§ 7.21 p.m.
§ LORD SOPER rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied with what is being done to provide somewhere to live for the homeless young.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, on March 21 the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, attracted the attention of your Lordships' House to the problem of homeless families, and there followed what is generally described as a wide-ranging debate in which housing and many other problems were dealt with. Indeed, many of the matters that were then under discussion have suffered or enjoyed something of a sea change since in the light of 992 certain revelations about the number of houses unoccupied in London; in the light of the business of housing associations, and the hand-out by the Government of £15 million: in the light of the White Paper; in the light, most recently, as I noticed in the stop press of this afternoon's Evening News, of the appointment, as far as I could see, of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, to oversee the matter of support for voluntary housing associations; and, not least, in the light of the references made in your Lordships' debate earlier to-day as to the way in which this problem of housing and homelessness is one which is almost global. Certainly it is wide-embracing and most comprehensive. It is not to the general matter that I would attract your Lordships' attention to-night, but specifically to one aspect of this problem which I think should be given a special place in a consideration of the welfare, so far as a home is concerned, of young people. It is not that I think youngsters are necessarily more valuable than those who are older, but that in many respects I am quite satisfied that they are more vulnerable and that what happens to adolescents is very often a guide, if not a determinant, of the way in which they are going finally to behave when they become adults.
§ I believe that behind this Question lies an admission. It is that the Government, and indeed most of us, are not fully aware of the facts of this lamentable condition, which the more I have had to do with the more am I satisfied is a very serious condition. In the light of paragraphs 47 and 48 of the White Paper I am by no means convinced, unless explicit interpretation of the generalities in paragraphs 47 and 48 are given expression, that the Government should be satisfied with what they are doing now; and, once again in the light somewhat of the debate this afternoon, I think that the underlying causes for homelessness among youth being so widespread and endemic need much more carefully and radically to be exposed. If I say that I am quite sure that here is a very serious and increasing problem, a human problem, I shall be expected to give statistics to justify such a claim when there are so many more competitive claims for the attention of your Lordships. I confess that, reading the debate of March 21, it was indeed a lush pasture 993 in terms of moral perturbation and administrative arrangement, but it was much more like a desert statistically. Indeed, it was over and over again stated, alike by those who represented the Government as by those who were asking questions, that there is a widespread lack of any efficient information as to what is the actual condition of homelessness. But I have done some scavenging, and I hope can present at least a few facts which are relevant and which are significant.
§ I confess that the problem is difficult. It is rather like the problem of how many ghosts there are. If you ask a scientist, he says he has never seen a ghost. Of course it may be that ghosts do not like scientists, and when they see scientists about they get out of their way. Whether or not that is true of ghosts, it is certainly true of a great many of those youngsters who are homeless, for the precise reason that their homelessness is in many respects an opting out of the life of the community, and by the very nature of their condition they are not likely to find their presence in statistical statements about them and about the surrounding circumstances which have promoted their homelessness. But here are a few facts which are, I think, beyond dispute. We are aware that in the Inner London area there are about 11,000 homeless single people, and I should calculate that perhaps 4,000 or 5,000 of those normally would come under the general category of "young people". We know that New Horizon—and I speak with care because I have no doubt that my noble friend Lord Longford will give more explicit information in this particular field—have recognised the possibility, if not actually stated the fact, that there are something like 7,000 youngsters who are homeless. Indeed, in one of the editions of the Guardian last October there was evidence that at least 5,000 dispirited, nervous, frustrated and difficult youngsters were likely to be found spending the winter in a condition which is called "living rough".
§ There are certain more precise pieces of information which particularly come from London. One is from NACRO. It is a pity that my noble friend Lord Donaldson has another engagement which prevents him from being here, because he could give much more expert advice in this particular field, but I am instructed 994 that the Inner London Probation and After-Care Service has on its book at this moment 263 ex-borstal or ex-approved schoolboys who are homeless. Coming nearer home. I have been responsible in the last few months for opening two hostels for such boys, and we could fill them five times over. There is a great need. That need is expressed by the fact that there are about 50,000 men prisoners who are released each year, and 15,000 of those are homeless. These are facts which I believe can build up, and ought to build up, into a statement as to the reality of this problem and indeed as to the severity of it.
§ What, therefore, is to be done? Generally speaking, it is quite obvious that, with the recent victories of Labour in certain local government affairs, there is a high prospect that there will be an increased accumulation of rented property, and there is the intention, definitely expressed, that compulsory purchase orders will be in effect where such opportunities of finding premises are available. It is certainly true that there is great need for rented accommodation of a modest size and of a modest figure; and I have great sympathy with what was said by my noble friend Lord Fiske and others in the debate on March 21, that the coming together of the housing and the welfare services is a necessary function if both of them are to operate effectively. There is a very good argument, it would seem to me, for taking homelessness out of the housing field altogether; that is to say, putting it entirely within the welfare field. But these are general principles.
§ What is of much more immediate importance, I would suggest, is a total evaluation of the hostel situation, a situation which is adumbrated very generally in paragraph 48 of the White Paper but which needs a great deal of explicit and careful elucidation in terms of what should be the sort of hostel, where that hostel should be sited, what is to be the general nature of the hostel and how it should be run. In passing, I am sure that the function and opportunity of local authorities is matched by, and in some cases is less obvious and less desirable than that of, the voluntary bodies, not least the Churches, by which this kind of immediate need can be met. To meet it, it is necessary to provide the kind of 995 accommodation which will not immediately suggest to those who are invited to take advantage of it that they are members of a particular group. There is in process of erection at the moment a Catharine Price-Hughes hostel in High-bury. Were I not responsible for it I would mention it; but inasmuch as I am responsible for it, I would only say that it is one of the experiments which I think ought to be made in the family kind of hostel in which there is not only the youngster out of borstal, the youngster out of approved school, the male or female youngster, but others who can create within that general environment an opportunity for rehabilitation.
§ I am sure that there is a need for a great deal more money to be made available at the stage at which a voluntary organisation considers the possibility of acquiring premises. I am sure it is not enough to say, "You find the money in the first place and we will help you afterwards." There is a profound need for a much larger group of social workers, particularly in the local field. It is a lamentable situation that such social workers to deal with homelessness are in many areas of local government virtually nonexistent. When this particular debate took place the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, adduced six primary reasons for homelessness with which I agree, but had he included a special reference to homeless youngsters, he would have felt obliged to include a seventh. It is a phenomenal fact about homelessness among young people that whereas married couples would not choose it and very old people would not desire it, voluntary vagabondage is an ever-increasing aspect of the youth life of the great cities. This is quite alarming, unmistakable and needs as quickly as possible to be abated. The fact is that there are many youngsters who voluntarily opt out of a society which, as has been already said in this House to-day, is seen to be fundamentally unfair, the kind of society in which they find no resting place and are not satisfied merely with a roof over their heads or a bed to sleep in, but, as my Question suggests, need a place to live—and living is so much more comprehensive than just finding a shelter.
