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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I shall be glad to do that. I realise that the noble Earl talked about cross-border touring, but the matter was too complicated to deal with in the time that I had available.
Lord Freyberg: My Lords, I thank all who have contributed to this afternoon's debate on such a wide range of subjects. I note with interest the Minister's comments and I look forward to a further discussion on some of the topics raised. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
The noble Earl said: My Lords, I thank my fellow Cross-Benchers for allowing me this debate. It is important and timely. The number of 16 and 17 year-olds making use of Centrepoint's emergency London shelter in Soho for 16 to 25 year-olds has increased by 10 per cent. in the past five years. Over 50 per cent. of its residents in 1997 were under 18.
My experience of working with young people has been on housing estates in the boroughs of Southwark, Greenwich, and Kensington and Chelsea. Since Christmas, I have worked as a volunteer one evening a week in a winter hostel for homeless people under the age of 25.
Who are the young homeless, and why are they homeless? They are the young people who sleep rough on the streets, who live in short-stay hostels, bed-and-breakfast or other temporary accommodation, or who sleep on friends' floors. They are homeless because they have come out of care, the armed services or prison without a home to move into or are too institutionalised to keep one. They are homeless because they have been sexually or physically abused by their families or because a step-parent does not feel obliged to house a step-child past the age of 16. They are homeless because they are mentally ill or have behavioural problems which make living with others hard. They are homeless because they are political or economic migrants or because their family has difficulty supporting itself or because they have no academic qualifications to enable them to find the work to pay the rent. Some are homeless because they have had one of those family arguments that are part of adolescence and should simply return home. For others, those family disputes are insuperable.
In addition to the various particular reasons for homelessness among young people, there are three widely agreed general factors: the availability of housing, employment and benefits. The availability of affordable accommodation has plummeted since the 1950s. The private sector has shrunk from 25 per cent. of the housing stock in 1966 to 8 per cent. in 1991, a problem which has been increased by the flight from rentals to young people following the introduction of the single room rent. Many homeless people have difficulty in reading and writing and have few skills that are useful in the modern labour market. The Social Security Act 1988 removed automatic benefit entitlement from 16 and 17 year-olds and reduced benefits to those under 25. The consequence of those factors is that young people are chasing too few homes with too little money.
Fortunately, government and volunteer organisations are rising to the challenge posed by youth homelessness. The previous Conservative government began the Rough Sleepers' Initiative in the early 1990s, funding charities to increase the capacity of their hostels, to go out to help homeless people on the streets and to help to establish them when homes are found. As a consequence, the number of rough sleepers in London has fallen from 2,000 a night at the start of the decade to about 400 today.
Listening to the child and trying to improve the family situation is indispensable; otherwise children will often make repeated flights and then become homeless after 16. The Children Act 1989 recognises that children should be listened to and their views taken seriously. However, it can take weeks to arrange an interview with a social worker. Will the Minister consider issuing a protocol to social work teams to ensure that children in refuges are seen well before those 14 days have elapsed?
At 16 and over, short-stay shelters are available in London and other cities. They provide young people with a bed, help with finding work, applying for benefits and obtaining temporary accommodation.
The Foyer has grown up to provide one helpful next step to independence. Eighty-one foyers provide accommodation for 4,200 young people nationwide. Their aim is to help young people who have been homeless or are at risk of homelessness into work and a permanent home. They achieve this by offering something akin to a student hall of residence, combined with a training and education centre and an employment agency. Residents sign a licence agreeing to obey the rules of the establishment and an agreement to meet certain training, education and employment goals.
The capital funding comes from various sources, including the Housing Corporation and the lottery while rent and to some extent services are met by housing benefit. The funding of training and education is the hardest to raise; the European Social Fund has been generous but will stop funding in 2002. One foyer manager made this plea: think about proper funding for staff, training and education before building new foyers. Managers are having to act as receptionists, clerks, and carers in addition to their all-important managerial role.
I should like to make the following important point. The average age for young people to leave home is 22. Most young homeless people exit well before this. They are still not full grown, no matter how tough they may pretend to be. Often they will have had unsatisfactory family relationships. Such young people benefit immensely from a good long-term relationship with a responsible adult. Where there are insufficient appropriately trained and experienced staff those trusting relationships cannot grow. It is very hard to explain to a young person who expects to be disappointed that one is too busy to see them.
The importance of such good supportive relationships is apparent in the excellent schemes for ensuring that when a flat is found for a young homeless person they manage to establish themselves there. In one London "floating support scheme", a new tenant is visited for a couple of hours each week by a settlement worker and helped in budgeting for expenses, advised on how to keep house, and reassured. Such support is necessary because young people often feel very lonely, removed from their friends of the street or hostel. They are also faced with the responsibility of running their own home for the first time. Without assistance, sometimes the blanket across the window and the broken pane remain permanent fixtures; rent is not paid and the young person returns to the streets with the added burden of rent arrears and a sense of failure.
