Youth Homelessness — [Dame Siobhain McDonagh in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall am 2:57 pm ar 1 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

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

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.