Youth Homelessness — [Dame Siobhain McDonagh in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall am 3:11 pm ar 1 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

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

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.