rely on the likes of Centrepoint, the national youth homelessness charity, which through its databank work has estimated that nearly 136,000 young people approached their local council as homeless in 2022-23. Many of them were not even close to getting formally assessed. Despite Centrepoint’s numbers being much larger than those of the Department, it should be noted that those are a small c conservative estimate that do not include the thousands of young people classified as the hidden homeless—for instance, those young people sofa surfing and those who have not approached their local council in any way.

To obtain such information for England, Centrepoint had to make freedom of information requests for every local authority in the country. That is absolutely ridiculous and shameful. How can the Government properly begin to solve the problem if they do not truly understand the scale of it? That is why charities like Centrepoint—teaming up with the likes of the Albert Kennedy Trust, the YMCA and the fantastic New Horizon Youth Centre, which does so much to help young people in London, and 100 youth organisations—are calling for a national youth homelessness strategy: a plan for the 136,000.

Back in March, campaigners calling for a plan for the 136,000 homeless young people garnered more than 15,000 signatures on a UK Government petition. As they rightly said in their petition,

“no one is talking about this” and there is no specific national plan to tackle youth homelessness. I ask the Minister to please refrain from trotting out the usual spiel about how much money the Department is throwing at homelessness—with little success, may I add?—and to instead commit today to start putting together a far-reaching and ambitious national youth homelessness strategy this side of the election: a plan for the 136,000.

As Alfred Morris highlighted in 1985, Departments did not work with each other then, and they still do not today. Those experiencing homelessness, not least our young people, are always the ones who bear the brunt of Whitehall working in its traditional silos. Despite a valiant effort by Eddie Hughes when he was a Minister to at least secure some cross-departmental buy-in for the rough sleeping strategy, this Government have shown no real vision in operating the cross-departmental working that a national youth homelessness strategy would rely on.

Young people can experience homelessness for a plethora of reasons. Their experience if they do can be nothing short of desperate, and they are routinely institutionally failed by the state. Many are not supported to transition into adulthood and, as such, they face unique barriers that can push them into homelessness. They may lack the documents to evidence their homelessness—for example, written confirmation from their caregiver that they are no longer welcome in the home. I have had the privilege of meeting many young people at New Horizon in London. They told me that they were not taken seriously or believed when they were presented at a council, and many local authorities fail to provide a proper homelessness assessment. Some young people are asked to return home when that may not be safe. Furthermore, they may not know what support is available beyond the family home that they need to leave. So we need wholesale change. Young people deserve better. Our care leavers deserve better.

The cost of youth homelessness to the Treasury is estimated to be £8.5 billion a year, or an average of £27,347 for each young homeless person. Young people are vulnerable to homelessness due to unique barriers, including a lack of visibility, reduced benefits and a shortage of affordable youth-specific housing. I just mentioned the poor outcomes for young people who approach their local council for support. In my city of Liverpool, 1,849 young people approached the council as homeless, but only 332 were assessed by the local authority. A total of 1,743 people were not supported into housing after approaching Liverpool City Council. I do not blame my council; I blame this Government. Resources are scarce and the council is stretched to absolute breaking point. Young people often bear the brunt of local government austerity more than most. Liverpool City Council is projected to see temporary accommodation costs rise from £250,000 in 2019 to £25 million by the end of this financial year, which is a rise of 10,000%.

What could a national strategy achieve? A national cross-departmental youth homelessness strategy could look at extending priority need to all care leavers up to age 25, as well as exempting them from council tax payments. A national strategy could work with colleagues at the Department for Work and Pensions to look at taper rates for those young people in supported housing who are disincentivised from taking on extra hours at work, and as a result cannot move on to independent living. In hotspot areas, a national strategy could see councils adopting localised youth homelessness strategies, with dedicated youth homelessness teams. It could also look at repurposing a small part of the single homelessness accommodation programme to include youth-specific provision. We need a plan for the 136,000. A national strategy could do that and so much more much besides.

Behind the headline figures and the policies are human stories of desperation and frustration—stories of untapped potential and young people not being able to fulfil their hopes, dreams and aspirations. I have witnessed first-hand the fantastic work of local charities such as the Whitechapel Centre in Liverpool, the Mustard Tree in Manchester and the New Horizon Youth Centre in north London.

