On the 28th October, I spoke about the Homelessness Reduction Bill in the Commons. Speech below.
Thank you Mr Deputy Speaker,
I am delighted to be called to speak in favour of this Bill, which introduces new duties on councils to deal with homelessness. But I’m not going to stand here and pretend this Bill will solve the homelessness crisis, it won’t build a single new home, it won’t place more properties in the social sector, and it will not reduce rent for my constituents, but I am hoping it is a step in the right direction.
My constituency of West Ham is in the London Borough of Newham, and we are bearing the brunt of the housing crisis.
Let me tell you the situation that an average family in Newham faces when looking for a new place to live. They are not going to think about buying, because the average house price is £352, 272 and it is completely out of reach for all but the few.
They want to enter social housing, with its affordable rents and securer tenancies. But there is a waiting list of 16, 755 households.
So many families have no choice but to look at homes in the private rental sector. If they were affordable, that wouldn’t be too bad, but they’re not.
According to the Valuation Agency, the current median rent on a 3 bedroom property in the private sector in Newham is £1, 600 per month. Detailed research from the council shows that the median household income in the Borough, after tax and benefits, is £18, 604, which is about £1, 550 a month. That’s right, the average new private sector rent in our Borough is actually higher than the average after-tax income. It’s a truly disastrous situation.
With such an acute housing crisis, it is no wonder that Newham Council have to deal with a huge amount of cases where residents are threatened with homelessness. In 2015-16 Newham Council received 2, 448 homelessness applications. Compare that to the Ribble Valley in Lancashire which received just 7. Newham’s rate of homelessness acceptance, that is the proportion of households that they accept as homeless, is almost 5 times higher than the English average, and 119 times higher than that of East Devon which has the lowest rate. Newham Council work with compassion and diligence to offer what support they can to those threatened with homelessness, but they face an unenviable task and a huge workload.
In Newham, we also have great charities like Caritas Anchor House. They provide temporary accommodation and support for our homeless community, and this year they supported 37 of residents into full-time employment and 84 residents into independent living. It’s not just a shelter, it’s a source of community, support and hope for those who desperately need it.
Last week I met some of the people living in Anchor House, and I was really impressed by their resilience and aspiration. One woman entered Anchor House soon after recovering from a mental breakdown. She is now training to be a youth worker and wants to take a degree to help her career. I met a man who decided that living on the streets was better than living at home, because that is the only way he could be free from company that was encouraging him to take drugs. He is now clean and training to be a tunneller.
Mr Deputy Speaker. These people were excited by this Bill, they thought it would prevent other people from finding themselves in the situation where they were without a home. If the Government are not to let them down, I think there are two things that need to be done.
The first is to be honest that placing these duties on councils will come with upfront costs. There was a 26.5% increase in in households assessed for homelessness in the first year after new homelessness duties were introduced in Wales, which the Welsh Government anticipated and provided funding for. We can only expect even greater increases in workload in London where the housing crisis is that much more acute. In fact, the Association of Housing Advice Services estimate that Inner East London Boroughs, like Newham, will have to process an additional 7, 581 applications a year as a result of just clause 3 of this Bill.
I know that there will be a money motion to go alongside this Bill, if the Government do not provide sufficient funds, based on needs for local authorities to deal with this extra workload. You cannot pass the buck without the bucks. The Government also have to recognise that changing council duties can only be one small component in the fight to reduce homelessness. We need more homes to be made available in every sector, and services and support to deal with the complex needs of those driven to street homelessness. This Bill could be a step in the right direction, but only with appropriate Government support.
End of speech