Tory dampens housing row

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SIR GEORGE YOUNG, the housing minister, yesterday moved to allay fears that controversial plans to be revealed tomorrow could leave single mothers homeless.

The Government's long-awaited review of homelessness - foreshadowed at last year's Tory party conference at the high point of ministerial rhetoric over single parenthood - will present a radical overhaul of the criteria by which homeless families can jump the housing queue.

The plans, which have become inextricably linked to the debate over the Government's 'back to basics' theme, will propose an end to the current system under which the statutorily homeless - a category which is not limited to single-parent families - automatically go to the head of the queue.

As ministers braced themselves for a political row over the review, Sir George said on BBC radio yesterday: 'In a civilised society there is no question of vulnerable people such as single mothers with children not having a home.'

He emphasised that local authorities would be required to provide temporary accommodation for all families, and the review envisages an enhanced role for the private rented sector in accommodating homeless families in flats, including those with single parents.

Sir George said that some single mothers would benefit from the planned changes. 'Those who remain with their parents and look after their children at home at the moment just go on the waiting list and have to wait their turn. Those who leave the home, for whatever reason, and become statutorily homeless get rehoused ahead of them.

'We want a system that reinforces responsible behaviour, encourages people to stay together rather than promotes family disruption and eviction.'

But Jack Straw, Labour's environment spokesman, said that the reason for pressure on the council house waiting list was that 'the number of people who are homeless has increased threefold since this government took office in 1979'.

He added: 'This all emerged from the back to basics attitude and policy of the Conservatives back in October where they sought to scapegoat a series of very vulnerable people including single mothers in an effort to regain the political initiative.'