New Horizon’s chief executive, Phil Kerry, head of policy, Polly, and their whole team told me the story of Zephyr. At 20 years old, university student Zephyr suddenly had to leave his family home in east London after a family breakdown last summer. He had nowhere else to go, so he spent over a week on the streets of London, which he says was awful. He struggled to find food, so spent much of the week starving. During that time, Zephyr came across New Horizon Youth Centre outreach workers, who invited him into the day centre where he received food and was able to shower. He was given emergency accommodation for a week. After at least three weeks of waiting, he was accepted into a medium-stay hostel where he was able to volunteer.

Being off the streets and in stable accommodation allowed Zephyr to focus on his future. However, he was developing severe issues with his mental health as a result of being homeless and of his financial situation, so he had to drop out of university. Through mental health support, jobs education and training support from New Horizon, he is now in full-time employment as a support assistant for a housing association in London. He is still staying in hostel accommodation and is waiting until he can afford a room of his own in the private rented sector. Zephyr’s dream is to become a youth worker to help other young people in situations like his own.

There are at least 136,000 more stories like Zephyr’s, and for every Zephyr there is someone like him who may not have a New Horizon Youth Centre to support them. Never mind the economic cost: if a person fails to get angry when contemplating the possible waste of human potential through youth homelessness, I would argue that they are simply not human. Zephyr needs hope, but more importantly he deserves a future. Surely that is why we all entered politics. Austerity economics, the cost of living crisis, low wages and a housing crisis that is out of control have led us to this place.

All our young people are struggling, across the board, but care leavers, those who cannot access mental health support and those who have suffered family breakdown, have untold trauma and then fall on the wrong side of a homeless emergency—who will speak up for them? The third sector does an absolutely amazing job, but we cannot absolve ourselves of our responsibilities in this place and across Whitehall. This has been going on for far too long. The state has a much more active role to play.

It falls to all of us in this place to speak up for our young people who experience homelessness and, crucially, to make change happen. I hope that the Minister can agree today to changing how data is collected and commit to implementing a youth homelessness strategy. I would also very much welcome a commitment to looking at removing the elements relating to homelessness from the Criminal Justice Bill, which is an issue that I have consistently raised in this place.

Photo of Adam Holloway Adam Holloway Ceidwadwyr, Gravesham 2:46, 1 Mai 2024

I was going to make a proper speech, but as hon. Members may have noticed, I have a small problem with my voice today. I shall be very brief and make just two observations.

I thank Paula Barker for securing this debate. My first observation, when the hon. Lady talked about building more homes, was that we need to start being honest. One of the significant reasons for our housing shortage in this country is net immigration. Last year, we took just under 700,000 new people and built just under 150,000 new homes. We do not have to be rocket scientists to realise that that is absolutely going to drive things in the wrong direction for the sort of people the hon. Lady was talking about.

Secondly, I believe I am the only person in Parliament who has spent a significant time living homeless on the streets of various cities in this country and overseas. In total, I think I have spent about five months homeless, including about four months on the streets of London, for television documentaries where I played the part without cheating. A big observation from that time is that the overwhelming majority of young people who are on the streets of Britain’s cities, and indeed those of the United States and so many other places in Europe, are there because of drug addiction. Until we start to treat drug addicts primarily as people who are unwell, and only secondly as committing criminal acts, we will get nowhere with this problem. Particularly for young people, but also across the board, the money, effort and rhetoric that we put into the criminal justice system to deal with drug addicts, who are sick people, needs to be diverted into the health system. Until that happens, we will continue to have relatively large numbers of sick young people living rough on the streets of our cities.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 2:49, 1 Mai 2024

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. First, I thank Paula Barker for leading the debate and for illustrating the issue so well with the story of Zephyr. Nothing tells a story better than an example like that. It is also an example of what can be done to help that person: he has accommodation and a job to go to, and he wishes to be a councillor and help others. That tells me that if the effort is made, a change can be made. The hon. Lady deserves to be congratulated, as do all the groups and charities that work to ensure that Zephyr and others can have a better life.

It is also a pleasure to follow Adam Holloway. I thank him for his interest, his observations, his focus and his two suggestions, which the Government should be encouraged to support.

