Wheeler offers ‘warm words, cold comfort’ on rough sleeping

The progress of government’s rough sleeping pilot schemes is challenged during Westminster debate.


sleeping homeless man on a bench

Homelessness minister Heather Wheeler has been accused of offering “warm words but cold comfort” on rough sleeping, in standing by statistics from pilot projects as a measure of progress.

During a Westminster Hall debate, Labour’s Andy Slaughter called Wheeler out on her claim that three-quarters of councils in the pilot areas have done better than average at reducing rough sleeping.

“That means that, even in the pilot areas, a quarter of councils have seen rough sleeping increase – that is simply not good enough,” said Slaughter.

“There may be pilots, but there does not seem to be a cockpit or even a plane.

“The government must properly address this problem,” he said.

Labour’s Neil Coyle said the public will and interest in solving rough sleeping and homelessness more widely had not been matched by government action to date.

“I am afraid that I heard the Minister read out a prepared speech that just seemed to say that everything is going terribly well – it is complacency,” said Coyle.

“The government’s target is to halve rough sleeping by 2022.

“If the statistics are accurate and there was a 74 person reduction last year, there are another 2,376 people to go.

“At the current rate, it would take 32 years – three decades – to meet the government’s target of halving the overall number.

“That means it would take until 2051 to meet the government’s 2022 target – that is not good enough,” he said.

Tory Peter Aldous urged an official assessment of the oft-evidenced correlation between homelessness and the roll-out of universal credit – with the National Audit Office  stating that homelessness is “likely to have been driven by welfare reforms”.

Coyle referenced constituents, including one with a significant mental health condition and another self-employed and in work, who were made homeless as a result of universal credit.

“That was avoidable, that direct link is unacceptable, but there is no brilliant data set for identifying those kinds of people,” he said.

Another constituent cited by Coyle, who is a cleaner, was said to “carrying all her belongings with her” and, though still working, was sleeping on night buses.

Debate turned to the dehumanisation of those surviving on the “threadbare” social security system.

“Calling people scroungers and making it harder to claim creates problems.

“This government have extended sanctions to even those with significant mental health conditions and other impairments – sanctions are also imposed for longer and to a greater degree than ever before,” said Coyle

Tory Will Quince spoke in support of social housing, saying: “I want us to get back to building in the region of 100,000 social houses a year.

“The Office for Budget Responsibility has estimated that in 2018-19 the total housing benefit bill is likely to hit an incredible £23.bn, and it is only increasing.

“That means that we are spending more than £20bn a year to mitigate the effects of a housing shortage brought about by successive governments, without finding a long-term solution to the problem.

He continued: “Arguably, what is worse is that, because of the lack of social housing, those who need homes are being housed in the private rented sector, so taxpayers’ money is being transferred into the pockets of private landlords, which in turn only increases demand in the private rented sector and drives up rents for everyone else.”

During a visit to Turning Point Scotland’s Housing First project in March last, Wheeler said she didn’t know why the number of rough sleepers was rising – effectively stating her surety that welfare ‘reform’ and council cuts weren’t a cause.

She has said she will resign if she fails to meet the Tory manifesto commitment to halve rough sleeping by 2022, toward total eradication by 2027.

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