Number of homeless housed in B&B hotels soars 24 per cent in a year

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair's claims to be tackling homelessness were undermined yesterday when official figures showed that the number of families living in bed-and-breakfast hotels had soared yet again.

According to the latest quarterly statistics from the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions, 12,290 families were in B&B hotels in September, a 24 per cent rise on the previous year.

The figures showed that some 16 per cent of all households classified as homeless were in such temporary accommodation, with the proportion rising to nearly one in five in London. The figures also showed that the total number of people described as "homeless and in need" had risen by 11 per cent, from 102,000 in 1997 to 114,000 in 2001.

A week ago the Prime Minister hailed a big cut in the number of people sleeping rough on the streets, to just 532 nationwide.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the Housing minister, conceded that the large rise in figures on B&B and other homeless cases was unacceptable. "I am very concerned with the upward trends highlighted in the latest homelessness statistics. Following the success in substantially reducing the number of people sleeping rough the Government is determined to deal with the wider issue of homelessness," he said.

Lord Falconer said the figures proved that the Government was right to set up its new B&B Unit on 1 October and to create a Homelessness Directorate to oversee strategy.

He said reasons for the rise in homelessness were varied, including the shortage of social housing and poor condition of stock, both the result of years of under-investment. The increase in housing investment, more than double the 1997 level, should help to overcome these problems, he said.

"To better focus Government I have set up a Homelessness Directorate. This will bring together and invigorate existing work to help the homeless, as well as prevent and discover the underlying causes of homelessness."

Lord Falconer stressed that proposed homelessness legislation, now before Parliament, would strengthen the safety net for homeless households and place a new duty on local authorities to take a strategic approach to tackling and preventing homelessness.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, the shadow Housing minister, said that Labour could not bury the bad news that homelessness had rocketed since it came to power. "Things have got worse, not better, in the past four years. Labour has failed to publish its own homelessness strategy. This is yet another indication that Stephen Byers and his department urgently need to get a grip."

The figures came as the Government's Rough Sleepers Unit was forced again to deny claims that it had tried to "fiddle" the statistics on the number of people sleeping on the streets. Philip Burke, chairman of the Simon Community, said that "many, many people" were put in bed-and-breakfast accommodation so that they would not show up on the census.