I will give a Northern Ireland example, as I always do, because it is important that we have a perspective from across the United Kingdom: it adds to the debate and shows that what happens here is also an issue elsewhere. Homelessness has become a major issue across the UK, especially among our young people. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree referred to early intervention; I believe that there is a real opportunity for early intervention and to ensure that our young people, who are our future, have the means to get the best possible start in life. It is great to be here to talk about the issue and hear about experiences in other constituencies.

“A Place to Call Home”, a report produced by Queen’s University on behalf of the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, included interviews with some 32 participants across three main strands. It showed that the basic minimum to support children and young people in Northern Ireland is not being met. I know that that is not the Minister’s responsibility, but I want to give a flavour of where we are. Now that the Assembly is up and working again, the responsibility for an action plan to address the issue will fall on the shoulders of the Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The issue of young people and families in temporary accommodation within the Northern Ireland Housing Executive has become a prevalent one back home, as they simply have nowhere to go. That is, without doubt, a form of homelessness. The figures speak for themselves and cannot be ignored. In the period from January to June 2022, households and families accepted as homeless in Northern Ireland included 3,495 children. Furthermore, in July 2022, 3,913 children aged under 18 were living in temporary accommodation in Northern Ireland, an increase from 2,433 in January 2019. That includes children living with their families and young people aged 16 to 17 living independently. That massive increase shows the size of the problem and illustrates that this is an issue not just here, but across the great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Young people not having a decent place to live has a direct impact on other aspects of their life, such as poor health and wellbeing. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree talked about how Zephyr’s anxiety issues rose as a result of what happened, and depression and mental health had knock-on effects as well. We also have to be aware of wellbeing outcomes and the inability of children to learn at school and beyond. If someone is focusing on their health issues and how they feel mentally and physically, it is quite difficult to have a positive focus for the future.

It is worth noting that Northern Ireland has a major problem with hidden homelessness among our youth, who sleep rough or sofa-surf with friends or family. I probably encounter that every week in my office myself or through my staff: people depending on the good will of family members, or more often friends, living in their cars, sleeping on benches or sofa-surfing.

The Simon Community in Northern Ireland is instrumental in supporting young people with accommodation. It has youth accommodation projects designed to assist young people aged 16 to 25 in their transition towards independent adulthood. We must recognise just how difficult that is. Those projects provide a nurturing environment where young people can flourish. I give credit to the Simon Community for what it does and for how it tries to address these issues.

The hon. Lady’s introduction emphasised to me and everyone here how sympathetic she is to this cause. She has done some fantastic work on it through her role as shadow Minister for Housing. Data from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities shows that 54% of homeless people report experiencing homelessness for the first time when under the age of 25.

This debate is so important, because it focuses on a group of young people who we hope will have opportunities for the future, as well as a job, accommodation and relationships that can help them to build the society we live in. Some 48% of those people experience rough sleeping for the first time before the age of 25. The impact of the youth homelessness crisis can be seen all across society. Until the root causes of youth homelessness are addressed, this crisis will continue to escalate.

I am ever mindful of the importance of this debate, and I want to suggest two suggestions that I think will be helpful. We are here not just to raise awareness of this matter, but to give suggestions, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree has done. We will hear more from others in this debate, and we look to our Minister to ensure that we can get positive responses.

What can we do? First, we need an early identification programme to ensure that children at school—as early as that—who are at risk are identified and supported. I suggest respectfully that the Minister should co-ordinate our campaign with the Department for Education to ensure that those who are showing signs of having problems at home and who may end up homeless or on the street are identified and supported.

Secondly, we need to have more affordable youth-friendly accommodation, like the accommodation the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree referred to, which saved young Zephyr and many others. Such accommodation will probably save many more lives in the future, but it needs help to make that happen. We need to have a focus on more affordable youth-friendly accommodation that young people can be expected to afford to live in. The hon. Lady outlined the issues: these young people are trying to study for their exams, their money issues are piling up around them, and they are wondering, “Where am I going to go next?”. These issues compound each other. We have all seen the extortionate prices people are paying for rent—it is completely unrealistic to expect a young person to be able to pay that, especially looking at the figures in London.