§ I would give your Lordships one particular illustration of this increasing prob- 996 lem. I have had the opportunity of consulting a number of probation officers, particularly in Stoke-on-Trent. They gave me this piece of advice: unless we can provide a better way of occupying educationally the last year of many youngsters' educational process, it is in that last year that the youngsters will find it increasingly irksome, unproductive and a dead end, and be encouraged to opt out. It is an astonishing fact—perhaps not so astonishing; it is a recognisable fact that as they come to the end product of their educational process they are brought face to face with a kind of world in which they have no point of contact, no permanent sense of belonging. It is one of the operational factors in opting out in this voluntary vagabondage.
§ But there is an even more serious and, I think, much more enduring and fundamental question. Many youngsters are homeless because there is no sufficient purpose within the framework of the society to which they are exposed which would encourage them to take an active and contributive part in it. If the Government will find out more about the actual facts—and they will know; and the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, will quickly recognise that I have been giving evidence mainly from London—I am sure that they will immediately feel the need to be much more precise in what they hope to do in paragraph 47 of the White Paper, which indicates that there are questions of morality and of personal and moral and ethical and other conditions which determine or at least condition vagabondage among young people and homelessness in general.
§ if they find these facts to be as I have at least claimed to suggest them or to put them to your Lordships, they will be in profound need of a greater attempt to create in the society in which we live a sense of belonging, a sense of community; and perhaps the best way of creating that sense of community (apart from great political, economic and social changes) will be in the provision of this kind of hostel life for those who are within these great cities and in these places partly because they have no abiding place in which to live, partly because they are disgruntled, partly because they cannot find a job and partly because they are miscreants and rascals—for it would be stupid to avoid and to 997 ignore that fact. If there is any real, permanent attempt to deal with them, let it begin with a wholesale and much more comprehensive attempt to provide hostels. I offer as a final word the help of the voluntary organisations of which I have some knowledge, and I believe that one of the most healthy things for the Christian Church to-day would be for it to involve itself, among all the other things which very properly it undertakes in the name of its faith, in the reclamation of homeless youth.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ LORD AMULREE
My Lords, I should like to add my support to the Question put down by the noble Lord, Lord Soper, which we are now discussing. I do not want to follow him in an attempt to give figures for the total number of people homeless in London. For the reasons that he gave, they are extremely difficult to obtain; but such inquiries as I have been able to make confirm the figures that the noble Lord has given us and therefore I do not propose to go into them any more. The people I am interested in from the point of view of this debate are those who may be married but who have come up to London from the country to find a job. It may be that they have succeeded in doing so but that they want somewhere to live while they are working and before the family can come and join them. The increase in homelessness as a result of that situation is one of the sad things that has occurred during the time I have been interested in this particular work. I knew very well the Rowton House which was at Mount Pleasant by the Post Office. People could get a room there for four shillings a night. There were quite a number of young working people there when I knew it. That has now become a hotel which charges, I think, £4.65 a week. I do not lay any blame on the authorities for that. Perhaps they could not run it economically at the price they were charging when it was a hostel. But one becomes a bit suspicious when one finds the same thing occurring at the Elephant and Castle where there used to be a similar Rowton House. That has been replaced by an hotel. Then we remember the big one at Hammersmith, called Butterwick House, which had 750 beds and which 998 is demolished or is in the process of being demolished; and the only substitute which could be found was provided by a voluntary body which could not manage to supply more than 100 beds.
In the same way, the number of common lodging houses is decreasing, following in the wake of the developer. That situation will be made even more serious when the development in Southwark, round about Hay's Wharf, takes place. At present there is quite a lot of cheap rented accommodation in that area, and that will go. The only common lodging houses of which I have real knowledge are in the Borough of Camden. One is Bruce House, with accommodation for 700 men, which is run by the City of Westminster, and there is a corresponding one called Parker House for 345 men, run by the Borough of Camden. Quite a number of people live there permanently. Living in them is very rough and uncomfortable, but they are among the few places that still exist, and that is why I want to end what I have to say by asking a question. It may be considered rather a foolish one. Before the war there were about 300 reception centres in this country which I think were run originally under the Poor Law. I am not going to say that there was anything good about them. They were uncomfortable and rough and ready, but they gave people a roof over their heads if they needed one. They provided beds and a meal and I think also a bath, but I am not quite sure about that. They were, I think, rightly changed, or pulled down. Until recently people said, "Never mind, we have a big reception centre at Camberwell with about 800 beds"—I think that is the number of beds, and it does a good job. But what is the value of a reception centre at Camberwell if someone is in Chertsey, on a cold wet November night? He would not be able to get to the reception centre. Places like that must be provided on a much bigger scale, and this is the question I am going to put: if something was provided before and was a comparatively all-embracing organisation, if not a very satisfactory one, is it right to destroy it and not replace it with something?
I should like to encourage the Government to follow up what the noble Lord, 999 Lord Soper, said. Cannot we get some kind of increase in the hostel accommodation for these people, provided either by the central Government or with a good deal of encouragement from the local authorities, so that we do not have people having to live rough? Some people want to live rough, but some do not and are forced to do so. It seems to me a terrible thing that a certain number of young men and women should be forced to live in this way because there is nowhere for them to go where they could afford to pay. I am not talking about the alcoholics or the drug takers. And so I should like to associate myself with the Question put down by the noble Lord, Lord Soper.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ THE LORD BISHOP OF SOUTHWARK
My Lords I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Soper, has raised this question because the longer I stay in London the more aware I become of its urgency. In order that we may get away from statistics and from the bones of the problem, let us try to put some flesh on it. If you will allow me, my Lords, I will quote one case—I could quote dozens. What do we mean by the homeless young? This is the case of Henry and Mary who came to London from Edinburgh. Obviously I have changed their names Henry is 20 and Mary is 18. Henry had been looking for a job for half a year but had been unsuccessful and thought he would have better luck in London. Mary decided to go with him, much to the indignation of her parents. When the couple left Edinburgh they did not know where they were going to live. They thought that they would find a room in London but they did not. A social worker who happened to meet them found them temporary accommodation; but it could only be temporary, and within three or four days they were on the road again. Henry had no luck finding a job and one day he disappeared, leaving Mary to fend for herself. Mary was desperate, and the only way she could survive was by going on the streets. She was frightened and she had no money. In despair she turned to a priest. He persuaded her parents in Scotland to welcome her back to Edinburgh. She is back there, but what happened to Henry 1000 I just do not know. My Lords, this case history helps us to understand what is meant by the term "homeless young."
