David Burrowes backs Homelessness Reduction Bill Second Reading

27th January 2017
David Burrowes is a lead supporter of the Homeless Reduction Bill and welcomes cross-party support for the Bill which places a clear duty on local councils to prevent homelessness. 
 

It is a great pleasure to follow a whole litany of speeches rightly paying heartfelt tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman). I congratulate him and all those who have been involved in this Bill. I am glad that it is a cross-party effort, and also that there has been collaboration across the sectors that he has had to navigate and deal with over the past weeks. I am proud that a Conservative Member of Parliament has led the way on this. It is right that that should be the case. I was pleased to encourage him down this path when he was picking a subject. Everyone, including the Government, wanted to encourage him to take an easier route—a hand-out Bill. That would have involved less effort but would not have addressed a burning injustice—a phrase rightly used by the Prime Minister. Homelessness is a burning injustice, and it is right that my hon. Friend chose it. It was a great pleasure on this occasion, and probably the last occasion, to be a “Whip” on a Bill. [Interruption.] Who knows? We live in interesting and surprising times.

There is a long track record of Conservatives tackling homelessness, not least one of my predecessors from a part of Enfield; there were boundary changes then and we may or may not have boundary changes to come. In 1967, 50 years ago, Iain Macleod helped to found the homeless charity Crisis, to which we pay particular tribute for its great work in supporting this Bill. It is right to pay homage to him for that. Like others, I pay tribute to the other homelessness charities that have been supporting us along the way, particularly Shelter, St Mungo’s, and Centrepoint.

Iain Macleod fought for the first piece of legislation to protect homeless families. It is right and fitting that, 40 years on from the last substantive piece of homelessness legislation, Members across the House acknowledge that this is a good Bill. It will make prevention a statutory and core duty for all councils, which will make a significant difference. Homeless households will no longer have to put up with the current situation. There is some good practice on preventing homelessness, but that will now become the norm across the country.

My council in Enfield will no longer be able to wait for a bailiff eviction notice before it has to help vulnerable people threatened with homelessness. A constituent of mine fled domestic violence and needed help to move to alternative, private sector accommodation that would not be known to her attacker. She and those like her will no longer have to put up with the response she received from the housing officer when she made the call for help. They said, “What do you expect us to do?” She and others like her now know that, under this Bill, there in an expectation and a clear duty of prevention with regard to vulnerable people.

The Bill will also help—this is a particularly challenging case, but I look forward to it being delivered on—an elderly 72-year-old in my constituency who as we speak is in unsafe and unsuitable temporary accommodation. Basically it is a bedsit. The bed is propped up by chunks of wood and cold air comes through big gaps in the windows. There is very little furniture. There is an office chair. He and his wife have serious health needs, but they have been placed in unsuitable accommodation. He told my office manager recently, “My life isn’t worth living because I’ve been sent to a hellhole.” A lot more needs to be done, but I hope that the Bill will help to address the issue of inspections and the private sector, which, sadly, is increasingly a cause of homelessness, so that that does not happen again to that 72-year-old and others like him.

As has been said, the Bill will not end homelessness. There are structural issues, but those are for another day. We need to debate the issues of welfare reform and the local housing allowance; matching housing costs and benefits; the supply of affordable and supported housing; and the forthcoming White Paper. I look forward to the Bill being part of making progress on a cross-Government homelessness strategy.

I welcome the progress that has been made in London and the Mayor’s announcement of a record-breaking £3.15 billion deal for affordable housing, supporting 2,000 places for adults with complex needs. We have spoken about reviews and assessments, but the litmus test for the Bill will be its success in addressing the complex needs of those individuals who visit our constituency surgeries because they are always in and out of the system. The Bill will break that cycle of crisis management. It is about early prevention to help those complex individuals into sustainable housing.

In conclusion, in 1967, Iain Macleod spoke at a candlelit vigil in Hyde Park to raise awareness of homelessness. Sadly, his words continue to resonate 50 years on:

“This is an appeal to help those who no longer have any dignity and self-respect…What we do expect is that you will acknowledge that they are fellow human beings, and that they have nothing left to look forward to…We call upon the talents, ideas and enthusiasm of people from all different prejudices and beliefs in a constructive attempt to tackle this growing urban problem.”

The Bill is a constructive attempt to follow in that spirit of continued and sustained collaboration, with the aim of finishing the race—on a cross-party, cross-Government and, indeed, cross-housing sector basis—to end homelessness.

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Earlier in the same debate

 

Enfield, like Newham, contains some of the poorest people in the country with the greatest housing need, and obviously we want the Bill to be implemented, but good councils throughout the country are already embarking on the prevention measures specified in the Bill under the current funding settlement, and will welcome the provision of more money to enable them to continue those measures.

I think the best thing to say is that there is a mixed economy among local authorities. Some do very well—some have to do very well because of the pressures on them—and others do less well. Part of the Bill’s purpose is to bring them all up to the same standard. However, the hon. Gentleman’s point cuts both ways. If it is true that Camden Council, for example, is already preventing 80% of those who present themselves from becoming homeless, the savings that are likely to be made—most of which, I understand, will result from an increase in prevention work, which will avoid the need to find alternative accommodation or fund the costs of homelessness in other ways—will be less. The Government rather piously hope that after two years there will be no need for funding, but I do not think anyone believes that, including the Government.

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We also know that the Government are wholeheartedly committed to fulfilling the responsibilities outlined in the Bill, including the financial responsibility to provide funding of £48 million. If, beyond the current spending round, additional finances were needed in order to fulfil the duties in the Bill, having taken account of savings, does my hon. Friend agree that that wholehearted commitment should continue and that we would expect the money to be available for that?

I think the whole House would expect the Government to recognise that there will be extra cost pressures on local authorities and, given the commitment that they have made, to continue to fund these measures in the years to come.

One of the problems with new clause 1 is that it proposes a review after a fixed period of time, and then that would be it. That is not an acceptable way forward. I want the Government to keep this matter continually under review, and I am sure that the Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee and the rest of its members, who are joint sponsors of the Bill, will ensure that the Minister—or whoever is the Minister at the time—continues to have their feet held to the fire.

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One of the concerns expressed on Second Reading and in Committee, not least by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), relates to councils that seek to ignore statutory guidance and that will recognise someone as homeless only when a bailiff’s notice is served. Shelter has expressed continuing concerns about that issue in respect of clause 1. Can the Minister reassure us that the guidance and prevention duties will mean that councils cannot simply hide and wait for a bailiff’s notice before acting on these vulnerable households at risk of homelessness?

I can give my hon. Friend that reassurance. Furthermore, given how the legislation will now work, it will be in the local authority’s interest to work more quickly with people at risk of becoming homeless. As we discussed many times in Committee, the legislation will very much drive a culture change, so that people are helped far further upstream than they have been to date. We are particularly keen to end some councils’ practice of saying to people, “Just wait for the bailiffs to arrive and then we’ll try to help you.” We want people to be helped far earlier. We do not want them to face a court appearance and a county court judgment; that will not help them to secure accommodation later.

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