Robert Jenrick – 2020 Statement on Rough Sleeping

Below is the text of the statement made by Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, in the House of Commons on 27 February 2020.

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to update the House on the latest rough sleeping annual statistics for 2019, published today, and the Government’s new approach.

I think we can all agree that it is a moral shame that we see so many people sleeping rough on our streets. We are determined to end the blight of rough sleeping and have placed this great social ill at the heart of the moral mission of the Government. Today’s figures are encouraging. They show that for a second year in a row the number of people sleeping rough has fallen. Across England, the numbers have fallen by 9%, building on last year’s reduction which was the first fall in eight years. Areas funded by the Government’s rough sleeping initiative saw a 12% decrease. Manchester is down 26%; Camden down 54%; Birmingham down 43%; and Enfield down 69%. Cornwall is down 55%; Hastings down 56%; the City of London is down 39%; Swale down 69%; Bedford down 41%; and Tameside is down by 86%. London saw a decrease of 11%. That is the first decrease in the number of rough sleepers in London for six years and the largest decrease since 2010. That, as colleagues who represent London constituencies will know, comes despite the very considerable and specific challenges faced in the capital, including, as the figures show, the fact that 42% of those sleeping rough in the city, and quite possibly more than that, are non-UK nationals.

Those figures confirm what I have seen since I became Housing Secretary in the summer: dedicated and targeted support, backed by significant levels of Government support, is getting vulnerable people off the streets and into safe accommodation where they can begin to turn their lives around. The Government’s strategy is working. I would like to pay tribute to the hard work of charities, service providers, local authorities and many, many volunteers backed by Government funding across the country, who are working tirelessly to give rough sleepers the support they need to help them off the streets, and to begin the long and complex process of turning their lives around. That does not mean our work ends here. We are perhaps coming up out of the valley, but we are very far from the mountain top.

This Conservative Government have made it an overriding priority to end rough sleeping by the end of this Parliament. There is a great deal more to do and we must be honest with ourselves about the scale of the challenge and tackle it head-on with renewed vigour. That is why I am pleased that the Prime Minister and I are today announcing that Dame Louise Casey will lead a review of rough sleeping. This work will consider the links between 24-hour street activity and rough sleeping, particularly physical and mental health issues, and provide advice to me and to the Prime Minister on how we can best use the levers of central and local government to support this group and continue to reduce rough sleeping across the country. I know that Dame Louise’s vast experience, rigour and candour, and the fact that she has worked across party for many years, mean that she is the right person to look at what is needed and help to get the job done. I want to support ​Dame Louise to move at a pace commensurate with the seriousness and urgency of the action we must take now.

Meanwhile, we will continue to build on our successful rough sleeping strategy, guided by the best evidence, intervening rapidly where people are sleeping on the streets, and supporting people’s recovery to ensure that they never have to sleep rough again. Putting this ambition into practice, the Government have today announced £236 million of new money for move-on accommodation, safely supporting up to an additional 6,000 rough sleepers, and those at immediate risk of rough sleeping, off the streets into the safe and secure accommodation they deserve, with support wrapped around them. This is on top of the £437 million that the Government have provided to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping in the next financial year, including more than £112 million to fund services through the rough sleeping initiative. This funding will be used by councils to provide up to 6,000 beds and 2,500 support staff over the next year, so the number of beds will be increasing very rapidly.

We recognise that there are particular challenges in responding to the increase in European economic area national rough sleepers, and hon. Members may recall that as part of the cold weather fund, the Government took the unprecedented decision to extend limited powers to the most affected local authorities to support certain EEA nationals sleeping rough for a limited period. That approach has been successful, with over 400 EEA nationals accommodated in November and December last year, and many of them supported into work or to return home. The Government have today taken the decision to continue some of those services until 31 December 2020, when the transition period ends and the new immigration system will be in place. I will work closely with the Home Secretary on how we address those challenges at the end of the transition period.

While prevention, outreach and emergency support are of course vital, we need secure, sustainable accommodation to end rough sleeping for good, and increasing the provision of affordable housing is fundamental to making that happen. This Government have delivered nearly half a million new, affordable homes. We have also abolished the council borrowing cap, so that local authorities are able to build up to 10,000 more social homes a year, and many are doing that.

We cannot and will not let that momentum slip. That is why we have already committed to 250,000 new affordable homes by March 2022 through the affordable homes programme, backed by £9 billion. We are increasing the supply of social housing and we will ensure that rough sleepers, and those at risk of rough sleeping, are provided with homes that are available long term and are appropriate to their needs. We simply must build more homes as a country and I will be doing all I can to ensure that that happens.

However, boosting housing supply is just one of many long-term measures that we must take to properly and permanently address homelessness and rough sleeping. We have to redouble our efforts to tackle the underlying problems that have led many people to fall into a life on the streets. Last year, four in 10 of the rough sleeping population in London were suffering from a severe drug dependency and the same proportion were suffering from alcohol dependency. Half of all rough sleepers ​were assessed as having a mental health support need, and, shockingly, data from 2017 indicates that eight in 10 rough sleepers who have died in London suffered from severe mental health conditions. We cannot allow this injustice to continue. We are stepping up our work to provide specialist help and support for those suffering from mental ill health, and that is backed by £30 million of additional funding from NHS England.

On top of that, we are working to implement test models of community-based provision across six projects that are designed to enable access to health and support services for people who are sleeping rough with both mental ill health and substance dependency needs. Rough sleeping is as much a health challenge as a housing one and our work will reflect that. We also need a concerted effort to bring the different support services together—from outreach to housing, health, policing and immigration—so that we can effectively tackle the multiple issues that lead to individuals finding themselves homeless.

We are acutely aware of the scale of the challenge before us. Ending rough sleeping within this Parliament is one of the most ambitious targets set by any Government since the publication of the Beveridge report and the creation of the welfare state. We accept this challenge as a moral mission and obligation that we cannot pass up. Many of the underlying causes of rough sleeping that I have spoken about are deep-rooted, built up over successive generations and successive Governments. I hope that Members across the House will support us in this collective endeavour and help us, as a country, to achieve this simple but profoundly important objective: to bring rough sleeping to an end once and for all.