Housing Minister Grant Shapps responds to an article in the Guardian about homelessness.
When a family is made homeless or someone has no choice but to spend a night sleeping on the street, they become some of the most vulnerable people in our society. I am shocked and saddened when I see people bedding down for the night on our nation’s streets, or hear of a family spending another night in temporary bed and breakfast accommodation.
Tackling homelessness and rough sleeping is what first got me into politics and as soon as I became Housing Minister I made clear this Government’s commitment by protecting in its entirety the £400million to be spent tackling it over the next four years.
I found today’s Guardian painted a rather alarmist picture of the forthcoming Crisis report. Homelessness remains at historically low levels. But it is perfectly true to say that there are pressures on the system, because the dreadful state of the economy that we inherited is feeding through into already stretched household budgets as people cope with the effects of unemployment and cutbacks at work. That is why it is so important that we are getting on with creating the conditions for growth and with cutting the huge public deficit.
To do this, we must rein in the spending that has got utterly out of control, which includes a housing benefit bill that has jumped by 50 per cent in the past five years. But I don’t believe anyone need go without a home as a result of these reforms, and we are providing councils with an extra £190million to allow them to smooth the transition to the new benefit levels for those most affected; protecting those in the most vulnerable situations and preventing increased homelessness.
Homelessness is not just a problem of scale, it is also a problem of complexity - no two people lose their home for the same reason. In June this year the cross-ministerial group that I set up to address the underlying causes that lead to people losing their homes, delivered its first report and made key commitments to help some of the most vulnerable in our society into stable accommodation. Top of the list was a pledge that for the first time no one should ever need to experience a second night sleeping rough. An historic commitment that sadly newspapers, including the Guardian, could barely bother to report.
This groundbreaking work also highlighted how the most successful action to tackle homelessness is rooted in local communities - local authorities working together with local community groups, charities and businesses. And how we can only tackle homelessness and rough sleeping effectively if we are transparent about the scale of the problem. Incidentally, one of my first priorities as Housing Minister was to introduce a more accurate assessment of rough sleeping levels. I knew that this would lead to an apparent sharp rise in the numbers sleeping rough but how could anyone take seriously the previous system that claimed just 464 rough sleepers. To truly tackle the problem we first needed to properly measure rough sleeping and that’s what we did by making the count more comprehensive.
The debt-fuelled trebling of house prices in the 10 years from 1997 has locked too many out of owning their own home. I want to see a period of house price stability so that more homes become affordable, and for that to happen we need to get Britain building again. That’s why I’ve announced plans to release thousands of acres of public land for housebuilding, and have committed £4.5billion towards an Affordable Homes programme which, far from the claims made by Crisis, is set to exceed initial expectations and deliver up to 170,000 affordable homes by 2015. And make owning your own property a reality for far more people than before.
There are thousands of people up and down the country, working in local government and charities, helping people into a secure and stable home. Millions of people support their work and we should all be thankful for their dedication and compassion.