It is a tragic feature of all societies that there will always be some vulnerable individuals sleeping rough. Too many people are trapped in cycles of addiction, debt, family breakdown, worklessness and educational failure. All too often, one or more of these factors will lead people onto the streets, homeless. But none of that means we can stand idly by.
This is an issue I have been deeply concerned about for years. I am proud to have volunteered with Wycombe Homeless Connection since before I was a candidate.
I fully support the Government’s ‘Ending Rough Sleeping For Good’ strategy, which aims to prevent rough sleeping wherever possible, and where it does, it ought to be rare, brief and non-recurring. In late February of this year, the national rough sleeping figures were released, showing a 26% year-on-year increase in England. Tragically, Buckinghamshire had not escaped that rise.
At the time, Wycombe Homeless Connection got in touch to bring some of the difficulties faced by private renters to light. Statistics provided by Wycombe Homeless Connection showed that there was a shortfall of over £100 a month for shared accommodation in Housing Benefit provided under Local Housing Allowance, putting people at risk of homelessness.
The proposed solution was that the Local Housing Allowance should be recalibrated so that it covered up to the lowest third of local rents. Having put the suggestion to the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions, Mims Davies, she proposed coming to High Wycombe to visit Wycombe Homeless Connection, which she did last month. During the visit, the Minister was given a tour of the facilities, followed by a sit-down discussion with a service user and their support worker to get an idea of the hardships faced by those in search of a home in Wycombe.
Last week, a month after Mrs Davies’ visit, I was pleased to see the Chancellor announce that the government will raise Local Housing Allowance rates to the 30th percentile of local market rents in April 2024, exactly what we had asked for. This increase will benefit 1.6 million low-income households across the UK, who will receive an additional £800 next year on average, and I know the benefits will be felt across Wycombe too.
The Government is fully committed to ending rough sleeping, and this is not the only action being taken. For example, as part of its Ending Rough Sleeping for Good strategy, the Government is expanding the Rough Sleeping Initiative to further help people off the street and into longer-term housing-led solutions. Tailored support offered by the initiative can include helping individuals to find work, manage their finances and access mental and physical health services. The Government is investing over £534 million between 2022 and 2025, empowering local authorities to focus on long-term change. The funding has already helped provide 14,000 beds and 3,000 staff across England.
I know all good people are concerned about homelessness. The Government is continuously taking action to end rough sleeping. I am grateful to Minister Davies and others in Government who were quick to act on Wycombe Homeless Connection’s concerns when I raised them.