There are many other services which have grown up to serve young homeless people. Here a medical practice geared to their needs; there a counselling service to help with depression to which young people can be prone. In London there is a drugs help project which not only offers assistance in its Soho premises but has its workers patrolling the streets persuading drug users that they should take help. These workers also regularly visit hostels to make themselves available to give advice to residents and are called on by the management of hostels to suggest ways of dealing with drug use. Similarly, family planning agencies provide an information service which visits hostels on a regular basis.
All these services need to be co-ordinated to be of effective good to their clients. The voluntary organisations realise this and have already begun working together. That is why, again, the Social Exclusion Unit's report on rough sleeping, was so very welcome. It recommended the formation of a body for London which would co-ordinate the work of government, local authorities and the voluntary sector. It recommended means for local authorities outside London better to co-ordinate services, which the new homelessness action programme is now providing. It also emphasised the need for a strategic approach to the problem of street homelessness and announced that Hilary Armstrong, the Minister responsible for local government and housing, would lead a ministerial committee to supply that.
The Government have also set up the youth homelessness action partnership to bring together senior members of central government, local government and the voluntary sector. Its purpose is to thoroughly understand the problem of youth homelessness and to ensure appropriate action. It is most helpful that the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions will be working with charities in this area to produce better, more authoritative statistics. Realistic figures for youth homelessness are notoriously difficult
It is certain that some will benefit immensely from the combination of advice, training and employment experience that the New Deal offers. Another initiative, the release of some capital receipts from the sale of council homes to build 60,000 new ones each year for the next three years, will also help some formerly homeless young people finally to establish themselves. Can the Minister say whether there are plans to reform the single-room rent which has driven so many private landlords away from renting to under 25 year-olds, so that more homes still can be made available?
The consultation paper Supporting People is also welcome for the possibility it offers of consistent funding for youth homelessness charities. Perhaps the Minister could reassure them that those whose residents come from many different local authorities will have to deal only with one regional authority for their area. The alternative is a costly administrative quagmire for those charities.
Baroness Goudie: My Lords, one of the most vulnerable groups of young people comprises those who have been in care. They often face great difficulty in finding suitable and affordable accommodation. Between one-third and one-quarter of rough sleepers have been looked after as children by local authorities. Young people who have had contact with the local authority care system are hugely over-represented in the homeless population. At a time when most young people are still receiving full family support, many 16 and 17 year-olds are leaving care with no safety net to fall back on. Some local authorities will not grant tenancies to 16 and 17 year-olds. Many are reluctant to give them priority on the waiting lists. Although legislation exists to protect homeless young 16 and 17 year-olds who are at risk, it often does not work. Young people often do not know where to go for help. They can and do end up falling through the net of advice and provision.
Services tend to be reactive and crisis based. Emergency housing placements are met which are inappropriate and break down quickly. This can be devastating for young people who have been in care, precisely because they usually do not have support networks to call upon.
These are responsibilities not only to provide housing. Housing departments must work with the social services and other agencies. Above all, advice and assistance must be provided in order to prevent homelessness. It is vital that everyone--young and not so young, including those who are single and who may not be in priority need or whose homelessness may not be deemed unintentional--should have ready access to the best information and advice about homelessness from local authorities and from services such as Shelterline. Authorities should adopt strategies to map out positive steps to improve access to help and services for young people, covering all their needs.
With the right help vulnerable young people, including care leavers who may not have a supportive family to fall back on in times of trouble, can not only obtain suitable accommodation, but also retain it and live independently and successfully. Providing the right sort of support to such young people is an important part of the process which will help them to participate fully in society. The recommendations in the Social Exclusion Unit's report on rough sleeping must be adopted. I am confident that the code of guidance on homelessness and allocations will be strengthened accordingly.
Baroness Macleod of Borve: My Lords, I believe that all Members of your Lordships' House will be grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for bringing this very important subject to the House tonight. We have not discussed young people for quite some time. To have a new young Peer instigate the debate is right and fitting.
I must declare an interest. I am not a young person, but I have had a great deal of experience dealing with young people. With my late husband I started a charity 33 years ago which I called Crisis at Christmas. Some noble Lords may have heard of it. It was started by young people for young people and other lonely people at Christmas. For 32 years we have looked after up to a thousand people for a whole week at Christmas time. We think that we have perhaps been able to make their Christmas happier than it would otherwise have been. I take a great interest in the charity and I am its life president. I try to keep as much in contact with it as I can.
I wonder how many noble Lords watched the programme on BBC2 last night. It is extraordinary that that programme should have been broadcast last night because we so rarely have the opportunity to see what people are doing on the ground to help people of all ages. It was an excellent programme. I could have watched it for some time. However, tonight we are discussing the age group which comprises people who are the most vulnerable of all in our society, and that is the under-25s and the over-16s. They are vulnerable because it has been established that they have spent their formative years in local authority care. That is not to
I know that local authorities do their very best to bring up those people in a caring society. However, about 10,000 young people annually leave care. They have to leave when they are 17. It is estimated that in 1996 nationally the 16 to 21 age group were among the homeless. That is a great number of people. Why did they leave home? They did so because their parents had split up or because they were in trouble with the law. Over three-quarters of young homeless people are unemployed. Most of them are without qualifications. In these days when a piece of paper means that one is more likely to get a job, a qualification is an absolute essential.
