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The Minister of State, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, I am grateful for the explanation of the amendment given by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and for the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock. Perhaps I may say in parenthesis that Committee stage was not held in the Moses Room but upstairs. From the Government's point of view we found that a useful and genuinely constructive process, as I hope did other noble Lords who participated. I hope that that constructiveness has been reflected in the amendments we have now tabled, which cover a number of areas and meet a number of the points made. Therefore, it is a process and technique which worked.
Amendment No. 1 would require local housing authorities to incorporate their homelessness strategy into their wider housing strategy or, if the proposed amendment to the amendment is adopted, their wider housing policy. We think that that would impose an inappropriate requirement on local housing authorities. There is no statutory requirement at present for authorities to have a housing strategy, although in practice it is necessary to have one under the housing investment programme framework. Therefore, it would be an inappropriate burden to impose a statutory requirement for an authority to make its statutory homelessness strategy part of its wider housing strategy. It would be asked to make the homelessness strategy part of a wider housing strategy when there is no obligation to have the wider housing strategy.
However, as I said in Committee, I agree that an authority's statutory homelessness strategy will be an integral part of its wider housing policies. Clear advice to local housing authorities on that matter will be given in guidance, which I am sure is the right approach. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, who has a distinguished career in local government, would not want over-prescription on the face of Bills. Discretion must be left to the local authorities to act sensibly. On the basis that we give an assurance that the matter will be dealt with in guidance, I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I start by addressing the initial observations made by the Minister. I believe that we all found the Committee stage helpful. That does not mean to say that we shall go on to find the whole process helpful. The Committee stage was held in Committee Room 4, which we believe worked much better than using the Moses Room. I have informed the Chief Whip of that, and hope that that arrangement will be continued.
However, I shall probably not be any more helpful on Amendment No. 1. I note the Minister's comments about the housing strategy not being a requirement. That is one of the reasons why I tried to adopt his words in Committee when I tabled an amendment to my amendment, to make the strategy part of a wider housing policy. I remain extremely concerned that the homelessness review cannot be carried out satisfactorily unless it works within the whole gamut of the local authority's housing policies. If an authority does not have enough housing, it does not make sense to try to work in the priorities that are coming forward in the Bill if that is not within the policies that are already there or are being constructed. I believe that it would make sense to have the provision on the face of the Bill either within the wider housing policies or within the wider strategy. I sense that the Minister is not with me. However, I should like to test the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
It is my contention that if a number of rough sleepers were properly investigated, it would be found that they do have homes from which they may have departed for a number of reasonsdispute within the family, lack of jobs or enthusiasm to find the streets of gold. But in reality, they will be found to have a very reasonable place to go. The fact of the matter is that even after the most tenacious efforts to get them to return, many choose to stay on the streets. That is not at all what anyone here wants.
As I understand it, the current thinking on the future of the Rough Sleepers' Unit is that it should join up with the new bed and breakfast unit. That may be helpful, but it would be better if each local authority was also responsible for identifying and helping those rough sleepers within its boundaries. I beg to move.
Baroness Maddock: My Lords, I shall speak briefly to Amendment No. 3 which is in this group. The amendment concerns another group of peopleolder homeless people. I hope that today I shall get some commitment from the Minister with regard to guidance on this issue.
Little work has been done on the scale of homelessness among older people. Last year some research was commissioned by Bondway, St Mungo's and Thames Reach. That highlighted some of the problems facing single homeless and older homeless people. Many end up spending a long time in hostel accommodation. In the 50 to 59 year-old group, 32 per cent of the men and 26 per cent of the women had been resident in hostel accommodation for more than two years. In the 60-plus group the equivalent percentages were 60 per cent for men and 87 per cent for women. Even more worrying for women is that 59 per cent of women over 60 years old had been in hostels for more than 10 years. Therefore, we have a problem in that area.
The Government have recognised this problem, in particular when looking at the various problems experienced by people coming out of the Armed Forces. Better provision is made for them by the Armed Forces. However, older homeless people on the streets age much more quickly. They may suffer from bronchitis. They may have mobility problems or mental health problems. Some have problems with alcohol.
In Committee, I spoke about the implementation of the Supporting People scheme in 2003. The Bill is an opportunity to establish new ground rules for multi-agency working; older homeless people are important in that regard. Local homelessness strategies must assess the real level of need and services required for the older homeless. I hope that when the Minister responds he can give me some comfort on the matter.
Much as many of us support what we hope will result from the Bill, there is a real problem with resourcesnot just in relation to older homeless people. We lack affordable homes for people and, especially with regard to older people, there is a lack of move-on accommodation or accommodation that specialises in their care. We need more small residential homes for old people. Many people over 50 with chronic alcohol and behavioural problems cannot manage independently. We need housing especially for them. Again, I hope that the Minister can reassure me that the Government are addressing that issue.
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