I look respectfully and honestly to the Minister for solutions. While there is an understanding of this situation, I believe it is so important that we take the appropriate steps to support our young people and, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree says, address the issue of youth homelessness. It is a blight on society and it needs to be addressed. I look to the Minister to give us those solutions.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 2:57, 1 Mai 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Dame Siobhain. I speak not only as the shadow Minister responding to this debate on youth homelessness, but as a former Connexions manager. It was my job, with my team, to get people into education, training, work and housing.

Like other hon. Members, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Paula Barker for securing this important debate. As a former shadow Minister and the joint chair of the all-party parliamentary group for ending homelessness, she has a genuine passion for this subject, as she showed eloquently in her powerful speech. Like myself and many others, she is determined to provide the homes, support and housing that young people need.

Yesterday, as my hon. Friend said, this Government broke even more records on homelessness. Despite bold promises to end the most visible form of homelessness—rough sleeping—by the end of this year, in reality, rough sleeping, which affects many young people up and down the country, rose by 27% last year. That is more than double the number of people recorded as rough sleeping in 2010, when records began.

Despite spending a considerable amount of money—I imagine the Minister will reference a figure around £2.3 billion—the current approach is simply not working. It is broken. It is there for all to see, whether it be a visible form of homelessness on the streets of London, Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham and so forth, or the people many of us know who come to our surgeries and who are sofa surfing or living in temporary accommodation. Is the Minister confident that the Government will deliver on the target of ending rough sleeping by the end of 2024? What is not working? It would be useful to have a response in the not-too-distant future.

Photo of Adam Holloway Adam Holloway Ceidwadwyr, Gravesham

For street homeless people who are drug-addicted, part of the problem is that if someone needs to beg for a couple of hundred pounds a day to feed their addiction, the answer is not for them to be accommodated somewhere in south London. They need to be at a main station or in a capital city to get the money to pay for the drugs. I think the hon. Member will agree that that is a real conundrum.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I do not disagree with the hon. Member. In fact, I recently met Baroness Casey, who has worked across Governments of all political colours, and she repeated that exact argument. I agree 100%.

Again, as referenced by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree, another record was broken yesterday: 112,660 families now live in costly temporary accommodation, costing around £1.8 billion a year—a 12.1% increase since last year. Shamefully, we now have 145,800 children living in temporary accommodation, and in that regard I pay tribute to you, Dame Siobhain, for all the work you have consistently done and will continue to do in championing their cause.

Youth homelessness is also up, with 136,000 young people presenting as homeless to local councils—a 5% rise on the previous figure of 129,000—and that is just the tip of the iceberg, if we take account of those who are sofa surfing, in temporary accommodation or bed and breakfasts, or sleeping in friends’ houses on a temporary basis and so on. As my hon. Friend said, young people are often overlooked in the homelessness emergency and get a raw deal from a system that is often overstretched and uninformed. A point echoed by hon. Members across the Chamber today is that training is required to remedy that.

Research by Centrepoint suggests that 67% of young people were not prevented from becoming homeless by local councils last year. I am keen to hear the Minister explain how she will ensure that local authorities, including councils, up and down the country respond to their obligations laid out in the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017.

As a Wythenshawe lad, I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend refer to Lord Morris of Manchester, a previous MP for Manchester, Wythenshawe. She is right; almost 40 years on from his speech on youth homelessness in 1985—the year I left school—and despite innovations by the last Labour Government, which left office some 14 years ago, very little has changed. We still have a Government who lack political leadership, operate in silence, provide insufficient support and are certainly not building the genuinely affordable homes that people need. I came into politics because I genuinely want a socially just society. Ending all forms of homelessness must be a driving goal of any future Labour Minister or Labour Government. I commend the great work of all the charities here today—Centrepoint, New Horizon Youth Centre and Depaul UK—and the hundred youth organisations that came together and called for a national youth homelessness plan for the 136,000.

Let me outline what Labour’s approach would be. The four pillars would be, first, upstream and informed; secondly, cross-departmental political leadership; thirdly, the supply of genuinely affordable housing and supported housing for young people; and fourthly, providing a helping hand. Before that, however, an immediate intervention is required on section 21 no-fault evictions. Sadly, since 2019 nearly 80,000 households, far too many of them young people, have been put at risk of homelessness. We must have no more kicking the can down the road with the narrative of court reform. A Labour Administration will end no-fault evictions for good. They will be abolished.

