I was proud to be in the House on Friday the 28th October to back the new cross party-legislation to help reduce rising homelessness. Some of the most difficult and distressing cases at my advice surgeries are those of constituents who are threatened with eviction, are unable to pay sky high rents in the private sector and are frustrated because they are unable to access social housing.
In Brent there are 847 families accepted as homeless and on any one night 55 people are sleeping rough.
To even pretend constituents will qualify for affordable housing is false, Brent Council is experiencing a severe housing crisis, there is critically high demand for all types of accommodation and there are 4,500 households on the housing register. The council is facing an unprecedented number of households suffering eviction and the threat of eviction, and in addition to this changes to the benefit system has meant previous properties are now unaffordable to the detriment of both residents seeking help with housing and the council.
Sadly, many homeless people are not considered a “priority” under the law, meaning that they are often turned away with little or no help when they approach their local council. This has a devastating personal impact on families and children. We now have the most serious housing crisis since the 1960s and Theresa May has no answer, rents are soaring, home ownership is falling and house-building has fallen to its lowest peacetime rate since the 1920s.
The Government has failed to deliver promised one-for-one replacements for homes sold through right-to-buy – instead only one is being built for every eight sold. Today there are 1.4 million households – more than three million people - on council housing waiting lists.
The Homelessness Reduction Bill aims to bring down high levels of homelessness by placing stronger duties on councils to help people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness at an earlier stage. I support the Bill but any new rules and duties on local authorities must be fully funded.
It is also important the root causes of rising homelessness are tackled and the Government needs to act on private renting and re-think the crude cuts to housing benefit for the most vulnerable.
This government has ended all funding for affordable social rented housing and this is why the number of new social rented homes, started in the last year of a Labour Government was almost 40,000 while last year it was less than 1,000. There are now 140,000 fewer council homes than in 2010.
Across England since 2010, the number of homeless people sleeping rough on the streets has doubled and headline or ‘statutory’ homelessness has increased by 44%. Under the Labour government from 1997-2010, rough sleeping fell by 75% and statutory homelessness was reduced by nearly two-thirds.
In addition there have been thirteen separate cuts to housing benefit over the last five years, including the bedroom tax and breaking the link between housing benefit for private renters (local housing allowance) and private rents.
The National Audit Office have revealed that funding cuts to “supporting people” which funds homelessness services has fallen by 45% between 2010 and 2015.
On Friday the Minister announced additional grant funds and a package of local support that will make an immediate difference to the lives of homeless people in the country and I will be writing to the Chief Executive of Brent Council to ensure the funding streams are available to the authority to help my constituents. The Minister also reassured all Members across the house that the Government are absolutely committed to providing new funding to local authorities to allow them to discharge the new duties in the Bill.
The Homelessness Reduction Bill now passes to the Committee State, Report, Third Reading and the House of Lords and I will be following the progress of this bill throughout its remaining stages in the House.