HC Deb 21 February 1990 vol 167 cc913-4
1. Mr. Ian Taylor

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what proportion of the extra funds announced recently to tackled homelessness will be made available directly to housing associations.

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Mr. Michael Spicer)

This programme will amount to £250 million over the next two years. Of this, £73 million will be made available to housing associations. Local authorities may choose to channel some of the remainder to housing associations.

Mr. Taylor

My hon. Friend the Minister gives us good information, because homelessness concerns all hon. Members. Will he go further and say what initiatives the Government might take to assist the homeless in general, particularly bearing it in mind that one of the major causes of homelessness is the break-up of marriages and family life?

Mr. Spicer

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the break-up of family life is one of the most significant reasons for homelessness. Therefore, part of the answer to the homelessness problem is to ensure that as many young people as possible stay close to the family home until they are sure of adequate alternative accommodation and have the financial means to support it. With the help of Shelter, SHAC—the sheltered housing advice centre—and the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, I am today launching a homeless advice service at a cost of about £1 million. It will give advice about the dangers of leaving home and about the help available to those who become homeless. As a matter of urgency, we are considering what further comprehensive action we need to take to relieve the problem, especially for those sleeping rough on the streets.

Mr. Fearn

Does the Minister agree that more hostels are required and that if voluntary organisations were given more cash, the problem would be somewhat relieved? At present, giving cash to housing associations does not house the young homeless, with whom we are concerned. Obviously, the associations house people and are doing a good job, hut, certainly, they will not be housing the people in real need.

Mr. Spicer

Yes, one of the things that we are looking at is hostel accommodation. We shall make recommendations in the light of our considerations.

Mr. Tracey

My hon. Friend's announcement is welcome. Does he agree that the problem would be much alleviated if five principal London Labour authorities were to collect the £58 million of outstanding rent owed and did not have 10,000 empty properties?

Mr. Spicer

Sadly, my hon. Friend is right. It is largely the way in which Labour councils manage those estates that has caused some properties to be vacant. That is a national scandal.

Mr. Soley

I am sure that the teenage children in their cardboard boxes will be fascinated by the Government's latest gimmick. Does not the Minister understand that £125 million over one year, followed by £125 million the next year, will not even cover the cost of the homelessness that has been brought about by the latest hike in mortgage interest rates? In addition, it will not cover the cost of giving homes to people who are evicted because they cannot pay the £15 a week rent rises in Conservative Redbridge or Tory Bournemouth. Those are the sort of problems that the Minister should address. One thing that he could do today that would have some weight—perhaps he will tell the House that he will do it—is to allow local authorities to start spending their capital receipts on housing the homeless.

Mr. Spicer

One of the things that Labour spokesmen do not do when they shout their mouths off about this subject is actually to look at the causes. The Government are looking at one of the causes. This is an international problem. I have seen how serious it is in Copenhagen. One of the causes is the break-up of family life, so one of the good steps that we can take is to warn children against leaving their families prematurely. Of course, it then becomes a matter of responsibility for the Government to ensure that there is adequate accommodation for those who become homeless.

Mr. John Marshall

Does my hon. Friend agree that thousands of jobs are available in London and that employers find great difficulty filling those jobs, even when accommodation is offered? Does not that suggest that a number of the so-called homeless are, in fact, malingerers?

Mr. Spicer

Not only is my hon. Friend right that there is high employment throughout the country, but it is often ignored by the Opposition that we have the most generous housing benefits for people who cannot afford accommodation of any country in the western world. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out some of the absurdities of some of the Labour party's propaganda on this matter.