Lilian Greenwood – 2018 Speech on Rough Sleeping in Nottingham

Below is the text of the speech made by Lilian Greenwood, the Labour MP for Nottingham South, in the House of Commons on 2 July 2018.

May I begin by sending my best wishes to the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs Wheeler), and her husband? I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams), is supporting her at present, and I am sure that he will share the information from this debate with her when she returns.

According to homelessness charity St Mungo’s, the average age of death for a man who dies while homeless is 47; for a woman it is just 43. Rough sleeping is the most dangerous form of homelessness. It can be lonely, frightening and violent. For some, it is quite literally a death sentence. Holly Dagnall, Nottingham Community Housing Association’s director of homes and wellbeing, describes homelessness as a human emergency and who could disagree?

Until 2015, the snapshot figure of people sleeping rough in Nottingham was almost never in double figures, but the latest official estimate, in November last year, was of 43 rough sleepers. Six months on, that figure has not fallen. Nottingham is not an exception; the city ranks 56th of all local authorities for the rate of rough sleeping. Official figures recording a 169% rise in rough sleeping in England since 2010 will surprise no one. We have all seen the evidence of the growing crisis with our own eyes on the streets of Westminster and in many of our constituencies every night.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP) The hon. Lady is absolutely right that we have homelessness across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Does she agree that perhaps it is time for a dual strategy that addresses not only homelessness, but the issue of helping people to get employment? We have to give them vision, we have to give them hope and we have to give them a future. The Government need to look at both things together.

Lilian Greenwood The hon. Gentleman is quite right that this is about providing people with not just a home, but the means by which they can sustain themselves in a home.

The reasons for the increased numbers are far from a mystery. Crisis cites the impact of welfare reform, rising rents and the housing crisis. People become homeless and sleep rough for many reasons, but the single biggest cause of statutory homelessness is now the end of an assured shorthold tenancy. The cost of private rented accommodation has risen three times faster than earnings in England since 2010, and real earnings are still lagging behind 2008 levels a decade on.​

Although I firmly believe that the Government bear a great deal of responsibility for the rise in homelessness and fear that their target of halving rough sleeping over the course of the Parliament and eliminating it altogether by 2027 lacks the urgency that the situation demands, I do very much welcome the Homelessness Reduction Act 2018 and the Government’s decision to develop the national rough sleeping strategy. My reason for seeking tonight’s debate is to address the content of that strategy.

Concern about rising levels of rough sleeping in Nottingham was one of the drivers behind a new investigation commissioned jointly by Framework Housing Association and Opportunity Nottingham, the Big Lottery-funded programme supporting people with multiple needs. “No Way Out: A Study of Persistent Rough Sleeping in Nottingham” was produced by Dr Graham Bowpitt from Nottingham Trent University and Karan Kaur from Opportunity Nottingham, with help from Nottingham’s street outreach team.

The study sought to discover how far the recent increase in rough sleeping might have arisen

“not just from more people coming on to the streets, but also from people remaining there longer or repeatedly”.

It sought to identify

“the characteristics that distinguish persistent rough sleepers from the wider street homeless population, and any common features in their circumstances that might help to explain persistence.”

In the remainder of my speech, I will focus on the study’s key findings before commenting on wider issues in Nottingham and at a national level.

For the purposes of the report, and therefore this debate, the definition of persistent rough sleeper is

“someone who was recorded sleeping rough on at least 10% of nights between 1st April 2016 and 31st March 2017, i.e. 36 nights (the ‘sustained’), or who has been seen sleeping rough in at least three out of the six years between 2012 and 2017 (the ‘recurrent’).”

The report says:

“There were 72 persistent rough sleepers who met the above definition…7 who were both sustained and recurrent, 33 who were sustained and 32 who were recurrent. Of these…10 were women…and 62 men…58 were recorded as of White British ethnicity…most of the others being White (Other)…13 were recorded as having a disability (18%).”

According to the report, Opportunity Nottingham’s beneficiaries are recruited to the programme because they are assessed as having

“at least three of the four prescribed complex needs: homelessness, substance misuse, mental ill-health and offending.”

Of the 72 persistent rough sleepers, 67—that is 93%—had problems with substance misuse. Some 49 were offenders or at risk of offending, and more than half had mental health problems.