I have given your Lordships just one case history. Those who are in a position to advise me say that probably there are no fewer than 7,000. Who are these homeless young? There are the young who come from deprived areas, areas of unemployment. and who seek work in London. There are young boys and girls who have broken with their families and drifted away. I know there must be those present who are parents and grandparents and who know about this problem involving teenagers. No matter what their education or upbringing may have been, or whether they come from what we like to call respectable homes, they belong to a generation that has rebelled against home. They want to go and discover things for themselves, so they leave home and they come to London Then you have the unsupported mothers, girls who, as it is said, have "got themselves into trouble" and feel that they must get away from home and the people who know them. There are the young drug addicts and drop-outs, and there are what one might call the adventurers who are drawn to London. They are like moths around a candle, and almost invariably they get burnt. Those are the case histories and the people who help to make up the case histories.
What are the Government doing? I think that the Government do quite a lot for some categories of the homeless young, chiefly for those who have been in some sort of trouble or who are in need; those who have been before the courts; those who have been certified as being in special need of care or support. It seems to me—this is probably what lies behind what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Soper—that little is being done for the thousands of young people who have never been before the courts and about whom there is nothing particularly odd. They lead quite normal lives but they simply cannot find a place in which to live. These are the people who constitute not only a problem but also a potential risk.
What is the root of the trouble, my Lords? As I see it, and as the noble Lord, Lord Soper, has already indicated, the decrease in hostels or rented 1001 accommodation in the last two years has been quite dramatic. To quote from the journal Residential Care, it saysIt used to be fairly easy to find a vacancy in a hostel run by a voluntary body. Now because of their own rising costs they have increased their prices and only boys in care and on probation have sufficient financial backing from their local authorities to afford them. Instances of price increases from £5 to £20 a week are not uncommon.Here are some ether figures which speak for themselves. In 1948, 61 per cent. of persons lived in accommodation rented from private landlords: to-day only 18 per cent. do. There are three reasons for this. First, the former small private landlord, letting a room or two in his house, is disappearing. Secondly, the present market price for housing affects not only the individual family but the voluntary bodies who might provide hostel or flat accommodaton for single or young people. Thirdly, there is the mortgage situation. There is of course the additional reason that many local authorities now forbid tenants in council houses to let rooms.
I do not want any of your Lordships to think from what I have said that I am not appreciative of what is being done by many voluntary bodies. It would be ungracious not to mention this point. There is the Young Women's Christian Association. In 1972, the Y.W.C.A. in London interviewed 2,220 young applicants for accommodation. This is merely one body of dozens. Hundreds of the applicants were under the age of 25, and hundreds were only 15. Supposing they had been our own daughters, aged 15, with nowhere to live. Centrepoint (not the Centre Point that is known to some people, but another one) began as an experiment in Soho, in 1969, in a disused basement, by an Anglican priest. It provides emergency accommodation, completely free, every night of the year. I wonder if your Lordships could guess how many have been there since it opened in 1969 until the end of last year. I was asked that question, and I thought 500 or 600. No, my Lords: 15,000. Every night there are 15 or 20 young people there at Centrepoint. Surely that gives an illustration of the need which exists. The largest single group at Centrepoint are the 18-year olds, and 80 per cent. of them are single. I am proud to say from these Benches 1002 that Centrepoint has been financially aided by the Church of England. But so have the other Churches made their contributions, and I could give a long list. Surely it should not be dependent upon private charities to cope with this very large problem.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, is deeply sympathetic, and I am sure he will do everything in his power to cope with this problem; I am well aware that he needs no persuasion, that he understands and sympathises. Nevertheless, in conclusion, I would ask him these questions. What is to happen to the numbers of these young people who are leading normal lives, working, sonic married and some single, who simply cannot find a place in which to live and who therefore constitute a potential "at risk" group. Perhaps it can be said that the concept of a property-owning democracy has been a considerable benefit, and I know the importance which this Government attach to it. But I am sure the noble Lord will realise that there are many young married couples who simply do not earn enough to get the capital to obtain a mortgage, or to rent whatever accommodation may be going. Secondly, what is to happen to the development of land. The South Bank has been mentioned, and of course it comes within my diocese. I am deeply aware of the needs of the people between Blackfriars and Bermondsey. What is to happen there? What lead will the Government give to see that the priority there is the housing of people who need, which includes accommodation for these young people who come to this city?
I would also ask the noble Lord what is to happen to the unoccupied buildings. I know that things have been said about certain of these large buildings which remain unoccupied. Sometimes it may be thought that some of us who live in London are rather harsh and severe upon people like Mr. Hyams. But if your Lordships were to come with me as I go occasionally on midnight visits along the riverside in my diocese, as I did the other night, you would see the police hurrying on people who are seeking refuge in some warm or in some tumbledown building, or in some old bombed out place. Please do not think this is a criticism of the police force, for which I have the greatest regard, but I went 1003 the other night in a collar and tie, and I said that this was my diocese, I was the Bishop and I wanted to see what actually happened to some of these young people who were sleeping rough out on the riverside and in disused and battered buildings. The police got in their car and hurried away and refused to allow me to be with them; they were afraid. I think, of what I might have seen. But I saw too much. I saw them hurrying these youngsters on between midnight and three o'clock in the morning. I have seen all this. I am prepared to take any of your Lordships with me on an anonymous tour of South London at night to see for yourselves what happens. I put this question to your Lordships: if these were your own youngsters, would your Lordships sleep comfortably in your beds at night?
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate on any subject, and particularly on this one where he feels so strongly and is so well informed to speak. I must begin by apologising to the Minister, in particular, and to the House for having to rush away after my speech—although the debate has started a good deal later than was supposed. I only venture to say a few words because I am connected with this problem, as the noble Lord, Lord Soper, was kind enough to indicate, and I wish to say something in support of the noble Lord and other speakers. The noble Lord, Lord Soper, has put the main points so clearly and effectively that there is little more in general terms that needs to be added, though there is a great deal more to be done. I should like to say a few words front the angle of the New Horizon Youth Centre, which I and others started about four years ago. I do not want to compare our efforts with those of Centre Point, to whom all credit. We do not provide accommodation in that way; we try to help young people with their problems.
