James Brokenshire, the secretary of state for housing, has indicated social issues including use of drugs and alcohol, rather than government policy are behind soaring levels of homelessness across the UK.
Levels of rough sleeping in the UK have doubled in five years – rising by 20 per cent in just 12 months, according to housing charity Crisis
The charity estimates more than 24,000 people are currently homeless with an increase of 120 per cent across England over five years, while another charity, Shelter, last month put the overall figure at 320,000, which includes those people living in temporary accommodation.
Official government figures say there are just 4,750 homeless people in the UK.
Mr Brokenshire admitted “the numbers have gone up. This is not the type of country I want to see, where we’ve got people living out on the streets."
Speaking to the BBC he said: “It’s why we are taking action, working with the different organisations, to help some of the most vulnerable people and taking action on a number of different fronts, including for example, in relation to the health service with drugs and alcohol being so relevant.”
But Mr Brokenshire defended the government’s record on the issue as he announced £5m for 11 “rough sleeping hubs” which will be running in cities including Brighton, Bristol, Liverpool and Derby by spring 2019.
The shelters are part of £130m the government is spending on the issue.
“We have a £100m rough sleeping strategy being backed by the agencies and charities on the front line, £30m that is going to councils this year that is delivering around 1,750 additional beds, 500 additional people working to support those most vulnerable, most in need,” Mr Brokenshire said.
“Absolutely I recognise the pressures that are there and I am determined to deal with this issue of rough sleeping and eradicate it for good.”
But Labour’s shadow housing secretary John Healey derided the “small funds” the government had made available as “hardly scratching the surface”, and said the new homeless hubs were an “emergency scheme” necessary because the problem had become so bad.
“Nothing the government is doing is tackling the root causes of homelessness,” he told the Radio 4 Today programme.
He accused the government of “failing to build the homes we need, failing to give private renters the protections and security they need and cutting back on benefit and funding support for homeless hostels.”
“It beggars belief that we have parts of the country where there is little or no shelter in an emergency, in extreme cold weather. People are dying on the streets, not just in big cities, but in Maidstone, Peterborough, Chelmsford, last winter.”
More than one homeless person died every day in the UK in the 12 months to October, including 14 in one week alone, according to a recent study by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
The charity Crisis said “some government policies are driving homelessness up while other parts are left to pick up the pieces. This is in part down to government decisions on housing benefit, making housing unaffordable for those in greatest need, while councils struggle to rehouse people.”
The charity’s director of policy Matthew Downie said: “The government has made important strides to tackle homelessness recently, including its rough sleeping strategy and practical commitments to help those off the streets.
"However without commitments to tackle the root causes of the issue, it will continue to treat the symptoms of homelessness without finding a cure.”
A British Medical Journal report in January argued the government's programme of austerity "lies at the heart" of soaring homelessness.
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