Mr Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op) I commend my hon. Friend for securing the debate, and Opportunity Nottingham and NTU for producing the report. My hon. Friend mentioned that over half of those persistent rough sleepers had a mental health issue. Is it not hardly startling that there is a correlation with the reduction in the number of overnight mental health beds—not just nationwide, but specifically in Nottinghamshire? We have lost 176 mental health overnight beds since 2010, and that is one of the core drivers putting people back on to the streets.​

Lilian Greenwood My hon. Friend is quite right to highlight the way in which cuts to our health service and other services are having an impact on the prevalence of rough sleeping.

Of the 38 Opportunity Nottingham beneficiaries, 32% had spent at least two weeks in prison since engaging with Opportunity Nottingham, 42% had experienced at least one eviction from accommodation, 42% had been excluded from a service because of unacceptable behaviour, and 24% reported begging as a source of income. In each case, those proportions are much higher than among the whole beneficiary cohort.

The study also identified common themes in the narratives provided by the street outreach team and Opportunity Nottingham personal development co-ordinators in relation to those persistently sleeping rough, stating:

“rough sleepers…and those who work with them are encountering a diminishing range of options when seeking to leave the streets, arising from cuts in public funding and adverse changes in the housing market. Hostels have closed, Housing Benefit availability is more restricted, affordable tenancies are more limited in terms of quantity and quality, and the supply of tenancy support has all but dried up.”

Alex Norris (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op) I congratulate my hon. Friend on the powerful case that she is making on behalf of our city. I served on the council in our city at a time when we virtually eradicated rough sleeping, and now we are back to where we are today. Does my hon. Friend agree that this situation has been caused by a toxic combination of under-employment, poor housing supply, cuts to drug and alcohol services, inadequate mental health services and other eminently tackleable issues?

Lilian Greenwood My hon. Friend is absolutely right. These issues were preventable and they are preventable. The last Labour Government did a great deal to tackle rough sleeping and it is very disappointing that we find ourselves where we are today.

Financial issues obviously loom large in the lives of many rough sleepers. This was found to be particularly true of migrants with no recourse to public funds, but many local rough sleepers also encountered restricted access to welfare benefits. The system can simply be too hard to negotiate, resulting in a preference for begging. Of course, that is an unreliable source of income, and it puts accommodation at risk, which is particularly relevant to the recurrent group.

The high proportion of persistent rough sleepers who have been in prison find that a lack of support on discharge frequently precipitates a return to a previous chaotic lifestyle. The operation of homelessness legislation itself can act as a barrier in some cases. For instance, rough sleepers fleeing from another locality, perhaps because of domestic violence, can be interpreted as having no local connection to Nottingham, while others vacating accommodation because of intimidation may be viewed as having become intentionally homeless.

The level of complex need generates particular problems, with many specialist facilities having been lost, as we have heard. As a result, many rough sleepers carry the baggage of past evictions and negative risk assessments, leaving them barred from many facilities and making them harder to accommodate. They often miss out on mental health or other assessments that might otherwise have opened up access to specialised support.​

Ambivalent relationships with hostel accommodation are frequently mentioned, with stories of evictions for rent arrears or inappropriate behaviour, perhaps because of a lack of support. There are also stories of intimidation or financial exploitation by other residents, resulting in many refusing offers out of fear or trying to avoid being lured into a lifestyle they wish to escape. Personal relationships may have a toxic effect on the lives of persistent rough sleepers. Women, in particular, can be trapped in exploitative and abusive relationships that impede solutions to their housing problems.

When those factors are combined, it can often create disillusionment with what is perceived as a hostile system, making the option to live on the streets attractive. Experiences of repeated failure, the sense of there being no alternative, and the effect of growing numbers of rough sleepers in generating a mutually supporting community create an inertia in engaging rough sleepers to pursue better options.

While this was a limited study of rough sleeping in one locality, I hope that it will prompt the Minister to consider initiatives that are worthy of further research and experimentation. The report recognises how an ambivalent relationship with hostels can leave rough sleepers stranded, calling on the city council and other social housing providers to adopt schemes such as Housing First that bypass hostels and accommodate rough sleepers straight from the streets with appropriate support. Housing First is being piloted in Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool—places with a devolution deal. What resources exist to develop Housing First as part of the solution in areas with high levels of persistent rough sleeping where there is not a directly elected mayor?