One of the problems is a shortage of accommodation. We do all we can to help them obtain accommodation; we also have a small hostel of our own. In the past year we have helped about 2,000 young people. We now employ about 13 social workers all, roughly speaking, the same age as the young people we are 1004 trying to help. That is a rather unusual feature of our efforts. Take the 2,000 we tried to help last year; without saying they are all homeless, they are remarkably short of tolerable housing. We take spot checks of one kind or another quite often. In the last case we asked about 25 young people about their accommodation. Only three out of the 25 had accommodation which they expected to last over six weeks—one in a flat and two in a hostel. There were 15 who had some accommodation and seven who had none. The 15 who had some accommodation were accommodated as follows: five in a hostel, which was not expected to be able to accommodate them for long; two in a "crash pad" (someone putting them up for the moment); and eight in a communal "squat" in empty premises. There were seven who had no accommodation at all. Out of the 25 only three were accommodated in any ordinary sense. Without saying that all our young people are homeless, they are near that point in most cases.
If you look into the problems of these young people, as the noble Lord, Lord Soper, said, and as other speakers are well aware, the problem goes much wider and deeper than homelessness. Only 15 per cent. of our young people were born in the Greater London area; nearly 40 per cent. come from Scotland, mainly the Glasgow conurbation. Obviously their whole position in life, their way of life, their homelessness, is primarily due to the circumstances prevailing in those areas from which they have come to London. It may be that some people will say, "Why do they come to London?" If the conditions were ideal a lot would stay in their home towns. But things being as they are it does not seem to me that one should criticise them for coming to London. In a large number of cases they will be the most enterprising ones, the ones who do not want to stay and vegetate or rot and want to try and make something of their lives.
The noble Lord, Lord Soper, touched on the special problems of those who have been in penal or mental institutions, or troubles of that sort. With great respect to the right reverend Prelate he was perhaps a little too kind to the Government in that connection. He implied that where people had been in mental homes, prisons or borstals, the Govern- 1005 ment did something positive. I have not found that to be altogether true. A lot of those people are the people who need help most because their temperament does not fit them very well for the struggle of life, and they are not getting the help from the Government, local authorities or anybody else in a large number of cases. Here we have the problem and we are all well aware of the way it must present itself to anybody who has a heart, as other speakers have shown, or anybody who tries to work it out in economic terms.
There is no doubt that the problem is getting worse for reasons which have been clearly explained. The young person may feel very often it is not just a question of the absence of physical accommodation, but there is no accommodation at the price he can pay. That is certainly a striking feature of the scene. Behind that there is a positive shortage of accommodation. The question that concerns us to-night and agitates the Minister, who is full of concern in these matters, is what can reasonably be done about it? How much can be done by the Government? How much can be done by the voluntary associations? How much can be done by the local authorities? I do not want to try to redistribute the functions or the burden beyond what has been said already by the noble Lord, Lord Soper. We in the voluntary bodies recognise that we ought to be doing more; we should like more help. Whether we get more help or not we certainly ought to be doing more. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, is taking over some function—at the moment mysterious—in this field. There is nobody who will exercise more influence in whatever quarter is most appropriate than the noble Lord. We know his benevolence; let us hope his efforts bear fruit.
Whatever we may say about individuals, there is a heartbreaking problem and the question is: What can be done? Are hostels to be provided by Government, local authorities or voluntary bodies, or voluntary bodies assisted by local authorities or the Government? What sort of hostels should they be? Here one must be careful because a lot of hostels are provided by excellent people, some high-minded bodies, and young people will not look at them twice. This is not entirely the fault of those 1006 who provide the accommodation. Some young people are undoubtedly difficult to please. We must explain the reasons for this. They have been through shattering experiences and are under great strain in many cases. In many cases they have temperaments where special help is necessary. So it is not sufficient for people to say, "There are hostels; they do not seem to be using them". We have to find hostels that will be used and that are acceptable to the young.
I do not want to dogmatise too much. We are running a hostel and we have already changed our plans more than once even in the short time we have been running it. One has to keep experimenting: one will never reach a perfect answer. We want to produce hostels which the young feel enhance their dignity instead of, as they sometimes feel to-day, diminish it. We have to give young people the opportunity to expand their personalities—they often have very shaky personalities—rather than impose on them conditions where they feel restricted. We have to provide the opportunity for communal life in a way that enhances the individual dignity of the young. Those are general words which anybody close to the problem knows. In a sense that defines the criteria that have to be satisfied. Some hostels will be short-term stay, some medium-stay and some long-stay. One must look beyond that one must not assume most of these young people want to stay or ought to be expected to stay in one hostel indefinitely. Where do they go after that? The whole question of bed-sitters, possibly with some kind of help from local authorities or voluntary bodies, must be looked into.
These are issues which I am mentioning because they are so much alive in the minds of those working among these young people. The central point is the one made by all the preceding speakers: here are conditions under which young people are living, conditions which are unworthy of this country and which represent a desperate situation. It would be deplorable if we said that it was up to the Government to deal with it. That is not how I see the situation. It is up to all of us to do something—the voluntary bodies, the individuals who support the voluntary bodies; it is up to the local authorities. The final responsibility for homelessness in this country 1007 rests fairly and squarely on those who have at the time the honour and the obligation to be Hex Majesty's Government. So while we all have our responsibilities, their responsibility is the clearest of all, and I feel sure that the noble Lord will wish to give effect to it.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ BARONESS MASHAM OF ILTON
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Soper, for asking this vital Question. It is a matter that should at least concern every Christian. There is no doubt in my mind that some young people coming from the Provinces still think that London's pavements are lined with gold. Young people coming from Scotland are just as naÏve about such cities as Bradford. These people, seeking their fortune or fleeing from parental argument, are at so much risk; and loneliness can be one of the most overwhelming problems.
As I was driving up the A.1 on a very wet evening I saw a young man standing forlornly waiting for a lift. I picked him up, soaked to the skin. His only possessions were the clothes he stood up in. He told me that he had come down from Scotland with a mate, looking for work. He had lived rough and become separated from his companion. Even though he had found employment he had not found anywhere to live. "I am heading back North, otherwise I shall be in trouble", he told me. So many young people do not heed the amber light but forge ahead through the red lights. We know too well what can follow.
There is a desperate need for more reasonable hostel accommodation. Young people in care or on probation are at an advantage in getting hostel accommodation, and it seems a great pity that all young people in need of accommodation cannot have the chance of getting themselves successfully established. This was much better said by the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Southwark, but I thought it was worth stressing again. Do the Government not think that more hostels, subsidised by central or local government, would be a worth while long-term proposition? The greatest inadequacy seems to be in the age group of 16 to 22.
1008 Over the years I have known many completely homeless borstal boys who have had to try to face up to society after living a protected institutional life. Unless these inadequate victims of society have the support they need they will be dragged into the twilight existence of the underworld. One night, after attending a cinema in the heart of Leeds, out of the shadows of the station there came a young man I had known in borstal as a homeless lad. He seemed pleased to see me, but he pushed back into the darkness behind him his companion—but not before I had seen him. He was much older, and a sinister looking man. It was not long before this young person was back in borstal, having been involved with drugs.