Let me outline the pillars in turn. The first is upstream and informed. On youth homelessness, we need to get upstream of all the problems. All too often, young people become homeless when they are passed between institutions and fall through the many glaring cracks in the system. Early intervention and identification in schools and colleges will be required, with better support for children, parents and carers. I find this quite irritating, because I was previously a Connexions manager and had staff who did exactly that until the coalition Government abolished Connexions. We can learn from some of the good things of the past. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree mentioned data collection, which is a clarion call for the 100 or so organisations working in this area. It should be strengthened and not reliant on freedom of information requests. As my hon. Friend pointed out, that could be achieved by a simple change to the Homelessness Reduction Act.

As Jim Shannon said, for individuals at the heart of the homelessness emergency, trauma and mental health issues are often at the core of their story. Homelessness could be prevented and ended for good if we had person-centred psychological support. I know that Centrepoint and other charities provide such support, but we need to hardwire it into the system. Trauma-informed care must be part of a successful strategy. That would please my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree.

The second pillar is political leadership on ending the silos. We have to stop Government Departments operating in silos. It was mentioned that a previous Minister attempted to do that, but let us look at when we have had some success. I mentioned Dame Louise Casey, whom I met again recently. We created a cross-departmental rough sleepers unit that sat in the Cabinet Office and drove that programme forward, and we saw a real reduction in rough sleeping and the use of temporary housing. That was 14 years ago under the Labour Government, and we can certainly learn from that as we work in the context of a new landscape, with metro Mayors and devolved Administrations across the UK.

Pillar three will be building more genuinely affordable homes—social homes, council homes and housing that is youth specific, with the appropriate stock. Supply is key. We have stated that a future Labour Administration will build 1.5 million homes over five years, and genuinely affordable homes—homes for social rent—have to be a fundamental part of the mix. We will build homes on a scale that people in this country have not seen in generations. Last year, the Government created 9,500 homes for social rent. There are 1.3 million people on the housing need register. If we take into account homes that were bought through right to buy and demolitions, the figure is minus 14,000 every year since 2010. The system is broken. We have to build the houses. Labour has to get Britain building again for all our people, but particularly young people.

Finally, the fourth pillar is about providing a helping hand. The Labour party is the party of work—that is what “labour” means. We were set up by the trade unions and the labour movement to provide good, secure work. The current social security system penalises people, particularly young people living independently and trying to get on with a job, education and training. That has to change. My colleagues in the shadow DWP team are determined to ensure that they have good, secure work. We will deal with the systemic issues. There was a reference to care leavers and council tax and so forth. We will provide a hand up to ensure that people can stay in their homes or move to other homes.

Ending youth homelessness is not just a moral imperative, as stated by my good colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree. It costs over £27,000 per individual—£8.5 billion—but the issue is more important than that. It is about young people’s hopes, dreams and futures. I hope that in future as a Minister I can do my bit to provide hope, houses and opportunities.

Photo of Felicity Buchan Felicity Buchan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 3:11, 1 Mai 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Siobhain. I thank the House for assembling here to debate the very important topic of youth homelessness, and those in the Public Gallery who have come into Parliament today. I also thank Paula Barker, who I know well as my shadow Minister, for her thoughtful contribution. I will address her big picture points on data and the youth homelessness strategy, but first I will address a few of the specific questions that I have been asked.

I thank my hon. Friend Adam Holloway for his powerful and brief contribution. It is good that he was able to do so with a struggling voice. I agree with him that alcohol and drug addiction are significant drivers of homelessness. That is why the Government are investing £186.5 million over the three-year spending review period, and we allocated £15 million as part of the cross-Government drug strategy. I agree that homelessness is a complex problem, but addiction clearly is part of it. I reassure my hon. Friend that I work incredibly closely with colleagues in the Department of Health.

I also thank Jim Shannon for his contribution. I particularly thank him for participating since housing is devolved in Northern Ireland. He raised powerful points.

The suggestion that the Government are not working in a cross-Government way and are siloed is slightly ironic, because this morning I chaired the cross-Government rough sleeping board, part of which consists of the senior officials in every relevant Department. I assure the House that there is a lot of cross-Government working happening, which is critical.

