Government's anti-homelessness taskforce has not held a single meeting since it was set up, ministers admit

Cross-departmental group was set up last year to address soaring levels of rough sleeping but plans for first meeting still 'being finalised'

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
@BenKentish
Tuesday 20 February 2018 19:42
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Rough sleeping has increased by 169 per cent since the Tories came to power in 2010
Rough sleeping has increased by 169 per cent since the Tories came to power in 2010

A government taskforce set up last year to tackle soaring levels of homelessness has not held a single meeting, it has emerged.

The Rough Sleeping and Homelessness Reduction Taskforce was announced by Philip Hammond in his Autumn Budget last November, following a spike in the number of people who are sleeping rough.

The Chancellor said the Government was committed to halving rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminating it by 2027, and that the taskforce of government ministers “will develop a cross-government strategy to work towards this commitment”.

The group is being supported by an advisory panel that brings together homelessness charity leaders and local government representatives, including Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Manchester.

However, the Government has now admitted that plans for the ministerial taskforce’s first meeting are, three months on, still “being finalised”.

In response to a parliamentary question from John Healey, Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary, Heather Wheeler, a minister at the Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government, said: “The Government has committed to halving rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminating it by 2027.

“In order to achieve this ambitious target the Chancellor, at Autumn Budget 2017, announced the establishment of the Rough Sleeping and Homelessness Reduction Taskforce.

“Arrangements for the inaugural meeting are currently being finalised.”

Labour said the revelation was evidence of a “total lack of urgency” on the part of government ministers when it comes to combatting homelessness and rough sleeping.

The number of people declared homeless has increased 48 per cent since the Tories came to power in 2010, while the number sleeping rough has shot up 169 per cent in the same period.

Mr Healey told The Independent: “Homelessness has spiralled out of control since 2010. This shames us all, and Conservative ministers most of all.

“Rising homelessness is a direct result of decisions made by the Conservatives: a steep drop in investment for affordable homes, crude cuts to housing benefit, reduced funding for homelessness services, and a refusal to help private renters.

“Now my question to ministers reveals they’ve still not even fixed the first meeting of a promised taskforce on homelessness, three months after it was announced. It shows a total lack of urgency.

“A Labour government will end rough sleeping within its first term in office, and tackle the root causes of rising homelessness.”

The issue of rough sleeping hit headlines again last week following the death of a homeless man in Westminster tube station, yards from an entrance to Parliament.

The 35-year-old man died after spending the night in sub-zero temperatures in an underpass through which many MPs walk on their way to work.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn left a bunch of flowers in memory of the man, along with a card that read: “This should never have happened. As a country we must stop walking by.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government said: "No one should be without a home and we are committed to halving rough sleeping by 2022.

“Our Rough Sleeping Advisory panel, which includes leading experts from charities and local government met for the first time this month and their work will help inform our upcoming Ministerial Taskforce.

“We are also investing £1bn to tackle all forms of homelessness, and we are bringing in the most ambitious reforms in decades this spring with our Homelessness Reduction Act.”

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