House of Lords Debates Homelessness
Only A Pavement Away was mentioned by Lord Smith of Hindhead in a debate regarding homelessness. Herewith his contribution in the debate:
Lord Smith of Hindhead (Con)
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for introducing this important and timely debate. Almost wherever I go in the country, I see someone living on the streets. This of course is only the visible sign of homelessness compared with those people, families and children, who are living in temporary or substandard accommodation, often with no end in sight.
In the short time we have, I wish to make only a few brief points. Can the Minister tell us whether the department might look again at standardising the yearly count of rough sleepers? I was pleased to see that all councils took part in the 2017 count but this has not always been the case. Also, while some councils have teams which go out and physically count, others estimate their numbers. I believe that some standardisation in method would be the right decision, and give the right direction, to achieve a better understanding of the scale of this problem.
Turning to housing, we know that the lack of appropriate housing is a central issue. I am pleased that the Government are making homebuilding one of their highest priorities, investing £9 billion in affordable housing and £1 billion in flexible funding to help enterprising councils which wish to borrow more in order to build more. There has been £50 million made available to the Move On Fund for new homes outside of London, £19 million of new funding for supported lettings, £28 million for Housing First pilot schemes and £135 million from dormant accounts to support home financing innovations, to name but a few initiatives. More than 1 million new homes have entered the housing stock since 2010 and last year we had the biggest overall increase in housing supply in almost a decade.
In spite of this, Crisis has identified a “sharp” rise in the number made homeless from the private rental sector, from 11% in 2009-10 to 31% in 2015-16. Private landlords are reluctant to lease to people in receipt of benefits or people deemed homeless. What work is the department doing with the private sector to encourage more stability in their leasing and to encourage them to provide more leases to people who have been, or would be, homeless?
Private businesses are beginning to grasp the benefits of helping people who are homeless. I must declare an interest in the hospitality sector, as set out in the register, since one of the initiatives that is heavily involved in is area is the Only a Pavement Away campaign, which assists homeless people into hospitality careers. The charity is currently running trials with a number of pub and bar operators to coach and guide the homeless and more vulnerable in our society through their transition into the world of work. Full training, together with a network of support from companies, underpinned by a 12-month post-engagement support package, ensures that each individual has the best chance of success in turning their life around and boosting their self-worth and self-esteem.
There are many similar initiatives created by businesses without any government funding or encouragement at all. They have done this of their own volition and they should be applauded. Support into training and employment is such an important part of a homeless person securing independence and eradicating his or her homelessness for themselves for the long term. Could the Minister tell us how his department is working with other agencies and stakeholders to encourage them to employ and train people who are homeless?
Finally, does the Minister think more can be done to help people who have no fixed address to have better access to bank accounts? I know that there is an official recommendation from the Government to financial institutions that they can be more lenient with their identification requirements in this scenario, but is this happening in practice and is there more that can be done to promote this practice more widely?