I congratulate NACRO on making many people aware of the existing needs in this field. Such a group as Patchwork has materialised. This is a community of young people who find empty houses which are awaiting demolition and use them for homeless young people of all types and of both sexes, and even for children. Project Spark is another group giving homeless boys a place to live and work in Leeds, renovating a house and then moving on.
Finally, there is one small and specialised group I should like to mention to-night. These are homeless young people who have been drifting about, living a sort of "hippy" existence in pads, cut off from all home contacts. They have had serious injuries and by breaking their necks have become tetraplegics. They are paralysed from the neck down. There are other similarly afflicted people who are homeless for different reasons. There is only one hostel in Britain catering for tetraplegics, and this cannot cope with the young people who are involved in drugs. They are having to remain in hospital, blocking the beds for other urgent cases of the acutely ill. Hospital is not a place for young people to live in who could live elsewhere if there was a place for them, and economically it does not make sense.
The most difficult problems always seem to be left to the last. In a recent letter I received from the Department of Health and Social Security, in answer to correspondence I had over the death of a young handicapped girl, I was told 1009Nationally there is a very acute shortage of residential accommodation for the young multiple handicapped. There is no easy or quick answer to this lack of residential accommodation, but we are very conscious of the problem and more accommodation is gradually becoming available.When I receive notes, as I do sometimes, from young homeless people in unsuitable institutions, sayingIf you don't get me out of here I'll dieI cannot help realising that more places must be made available, not only catering for the physical needs but also to satisfy the intellect of young people who still have a life to lead. The numbers of these homeless young tetraplegics are small, but the need for a home with specialised care is great. For them, time does not stand still.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ LORD RHODES
My Lords, forty homeless boys come out of Hindley borstal institution every year. An attempt has been made in the North-West to cope with that type of person. The North-West Trust was set up and it has a hostel in Ashton under Lyne, one in Denton and another in Preston. Selcare was set up for a rather different reason but Selcare has hostels in Chadderton, Gadsworth, and Bolton. I find that this work takes a very serious toll of people who are associated with it. The hostel at Heathfields is manned by Franciscan monks. The average number of boys going back into borstal after a fortnight at large was five out of seven, but in the last two years the figures have been reversed—five out of seven have stayed out. One cannot measure that in terms of money. A cheque from the Home Office for an odd thousand pounds is a fleabite to what people have accomplished in just the salvation of an odd few persons. I do not think there is any doubt but that there is enough good will and enough caring in places like the North-West to furnish and establish small hostels of this description, provided that at the crucial time in each case—and I am associated with both endeavours—the Home Office will say, "Yes", and, when asked to reply by return, that they will give assistance.
The Home Office has been very understanding. It is in a difficult situation because so many of the "do-gooders" in some way or another think that their 1010 organisation should not be tainted by the Establishment but that they should work out their own little salvations in their own way. But in my opinion, somehow or other these organisations have got to acquire a sense of stability by being associated with the Establishment. That is why Selcare is now such a powerful force, with Judge Greer, as the chairman, and two of the top ranking probation officers as its principal officers. I know that in many cases we could get many more volunteers if we could be just a little more certain about the initial start. All I ask is, that when we appeal from the North-West, the Home Office will say, "Yes" straight away.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
My Lords, we have had a fairly full afternoon and I suppose there would be some excuse if we began to think we had had enough of it. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, in the very powerful speech he made, brought home to us one fact that we shall take away with us: that whereas we are going to a comfortable home and a warm bed, those of whom we speak will be in distress. Therefore, those who have taken part in this debate are under no obligation to feel that the time of the House has been unduly prolonged.
The problem of homelessness presses on our consciences and we are indeed most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Soper, for giving us this opportunity for further examination. As recently as March 21 we spent a little over two hours discussing the rehousing of homeless families, and there was general agreement that the problem, as the Minister then said, is not getting better but worse. He stated that it is a most intractable problem. That could not have been stated more clearly, neither could the issue have been put in a more challenging way. We must not delude ourselves that because certain moves are made in certain directions and certain good work is taking place in certain quarters, we are beginning to approach the end of this problem, because the Minister said that it is not getting better but it is getting worse. If there is any feeling in any quarter that we can look at this problem with any feeling of complacency, then we are not only justified in debating the issue again but we 1011 shall be justified in raising it again and again until we can begin to see the end of the road.
The Question before the House tonight asks Her Majesty's Government
whether they are satisfied with what is being done to provide somewhere to live for the homeless young.
And the answer inevitably will be: "No, but we are making starts in this and that direction." My Lords, this question of accommodation for the homeless young is but another aspect of homelessness. It is mainly a London problem, but not—as indeed the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, made clear—confined to the capital city. The debate we have had on this Unstarred Question has been an extremely useful one in that everybody who has spoken so far has deliberately involved himself or herself in consideration of the problem and in trying to help to find the answer.
§ There was a debate in the other place on March 2, initiated by my honourable friend Mr. Michael Meacher, the Member for Oldham, West. Indeed, there have been a series of discussions, so this debate is but an episode in a continuing review. I thought that my honourable friend Mr. Meacher on that occasion asked a number of very pertinent questions. The noble Lord, Lord Soper, said that in the last debate we had on homelessness we did not give all the statistical background. The fact of the matter is that nobody knows the size of the problem. Most of it is guesswork. We are indeed grateful to the noble Lord for using the figure of 11,000, but it would be foolish to imagine that nationwide that was the limit of the problem. In the discussion in the other place last year a much higher figure was used for the country as a whole, nor, I believe, was it seriously challenged. On that occasion Mr. Meacher asked a number of very pertinent questions, some of which were answered by the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, and those I shall not seek to repeat; but it may be that one or two of the others might, with advantage, be put this evening.
§ My noble friend Lord Soper has dealt with the problem in his own inimitable way. There is no need for me or anybody else to cross the t's and dot the i's in 1012 regard to what he had to say. I would say only that we are most appreciative of his interest, helpfulness and advocacy concerning this matter, as well as the practical supportive help that he gives in directions which we all know.
During the past week, we have received the White Paper entitled Widening the Choice: The Next Steps in Housing. Paragraph 48 tells us what this debate is all about. It states:
Single persons, as well as families, are victims of homelessness and shortages of suitable accommodation.
That is undoubtedly due in large measure to the fact that office blocks and commercial properties are far more profitable investments than houses and hostels. The paragraph continues:
The Housing Finance Act has not sufficiently increased the financial support available to those local authorities and voluntary organisations who stand ready to provide hostels and similar accommodation for many classes of single person, particularly young and migrant workers and those with low or intermittent earnings.