Photo of Paula Barker Paula Barker Llafur, Liverpool, Wavertree

It is wonderful to hear the Minister speak about chairing the cross-Government rough sleeping board, but has she asked why it is failing and why the numbers are consistently going up?

Photo of Felicity Buchan Felicity Buchan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Rough sleeping has ticked up over the past year, but it is still down from the pre-pandemic numbers and the peaks in 2017. Clearly, every single person rough sleeping is one too many. We have particular issues in London with rough sleepers who have no recourse to public funds, and we encourage support for them, but that is an entrenched issue. The Government are working to address any new flow of rough sleepers; I want to give the House a few examples of that.

We have been working incredibly closely with the Ministry of Justice to address those leaving prison. There are sometimes relatively simple solutions, such as not releasing someone from prison on a Friday, given that there is no local authority support over the weekend. I was very happy to hear that the number of prison leavers who are rough sleeping has gone down by one third, but there is clearly still work to be done.

I have also worked incredibly closely with my colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that people are not released from hospital on to the streets. In the winter, we formulated new guidance on that for all hospitals, and we made exceptional money available and suggested that it could be used on hospital discharge.

I work incredibly closely with my colleagues in the Department for Education. The hon. Lady rightly referred to care leavers who are rough sleeping, and I will talk about them in more depth.

We also work very closely with the Home Office. An issue that has come up in the Chamber in the past is that there are a lot of people who have successful asylum claims, and in some instances when they leave Home Office accommodation they go to their local authority for support. We have clearly seen an uptick in successful asylum seekers.

I could not agree more that we need to build more homes, and this Government are on track to achieve our manifesto commitment of 1 million homes during the life of this Parliament; we have a target of 300,000 homes per year. I thought it was a bit rich when Mike Amesbury said the Labour party would be better at delivering more homes, given that London under the Labour Mayor is the worst-performing region for housing delivery and has required intervention from the Secretary of State.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

In the last year of the Labour Government, we built 30,000 homes for social rent. The Minister mentioned 1 million homes, but we are not talking about four and five-bedroom homes built by Redrow, Morris Homes and so forth—nice companies though they are—which are beyond the reach of young people; we are talking about homes for social rent. Sadiq Khan has very ambitious plans to build 40,000 council homes, and I am confident that people will give him a strong mandate tomorrow.

Photo of Felicity Buchan Felicity Buchan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Well, we will see what the electorate decide tomorrow. One thing that is very clear is that in 2022, London was the worst-performing region for housing delivery and the west midlands was No. 1.

Let me get to the substance of my speech. We can all agree that every young person, no matter where in the country they live, no matter what their personal circumstances may be, deserves a roof over their head and a safe place to call home.

Young people are the future of this country; they will help shape the Britain of tomorrow. That is why this Government are committed to delivering the safe, warm, decent and affordable housing that every young person needs, providing the solid, stable foundation to get on in life and achieve their potential. We are committed to tackling all forms of homelessness and are investing £2.4 billion over three years to help achieve that. Importantly, of that £2.4 billion, £1.2 billion is for the homelessness prevention grant. That is critical; we need to prevent homelessness before it occurs in the first instance.

That money—the £1.2 billion—can be used flexibly by local authorities, to offer financial support for people to find a new home, to work with landlords to prevent evictions, or to provide temporary accommodation. I want to say one thing on temporary accommodation. Clearly, we all want people to be in settled accommodation, but temporary accommodation is an important step to get a roof over people’s heads, ensuring that young people are given the support that they need to prevent or relieve their homelessness.

Someone posed the rhetorical question: what has this Government done to help young people and their homelessness? I would say it is meaningful that we passed the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which was a private Member’s Bill that Government supported and came into force in 2018. That Act has been revolutionary in its effect on our approach to youth homelessness. The Act means that local authorities have a duty to assess, prevent and relieve homelessness across the board, not only for those who are vulnerable. We have helped more than 740,000 households avoid homelessness, courtesy of the Act, and it has been revolutionary.

We have come a long way with that Act, but we are not blind to the challenges that we continue to face. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree asked me about cross-Department strategy to end youth homelessness. We recognise that young people experiencing homelessness are confronted by particular challenges in accessing and maintaining accommodation, but a strategy is very important. That is why this Government published the landmark strategy in 2022 called, “Ending rough sleeping for good”, which prioritises prevention.