The complexities of human relationships should be acknowledged when drawing up personalised housing plans. For example, requirements such as a local connection and intentionality rules should not be applied too harshly to people who have a genuine need to escape a damaging relationship. Couples in a valued relationship should be able to be accommodated together.

As has been said, mental health problems have been shown to feature prominently among Nottingham’s homeless population. The Care Act 2014 was introduced to make social care assessments more readily available, but there is evidence to suggest that homeless people struggle to access this provision. Some councils have taken the view that rough sleepers with poor mental health or alcohol and substance-related problems have no entitlement to a needs assessment under the Care Act because, it is said, their need for care or support is caused by “other circumstantial factors” such as homelessness or rough sleeping rather than an underlying health condition. Can the Minister confirm that that interpretation of the Act, which has the effect of excluding rough sleepers from an entitlement that exists for the rest of the population, is incorrect? Will the Government issue guidance to clarify that people sleeping rough are entitled to a needs assessment under the Care Act on the same basis as everyone else? Does the Minister agree that when an individual who appears to have support or care needs presents to a local authority for assistance under the Homelessness Reduction Act, a referral should be made to the appropriate authority for a care needs ​assessment, with the outcome of that assessment taken into account when developing any personalised housing plan?

The correlation between persistent rough sleeping and recent spells in prison reflects a failure in offender rehabilitation. That was supposed to have been remedied by the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014, but there is evidence that despite the passing of this Act, short-term prisoners are still being discharged to no fixed abode. What measures will the Government take to ensure its more effective implementation?

I first started applying for my Adjournment debate on this subject many weeks ago but, as so often happens in this place, the timing of today’s debate has proved incredibly fortuitous, because earlier today St Mungo’s launched a new report here in Parliament entitled “On my own two feet”. That peer research, which I am sure the Minister is aware of, examines why some people return to rough sleeping after time off the streets. It identifies a range of factors that can push people away from housing or services, and also pull factors that can draw people back on to the streets. When push and pull factors work together, they can lead someone to choose to return to rough sleeping or to see no alternative when a crisis comes along. The research also considered how holes in someone’s personal safety net can put them at greater risk. I hope the Government will look carefully at the recommendations in the St Mungo’s report before publishing their rough sleeping strategy next month.

I do not have time to talk at length about the excellent work being undertaken in Nottingham to tackle homelessness over decades. Since 2010, the Framework street outreach team has been identifying rough sleepers and linking them into assessment, support and accommodation. In 2016, Nottingham was successful in bidding for the Government’s £40 million homelessness prevention programme, and it used that to extend the reach of the outreach team across the rest of the county for two years.

Nottingham City Council and Framework have continued to resource and implement a “No second night out” policy after Government funding ended. Since 2016 the city council has committed more than £240,000 in additional funding to enhance its winter measures and ensure sufficient provision to meet the council’s pledge that no one needs to sleep rough in Nottingham. Their co-ordinated approach has formed part of the sound basis for their bid for the new £30 million rough sleeping fund announced by the Department in March 2018 for enhanced year-round support. I hope that the Minister can clarify whether the £30 million announced can only fund emergency measures, or if it can be used to support long-term resettlement for persistent rough sleepers. Is the fund a one-off measure to produce a short-term temporary outcome, or will there be further allocations for future years?

In the 2016 Budget, the Chancellor announced £100 million of capital funding to assist with the cost of developing Housing First and move-on units for people who have been sleeping rough. Some £50 million of that was allocated to the London Mayor, who now has the programme up and running. The other £50 million was for the rest of the country, where rough sleeping has risen more quickly than in the capital. When will it be ​possible for providers outside London to bid for some of the remaining £50 million, and what is the process for them to do so?

Alongside the city council and housing associations, including Framework and NCHA, there are many voluntary organisations and faith groups that make a huge contribution to supporting fellow citizens in Nottingham via food banks, day centres, night shelters and many other support services. We would not be without them. For some rough sleepers, particularly those with few options, they are a lifeline. What advice does the Minister have for local authorities dealing with long-term rough sleepers who have no recourse to public funds? What accommodation and support options are available to them, and how can they be funded?

Homelessness is a human emergency, but ending it is not an impossible task. The Government say they have a target to reduce rough sleeping by half by 2022, and to eliminate it entirely by 2027. If they are not to fail, Ministers must ensure that their strategy addresses the needs of all rough sleepers, including those who are hardest to identify, reach, support and sustain.