§ I ask the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, whether when he replies to-night he can give us any specific information as to the progress made in response to the Circular issued to local authorities last September, suggesting ways in which support and rehabilitation might be provided for adults with personality disorders who constitute a sizeable proportion of those about whom we are talking? It is not until we have some statistical information in regard to matters like this that we can begin to be able to say we are really at a point where we can anticipate a breakthrough. To what extent can the noble Lord say that local authorities are providing whatever housing is needed, including lodging houses and hostels, as they are empowered to do under the Housing Act of 1967? I do not want to re-cover the ground that was covered in the other place when this matter was debated there, but the noble Lord will be aware of the attention that was drawn to what happened at Hammersmith when, I think it was Butterwick House could no longer be used and where the local authority made provision for something like only 20 per cent. of the accommodation that Butterwick House had provided.
§ It would be extremely interesting, and not only interesting because it is urgent 1013 and important. that we should know that local authorities are facing up in a realistic way in the sense of planning and getting on with the job commensurate with the size of the problem. I should like to ask whether the discussions between the Secretary of State for Social Services, the Minister for Housing and Construction, the London Boroughs' Association and the G.L.C. reached any conclusions. If it is helpful may I say that I refer to what is set out at column 1954, House of Commons OFFICIAL REPORT, for March 2. Again that kind of information would indicate whether we can expect a real approach to a breakthrough.
As to the need to deal with this problem, that is admitted in general terms in the next sentence of paragraph 48. It says:
More and better accommodation of this kind is badly needed to deal with increasing homelessness among single people.
§ We are then told that we may expect early legislation to give additional help to organisations which provide accommodation for these of our people. I doubt that the Minister can give us overmuch information. I doubt that it would be fair to expect him to give us too much. But it would be helpful if he could give us some indication as to when we may anticipate that that legislation will be coming before Parliament.
§ So much of what we say is concerned with finding an answer to an existing and admittedly growing problem, so may I briefly touch on the preventive aspect of the problem. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, and indeed the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, said, a part of the problem arises because London is seen by many people as the Mecca for employment opportunities. This is against a background of regional unemployment, and, what I think is often equally responsible, very restricted employment opportunities. The position would clearly be eased if the regional employment situation could be dynamically improved, not only in the sense of the number of jobs available but the range of opportunities. In the meantime, I think perhaps more publicity could be given, in these areas of unemployment, advising young persons that the streets of London are not paved with gold and that finding somewhere to live is both 1014 difficult and very expensive. Many of these young people, as my noble friend Lord Longford said, are young people possessed of drive and initiative, but they are unaware of the accommodation problems that exist in London, unaware of the fact that they are not only great but growing as the commercial replacement of housing areas extends almost week by week.
§ I am informed that part of the problem in dealing with young people is that some of them, as has been indicated by one or two other speakers, are at loggerheads with their parents or with their local authority children's department. They come to London, and they tend to drift into sleeping rough and getting into bad company, and all that too easily gets worse. Again, all too quickly and all too easily, they fall into a "dossing" way of life and it is very difficult to get them out of it. Because they are liable, if they are found out, to be sent back to whence they came, they seek to avoid recognition. It has been put to me by some people who are intimately involved in this problem that there ought to be a look at this aspect to see whether some flexibility might be helpful, not too rigid an adherence to existing procedures, because this unwillingness of these young people to be sent back home or sent back whence they came makes it very difficult to establish contacts that could ensure for them supportive help.
May I touch on the matter of student accommodation. The very fact that students compete for the very limited accommodation available in the private sector exacerbates the situation of those who need somewhere to live. It is bad enough that the Department of the Environment has now told local authorities, as I understand, that both single persons and married couples without children under the age of thirty are excluded from eligibility for rent allowances. This leaves them to face rents of a very high order. If I have been incorrectly informed, I shall be very pleased if the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, will put the matter right because in col. 461 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of our debate on February 26, when we were dealing with the Rent Allowances Bill. I hope I get him correctly when I read that he said:
We shall take good note of the Committee's advice and of any views which are expressed in Parliament. But subject to such views, the groups of people we have in mind to prescribe in the regulations are"—
and he included
single tenants and couples with no dependent children or pensioners living with them".
It is important that we should have a correct understanding of the position, and perhaps we can be told, if the information I have been given is correct, why it is the decision has been made.
§ Additional to the fact that students coming to London, and indeed going to other cities with universities, increase very considerably the competition with other people seeking accommodation, they tend to help force up the price of the available accommodation. The consequence is that the level of rents for furnished accommodation, which can be seen in the columns of the Press almost any evening of the week, ranges from £20 to £50 per week. That is supposed to be on the basis of anything from four to six persons sharing. Students can get together in that kind of way, but the very fact that they can, and that they are probably the best organised group of people looking for accommodation, does not help the problem of homelessness for other people. But I would say this on that matter, that the standards of accommodation that students are often asked to accept, and in fact do accept, are too low in terms of study facilities, poor lighting, low sanitation facilities, all too frequently.
§ I spent some little time discussing this problem of the homeless with John Randall, who is the President elect of the National Union of Students. May I say that I have been tremendously impressed by the attitude of the National Union of Students in this matter of homeless families. As they see it, they regard student housing as being a part of the overall housing problem. They are very concerned at the lack of accommodation available. I think something like 50 per cent. of students are in halls of residence or hostels of one kind or another. But that leaves 50 per cent. to fend for themselves. The National Union of Students, in the document I have before me, make it clear that they are not satisfied at the prospects that lie ahead, 1016 that they cannot see enough accommodation being made available for the students who will be going to universities and polytechnics.
§ May I say that the standard of accommodation provided under the umbrella of the Department of Education and Science is much lower for the polytechnics than for the universities, much lower indeed. As I understand it, the Department of Education and Science are responsible for student housing. I wonder whether the time has not come when we ought to be taking the same view as the students—that this is part of the overall housing problem. I should like to ask the Minister whether the liaison between the Department of Housing and Construction, the Department of the Environment and the Department of Education and Science is anything like as close as it may be, because at what point does accommodation of students become an educational matter as distinct from a housing matter?
§ It may be that in reply the Minister can give us some of the statistics the noble Lord, Lord Soper requested. But I think I am right in saying that at Government level there has been no survey since that undertaken in 1965. That is why we are so woefully ignorant as to the full size of the problem. I can only say that in regard to the facilities that are available in hostels of one kind and another—that is to say, those provided by the public and the private sector—insufficient publicity is available to acquaint the homeless of points of contact where they can get understanding and sympathetic supportive help.