I am often asked, “Can you ever end rough sleeping for good?” We defined ending rough sleeping as that it should be prevented whenever possible, but if it cannot be prevented it should be rare, brief and non-recurrent. I agree with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree that data is incredibly important. That is why we are working with the Centre for Homelessness Impact, which has a huge data project in which it is monitoring us and local authorities against these targets: have we got rough sleeping rare, brief and non-recurrent? I have also sat down with the chief statistician and talked to him about the importance of data in homelessness, because it is only when we know what and where the problem is that we can address it.

A key part of our “Ending rough sleeping for good” strategy was the single homelessness accommodation programme, which is worth £200 million in this spending review. We have committed to more in the next spending review. That programme is providing up to 2,000 homes for people sleeping rough or at risk of sleeping rough. It is targeted at young people and at those with complex needs. At least 650 of those homes are reserved specifically for young people. I am delighted to say that Liverpool will receive over £2 million of that funding, delivering 20 homes for single homeless young people to help them live independently. Our rough sleeping initiative in 2024 targets £2.5 million of funding at youth-specific services in eight local authorities across England. That funding provides specialist support for young people, such as outreach workers and prevention officers, and specialist housing for those under 25.

We talked about councils being required to carry out their statutory duties, and I want to make it very clear that councils are required to implement the Homelessness Reduction Act, which puts prevention at the heart of local authorities’ response to homelessness. If there is reason to believe that an individual or household may be homeless or threatened with homelessness within 56 days, the housing authority must carry out an assessment to determine whether that is the case. Of all households assessed for homelessness, 89% were owed a prevention or relief duty.

We have talked about the hidden homeless. That is very important and I would encourage anyone who is hidden homeless to contact their local authority. Our specialist youth homelessness advisers work closely with housing and children’s services across the country, providing advice, support and challenge to local authorities to help improve the delivery of homelessness services and to support compliance with the statutory duties.

We have also discussed the difference between Government data and that presented by Centre Point’s databank research. I am tremendously grateful for all the work that the voluntary and charitable sector does in this space. I have had the privilege of doing many Government visits to charities. I went to visit Centre Point in Wandsworth about a year ago, and I have always been impressed by everything that is done by the voluntary sector. They are an integral part of supporting our homelessness efforts.

Just last week, I visited a youth homelessness house in my constituency, Dashwood House, which was run by the Salvation Army Housing Association. That house was for 18 to 25-year-old women. I was incredibly impressed with the service that they were providing and the move-on support they offered. It was wonderful that a lot of people who had lived in Dashwood House, but who had now moved on to their own settled accommodation, came back to visit that day. I am very grateful to organisations for all their research and work to support those dealing with youth homelessness.

Let me explain the difference in numbers. The Government numbers are official statistics and are closely verified and accredited by the Office for National Statistics. One reason for the differential is that the Centrepoint data includes all initial inquiries to a local authority. The Government report on the total number of homelessness assessments and the numbers of young people owed a homelessness prevention or relief duty. I just wanted to clear up the reason why the numbers are different. The Government numbers form part of the official statistics and follow very robust statistical methodologies.

Clearly, I regret the uptick in homelessness—it is very serious and the Government are doing everything to address it—but the most recent homelessness statistics, published yesterday, show that over 17,000 households had homelessness prevented in the fourth quarter of 2023, and almost 50,000 homeless households were supported to secure accommodation in that same period.[Official Report, 2 May 2024; Vol. 749, c. 6WC.] (Correction) This shows that local authorities continue to work hard to prevent and relieve homelessness for all households, including young people.

I want to touch on the issue of care leavers, because this is a very important point; I thank the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree for raising it. We know that young people leaving local authority care can be especially vulnerable, which is why, through our strategy on children’s social care reform, “Stable Homes, Built on Love”, we are working to increase the number of care leavers living in safe, suitable accommodation and to reduce the rate of homelessness among that vulnerable group. To achieve that, the Government are providing the following money: nearly £100 million for local authorities to increase the number of care leavers who stay living with their foster families up to the age of 21; £53 million to increase the number of young people leaving residential care who receive practical help with move-on accommodation, including support from a key worker—that practical help is very important; and £9.6 million over three years to provide extra support to care leavers at the highest risk of rough sleeping.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree asked about social housing priority need for care leavers. Care leavers have priority need up to the age of 20; the hon. Lady suggested that it should be up to the age of 25. I want it to be clear that once care leavers reach 21, they will continue to have priority need if they are vulnerable because of having been looked after. That will continue.

