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Mike speaks on Homelessness Reduction Bill

Earlier today (28 October 2016) Mike spoke on the Homelessness Reduction Bill moved by Bob Blackman MP (Conservative, Harrow East) and highlighted its shortcomings. A full transcript of Mike's contribution can be read below.

Mike Gapes MP (Labour, Ilford South): Last night, I attended an event organised by TELCO, the citizens’ organisation for east London. It is working to establish a community land trust. The event was hosted by the Salvation Army, which, in a few weeks’ time, will open a night shelter in my constituency. It does that every winter. Two thirds of the people who stay in that night shelter will not in any way be affected by this Bill because they have no recourse to public funds. There are many thousands of people on the streets of London who are sleeping rough and who, because they do not have EU treaty rights or for other reasons, have no recourse to public funds. That homelessness problem will continue regardless of what this Bill does.

Intervention by Lyn Brown MP (Labour, West Ham): Is it not true that if we are to deal with street homelessness, which many people think we are talking about when we are discussing homelessness, it will require a lot more money to deal with the very complex needs that those people have? 

Yes, I am coming on to that matter.

Mr Burrowes made an unfair attack on his local authority. He said that the staff were not doing their job properly. He implied that people not getting services was somehow the fault of the council and its staff. I was concerned when I read in the report of the Association of Housing Advice Services, which brings together people from local authorities all over London, that it has calculated that the extension of homelessness prevention duties to single, non-vulnerable people will lead to an additional estimated cost for all 32 London boroughs of £101,641,728. Frankly, £40 million from the Government is peanuts compared with the additional costs for London alone. In an intervention on the promoter of the Bill, I pointed out that my council, Redbridge, has said that the Bill will cost it £5 million. Redbridge is suffering a major homelessness problem. In my borough of 278,000 people, 64% of householders own their own home, only 11% live in social housing, and 25% rent privately. Systematically over the past three years, large numbers of private tenants have been evicted from their homes in Redbridge because of benefits changes and landlords pushing people out so that they can get higher rents. Every day, I am contacted by people in hotels in Bath Road, Hounslow who have been placed there by my local authority because it cannot find any accommodation in Redbridge. A few months ago, my council outbid Kent County Council for ex-Army accommodation in Canterbury. That got national publicity. It happened because people cannot be moved out of the hostels in Redbridge—they are blocked because there is nowhere else to go. We face an ongoing crisis.

This Bill, unfortunately, is a classic piece of wishful thinking. It is gesture politics of the worst kind in that it wills the ends but does not provide the means. It is about feeling good about voting for something that sounds good, having been pressed to do so by pressure groups and campaigns. The Bill should not be called the Homelessness Reduction Bill but the “Homelessness Recognition Bill”. It will not provide any additional social housing or good-quality private rented accommodation in my constituency. It will not provide any extra money for my local authority to offset the additional £5 million that it estimates will be necessary owing to the bureaucratic and staff requirements that will result from it.

I could go on at length, and I am tempted to do so after the attitude of the promoter of the Bill, who seemed to say, “Take it or leave it, and don’t amend it.” The Bill needs to be looked at very closely because it has implications in a whole range of areas leading to costs and processing issues. I will concentrate on just one or two of them. The proposal to change the definition of “homelessness” does not give us any extra temporary accommodation. We cannot deal with these problems simply by shuffling things around so that women with children are unable to get accommodation in the borough because somebody who is single and homeless has had it instead. That means, potentially, more people going out of borough. There are issues and implications to do with legal judgments about the definition of what local authorities can do when they send people out of borough. We have a major crisis in housing in London generally, and certainly in east London, and this Bill does not deal with that.

The Bill contains an entirely new duty to provide people with accommodation for a maximum period of 56 days if they have nowhere safe to stay. That is supposedly going to solve the problem, but it does not—it simply shuffles the criteria around. We have in the Bill various—

Intervention by Bob Blackman MP (Conservative, Harrow East): I am very tempted to allow the hon. Gentleman to continue, but I think he is looking at the original draft Bill rather than the Bill presented today. The 56 days’ emergency accommodation provision was removed at the request of the CLG Committee because of the resource requirements and because London authorities, in particular, said that it would be unworkable and cost far too much money. I trust that he will understand that it has been removed, and that probably removes his principal objection to the Bill.

Mike Gapes MP (Labour, Ilford South): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I look forward to seeing the final version of the Bill after it has come out of Committee. I accept that he has made some late changes to the Bill, mainly because the CLG Committee came up with the proposals referred to by my hon. Friend Mr Betts. My principal objection to the Bill concerns the obligations and requirements on cost, which will be considerable on my borough and many other boroughs in London.

The Bill has considerable resource implications. Redbridge Council has calculated that there will be between £3.2 million and £4.3 million in additional accommodation costs, and extra staffing costs of £673,000. That is just for one borough. My local authority has faced £70 million in central Government cuts over three years. At a time when we are cutting services, restructuring and reorganising, and down to the bare bones, this is potentially a significant additional burden. Moreover, councils all over the country face an autumn statement that is potentially going to be not very friendly towards them.

There is, of course, an argument that we should just pass the Bill today and hope for the best. I look forward to, and will listen with great interest to, what the Minister says when he winds up. He needs to reassure me—not just me, but Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat and ratepayer councillors all over the country—that these measures are going to be fully funded, and not just for one year, or two years, or some transitional period. He needs specifically to take account of the needs of London, where there is a massive homelessness crisis. The alcohol services, mental health services and provisions for dealing with rough sleepers who have no recourse to public funds must also be looked at, because the failure to deal with those issues properly is a blight on our society. This Bill does not address that, and that is why I am raising my concerns today.

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