§ The noble Lord, Lord Amulree, referred to the reduction in the number of establishments that have been run by local authorities. In 1948 I think the figure was something like 250 reception centres in Britain. Now I think there are only 17 or 18 and it would seem that statutory bodies have shown more than a tendency to withdraw from this work because the work itself is very untidy, often extremely demanding and the customer, as the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has said, is often ungrateful and even violent. Those considerations increase the urgency of the need in approaching this problem. And I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Sand- 1017 ford, has the sympathy of the whole House in the extent to which he shares responsibility for meeting these problems.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE, DEPARTMENT OF THE ENVIRONMENT (LORD SANDFORD)
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Soper, for introducing this debate and I must say how much I admire and envy his grasp of the subject and his fluency. The debate certainly does complement that introduced by my noble friend, Lord Hylton, less than a month ago. We are grateful, too, to the noble Lord for his statistics and for the figures that other noble Lords introduced, but I have to say that, with the knowledge available even to central Government, it is not possible to make any very accurate assessment of the size of the problem. The young are mixed up with their elders in most of the surveys and studies that have been taken of the problem of the homeless single people. I do not think there is any doubt at all, though, that we are talking about a problem which is increasing rather than decreasing. One piece of evidence which I believe would prove that is the statistics provided to me by the National Association of Voluntary Hostels. The number of placements that they have made into hostels of people coming to them or being referred to them has gone up by 20 per cent., comparing 1972 with 1971, so in that respect there is a firm set of statistics to confirm what many noble Lords have said.
However, a new survey of hostels and lodging houses was undertaken last December by the Office of Populacion Censuses and Surveys on behalf of the Supplementary Benefits Commission, and this document, when the results are available in some months' time, will give much fuller information on the size of the problem. There are one or two facts which I will refer to when I come to them and which have already been obtained from the survey. But, my Lords, I think it is true to say that more important than the arithmetic and the statistics here is the nature of the problem. It is more important that we should get a clear idea of that than be excited about figures, because it is only by being clear about the multiple nature of the problem that 1018 we shall be able to respond to it. It is quite clear from this debate, if it was not clear already, that we are not dealing with a single problem of the homeless young but with a number of problems which call for a variety of responses, and we need to see that we are capable of making all the responses that are required.
On one level there is the problem of the lack of enough suitable places in which young people who are away from home can live at a price that they can manage. This is particularly the problem in London where the shortage is great and the price levels are high. Traditionally many young people who are away from home have found accommodation as lodgers in private homes or in hostels; but that source is drying up, and one of the facts which has emerged from the survey to which I have referred is that the supply of such accommodation in hostels and lodging houses has reduced by 17 per cent. as compared with the figure in 1965. So we are facing an increased demand by young people and others for this sort of accommodation and a reduction in the amount available.
That is one of the most straightforward problems. It is not simple or easy, but it is straightforward. What is more complicated is the correct analysis of the whole complex of problems in the homelessness of the single young person; and here again I can draw on a table provided for me by the National Association of Voluntary Hostels which, at the risk of taking a little time, I should like to lay before your Lordships because it does help to illustrate how multiple the problem is and roughly what the balance is. Among the people referred by this Association for placement, a total of 8,400 in 1972 of which more than a third were young people, we have the following figures: Alcoholics 334, drug addicts 118, mentally disturbed 1,600, epileptic 133, physically handicapped 577, probationers 473, under supervision orders 58, suspended sentences 14, after-care 166, on remand 776, from detention centres or borstals 91, ex-prisoners 438, unsupported mothers 546, children in care 772. Finally, homeless with no other apparent disorder—the group to which the noble Lord, Lord Soper, particularly referred—2,292, the largest single group and much the largest increase as compared with the previous year.
1019 All those figures added together show an increase of 20 per cent. compared with the year before. Some of this of course is a reflection of the efficiency and the extent to which the service is being used by social work departments, but some is undoubtedly due to a real increase in need. But whereas the overall increase is one of 20 per cent., the increase in the last figure is 50 per cent. That is significant and bears out what the noble Lord, Lord Soper, was saying. There, my Lords, we see, I think, a fairly accurate analysis of the multiple and complex nature which goes to make up the problem of homeless single persons. I am sure your Lordships would agree that it would be wrong, even in this debate, to over-emphasise the scale of these problems or to distort our priority as set out in the recent White Paper. Indeed this White Paper acknowledges the need to do more for the single, including the young. That I will come to in a moment.
There is a danger in a debate on this subject that we should be tempted to go too far because of the particular personal knowledge we have. Certainly a number of local authorities and voluntary bodies make the point, and I would suggest rightly, that the homeless young do not always come high on their list of priorities. One obvious reason is that the young have youth and resilience on their side whereas the physically handicapped and the elderly do not. What is encouraging, despite that, is the extent to which these housing authorities now recognise this particular problem, together with other special problems, as part of their overall responsibilities and the fact that they are taking special steps to meet it.
I should now like to turn to the varying kinds of response. Local authorities bear the main responsibility both for assessing the housing needs of their areas—and meeting them to the extent that they judge right from the public sector—and for providing temporary accommodation for those in urgent need, without a roof over their heads. The two functions are at present exercised separately by housing and social services authorities respectively, and thus outside the London boroughs and the new metropolitan districts at different levels. Joint working parties, set up by the Secre- 1020 tary of State for Social Services with central and local government representatives, have been considering the reports on homelessness in London by Professor Greve, and in the South-West by Mr. Glastonbury. We referred to these in our earlier debate. They propose organisational changes aimed at overcoming the disadvantages of the division of responsibilities.
While I want to give your Lordships an overall impression of the present response, I do not want to take up the time of the House in trying to make it absolutely exhaustive. For instance, if I may I shall write to the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, about the problem of student accommodation because that is a big subject and there is a lot to be said. Apart from the noble Lord's own remarks, I do not think the subject entered into this debate, and if I went into it it would take up a good deal of time. But dealing with some of the topics which have been covered by those noble Lords who have spoken, there are the standard schemes operated by the Department of Employment to help people seeking to move away from home; the training allowance scheme and the employment transfer scheme. For those young people leaving hospital there are already arrangements through the social work organisation, to make sure that discharged patients have somewhere to live. Difficulties are more likely to arise with older people than with the young, but the Secretary of State for Social Services encourages hospitals and local authoriities to see that their arrangements are adequate for the accommodation and after-care of all patients on discharge.
I turn to another group. The Criminal Justice Act 1972 gave added powers to probation and after-care committees to establish hostels and similar accommodation for the rehabitation of offenders, and this will be particularly important for young offenders who are homeless. A Home Office Working Party, with representatives from the Probation and Aftercare Service and other outside interests concerned, is expected to report shortly on ways in which these powers can be developed. Here I ought to mention a phenomenon which is causing a little anxiety; namely, that in exercising their powers under the Children and Young 1021 Persons Act local authorities are placing young people in accommodation and paying for it. This is tending to supplant those people who would like to be in that accommodation, who have not been in trouble with the law and have committed no offences, but who do not have the same financial backing as the local authority which is sponsoring the other clients. Here is a dilemma to which we must address ourselves. Some other young people are in need of care and support because of personality disorders. Another circular, issued last year, suggested to local authorities that they should consider what need existed in their area, and should develop appropriate schemes of rehabilitation.