On relation wider housing support, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in the autumn statement that we would restore the local housing allowance rate up to the 30th percentile. That was very important. It took effect in April. It will mean that 1.6 million low-income households will be on average £800 a year better off, and will make it more affordable for young people on benefits to rent properties in the private sector. About one in 10 of those aged 16 to 24 currently lives in the private rented sector. That is one reason why the Renters (Reform) Bill, which passed its Third Reading last week, is so important.

We have talked about building more homes, which I think the entire House would agree is critical. We have the affordable homes programme, which represents £11.5 billion to provide new properties for rent, for low-cost home ownership and for specialist and supported housing. As I have said, we are on track to deliver our manifesto commitment of 1 million new homes within this Parliament.

I conclude by thanking the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree once again for securing this thought-provoking debate. I admire her determination to tackle the causes and impacts of homelessness, particularly for young people today, which is a determination that the Government and I share. I hope I have underlined the scale, depth and diversity of the investment this Government are making to address this challenge. We know that, as a Government, we cannot solve this issue alone. That is why we value so much the support and commitment of local government, charitable partners and great advocates for the homelessness sector across the House, including my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham and the hon. Member for Strangford.

I thank Members again. Let us keep working towards our shared goal of ending rough sleeping and tackling youth homelessness.

Photo of Paula Barker Paula Barker Llafur, Liverpool, Wavertree 3:36, 1 Mai 2024

I thank all Members for taking part in this important debate.

I thank Adam Holloway for his contribution, which was delivered with his usual aplomb even if he was quite croaky today. We disagree on the issue of net immigration and those factors—we have served on the Home Affairs Committee together. I suggest that the immigration problems are part of the wider issue of the Government not getting to grips with the backlog, and also the significant money they are spending on hotels. I am sure we will have that debate outside this place when he has his voice back in full flow.

As a journalist, the hon. Gentleman spent time on the streets, and he spoke about drug addiction in his usual, knowledgeable fashion. I completely agree that we have to do more to support people with drug and alcohol addiction. For me, that starts with trauma-informed services. Trauma-informed and trauma-led services should be mandatory, and that is a challenge that I pose to my good friend on the Front Bench, my hon. Friend Mike Amesbury, if we are lucky enough to form a Government at the next election.

Jim Shannon, who is sadly not in his place, delivered his contribution with his usual knowledge and compassion, and it was very interesting to hear about his contributions in Northern Ireland. I know how much this debate means to the sector, which does so much to serve our communities, and particularly young people. Once again, I thank all Members for being here today, and I hope that my colleagues have taken something away from the debate.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale for his valuable contribution. I know, through our many years of friendship, that he understands the issues, and I am committed to ensuring that, in the months ahead, he loses the word “shadow” from his title. We can then start to tackle some of these matters head on, and hopefully together. I applaud his commitment to increasing housing supply, ending section 21 evictions and tackling all forms of homelessness, including youth homelessness. I hope that the shadow Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities team considers how we can learn lessons from the last Labour Government. We had practically eradicated homelessness and rough sleeping by the time we left office in 2010. My good friend spoke about Dame Louise Casey, and I hope we can learn lessons from her marvellous work and have a truly cross-departmental strategy.

I thank the Minister for her thoughtful contribution and reply. I totally respect her commitment to these matters but, sadly, I feel that she is a member of a tired Government who have manifestly failed to deliver on their intention with respect to all forms of homelessness. She has been set up to fail in the same way as some of her predecessors. Homelessness may have briefly been a priority for the Government under the stewardship of Mrs May, but I believe it has since fallen down the agenda.

I finish by imploring right hon. and hon. Members to continue talking about youth homelessness. Please talk up the need for a national youth homelessness strategy and be the voice for those 136,000 young people, because they deserve to have a life well lived in which they can fulfil their potential and realise their dreams, hopes and aspirations.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
has considered youth homelessness.

Sitting suspended.