Some young people misuse drugs and there are special clinics—25 altogether in England; 14 in London—for treatment, but there is a great need for bodies to provide accommodation for people in this plight. Reception centres provide short-term accommodation and support for people who are homeless, destitute and unsettled, but, although they have previously catered mainly for the older age groups, there is now a reception centre in Soho, which opened last year, to cater for a large number of young people in that area. It is clear, from what I have said, how much the implementing of the policies of central Government and the supplementing of the work of local authorities owes to the voluntary bodies. I have reason to know this from personal experience because before I was in the Government I was Chairman of the Church Army, so I know how much that organisation was able to do in collaboration with voluntary bodies and with the Home Office. There are many others in a similar position. A recent publication by the Methodist Youth Department called Community Concern, deals with community involvement. I could mention many other instances.
I should now like to turn to the new initiatives by central Government, represented by the White Paper to which several noble Lords have referred, and to the lead which we are now seeking to give by means of the fresh policies set out there. Perhaps I may mention the role of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, in this matter: Paragraph 40 of the White Paper reads:As a first step, a single new Chairman for both the Housing Corporation and the 1022 National Building Agency is being appointed"—and it then goes on to say what he will do. The noble Lord, Lord Goodman, has been appointed so I hope that that ends the mystery As I said in the debate on March 21, there are hopeful prospects for achieving a general balance between the supply and demand for housing accommodation in several parts of the country in the foreseeable future, but until that is done there is bound to be somebody who is homeless. In 1969 a Central Housing Advisory Committee Report drew the attention of authorities to the housing needs of single people and, more recently, the joint Government and local authority Working Party on homelessness in London recommended that local authorities should provide adequate housing for single people. So this subject has very recently been put before them.
However, priorities remain a necessity in any housing programme, and there are housing authorities which, rightly, will have to give priority to people such as the elderly. But it will become increasingly possible for more and more authorities to begin to think beyond the needs of families and the old, to smaller special groups such as single young people and students who, I agree, are a problem not only for the Department of Education and Science but also for the local housing authority as well. Another way in which local authorities can help, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark said, is by allowing lodgers in council houses which will otherwise be under-occupied. There have been many recommendations that local authorities should allow such lodgers and this is now becoming a much more common practice. I am sure that those authorities who are not doing this should follow suit. But we agree with my noble friend Lady Masham that new hostels are required.
I come now to the major new proposal of the Government, which is designed to help single people who need accommodation in hostels. Here we are faced with a reduction in supply and an increase in demand, so it is urgent that we should get on with solving this problem. The noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, rightly drew attention to paragraph 48 of the White Paper. We have in mind a single simple, 1023 flexible scheme through which a local authority or voluntary organisation can be given help towards deficits on capital account and exceptionally on current account. The details of the scheme, the methods of calculation and its operating mechanics remain to be worked out, because we think they should be worked out with those whom we want to provide accommodation with the help of this grant, and with the benefit of their views. We intend to do this in consultation with local authorities, voluntary organisations, churches and local authorities and any others who may wish to help. I shall be glad to receive any suggestions for the scheme which noble Lords who have taken part in this debate may wish to put to me on their own account or on behalf of bodies with which they are associated.
§ LORD SOPER
My Lords, would the noble Lord tell us whether the kind of help is likely to be confined to contributions towards the deficits arising from schemes for new building? This raises a very important question for those who have not the capital sums with which to initiate them.
§ LORD SANDFORD
I have noted the point which the noble Lord made and that is the kind of point that can be discussed. I am also anxious that we should not fail through ignorance to consult organisations which have a constructive contribution to make but which we may have overlooked, so any response to this invitation which your Lordships can make will be welcomed.
I hope that your Lordships will welcome this new initiative by the Government. In the Housing Finance Act we extended financial help to and concentrated it on those in unfurnished accommodation. This help has recently been extended, through the new Furnished Lettings (Rent Allowances) Act, to qualified tenants, normally those over 30, because we think married people with dependants ought to take precedence, in furnished accommodation. Now, for the first time, in addition we shall be able to help single people of all ages in hostel types of dwellings. There is a wide range of such people who lie between those sufficiently well off to afford the full costs of accommodation and those at the other 1024 end of the scale who cannot do so and who need full-time care in hospitals and similar places.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
My Lords, is that help going to be limited to hostel accommodation? A single person appears to be omitted from the consideration that is going to be given to other groups of persons for housing.
§ LORD SANDFORD
Perhaps I did not make myself clear. I mentioned that we had confined the operation of the Furnished Letting (Rent Allowances) Act broadly speaking to people over the age of 30 as far as furnished letting was concerned.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
My Lords, do I understand that it is a direction that has gone out from the Department?
§ LORD SANDFORD
Yes, but what I am referring to now is the additional help we shall be able to give to single people in hostel types of dwellings under the operation of the grant which is introduced by paragraph 48 of the White Paper. At this moment we are not thinking of confining that to any particular group but rather of using this grant to provide a wide range, a complete network of hostels meeting all of the multiple needs to which I have referred. But of course there will be priorities in each part of the country.
As I have said, there is a wide range of people, some of whom can afford the accommodation which is not available to them and others who cannot. There are others who need a great deal of social support. With that variety, I am sure that your Lordships will agree that it is not easy to devise a method of help, both financially flexible and responsive yet avoiding administrative complexity. Now, however we believe that we can tackle this and we intend to start quickly, so that we shall have a scheme ready to put into effect as soon as this is legislatively possible. I cannot say any more about the timing of the legislation. The initial reaction to such a scheme seems to be that if it can be worked to provide the range of hostel accommodation re-required it will prove very valuable, even to the extent that it provides more places for young people whose need is basically for accommodation.
1025 It will help in two ways, first by providing that accommodation and secondly by helping to prevent many young people from becoming problems of a more complex kind. There will remain groups whose need goes beyond a roof over their head; I have mentioned those categories and they call for a range of support in the widest sense to match their needs. In that field particularly on one can be satisfied yet. Undoubtedly there is a need for more effective and constructive relationships between the Departments of central Government and between the 1026 local authorities of different levels, both county and district, between statutory and voluntary bodies and above all across the urban centres such as London and the new metropolitan councils. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Soper, and all of the noble Lords who have taken part in this debate for the stimulus and guidance which they have given to us to get on with this particular task.
§ House adjourned at six minutes past nine o'clock.