Having left local authority care and having no parents to turn to, having lost the interest of local authority social workers, and having no job, where do people in this age group go when they have no accommodation? There is always a long queue of youngsters to take their place in doorways, under bridges and in cardboard boxes. We must show future generations that we care. We, the older people, must show that we care what happens to the youngsters. The Government must do something positive. The other day the Minister, Mr. Dobson, said that,
Lord Laming: My Lords, I also would like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, on his thoughtful introduction to this debate. It is absolutely right that we should be reminded that even as we discuss these matters there are young people out there who are homeless, and some who may be spending their first night alone in a big city, and some who may be fearful about their safety. However, the noble Earl has also reminded us that there are a number of people of good will who voluntarily give their time and energy to make contact with these young people and to offer them practical help and advice. I am sure that all Members of your Lordships' House will agree that our society is the richer because of the contributions of so many volunteers and we warmly acknowledge the part that they play.
The noble Earl and others have set out clearly the problems of homeless young people. In the time available I wish to concentrate on the special difficulties of young people leaving public care and support all that has been said by the noble Baronesses, Lady Goudie and Lady Macleod. It is significant that the first four
As has been said, most of these young people will leave care at 16, or younger. Most will have no educational qualifications, limited personal skills, and probably no one to stand by them. Even the most educated and confident young people often need to fall back on their families for help and support, be it a word of praise or encouragement, a good meal or a clean shirt. The reality is that we expect the most from those young people with the least. Is it any wonder that young people leaving public care are among the most vulnerable members of our communities, exposed to danger, drug and alcohol abuse, exploitation and delinquency?
As has been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, the Secretary of State for Health in another place established a ministerial task force to tackle this problem. I commend to your Lordships most warmly the report on children's safeguards. I hope that as many noble Lords as possible will be able to study this report. At the launch last November the Secretary of State said,
I should declare an interest in that I chair an advisory group on a leaving care project which is a partnership between the Prince's Trust and the Camelot Foundation. This project is developing and supporting mentoring schemes for young people leaving care. It has been a real joy to see the response from people of good will across the whole of society, and covering a wide age range, who are now volunteering to help these young people at a critical time in their lives. People are being recruited from industry and commerce, from churches and voluntary organisations, and concerned individuals are willing to give their time to take a personal interest in the welfare of a young person. They are helping them with literacy, numeracy, and everything from computer science to fishing and pigeon racing.
The Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells: My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, not only on moving this Motion but also him on an outstanding and encouraging speech. It showed all the marks of commitment and growing experience which, to an old campaigner, is particularly welcome.
I speak as chairman of the Children's Society and as co-president of the English Churches Housing Group. I was very keen to speak in this debate. I have already apologised to the Minister for the fact that I may have to leave before it is concluded as there are not many trains deep into Somerset late at night.
The Churches, in their national and local institutions, in partnership and in local parishes, together with individuals, have long been concerned about the plight and needs of all homeless people, and young people in particular. In fact, January 31st this year was designated "Homelessness Sunday", which was observed ecumenically to draw attention to the problem. Some 2,000 churches marked the day in some way. In my own diocese of Bath and Wells, a number of events took place.
Homelessness is not, as is sometimes thought, just an urban phenomenon, as I experienced it in East London for many years; it is a real problem in rural areas too, where lack of public transport and difficult access to employment can also exclude young people.
In Shepton Mallet, for example, a cardboard city was set up recently and a number of people took part in a sleep-out to draw attention to this issue. I can speak from personal experience of such a sleep-out at Westminster Cathedral. Even to spend one night on the pavements in plastic bags and boxes is really very hard. In fact my Roman Catholic Bishop colleague at one point in the middle of the night turned to me and said "I shall never forget this if I live to remember it".
The volunteers of Shepton Mallet Housing Association run a hostel which has been open for six years. During that time it has housed no fewer than 85 youngsters. We must always remember how much can be achieved by local enthusiasm, local commitment, co-operation and partnership.
I was especially pleased to open the Foyer Project in Yeovil with the right honourable Member of Parliament for that constituency. Our diocese declared redundant a church building which had been isolated in the town centre development. In partnership--again that word--with housing associations, the local authority and other groups, in an imaginative and impressive project, converted it into a resource for young people, offering them accommodation and job training. I emphasise that all that was done, but the real concern is the continuing funding and how that money can be raised and secured.
Research shows that the rise in youth homelessness has been one of the main features of the changing face of homelessness over the past two decades. The Department of the Environment noted that in 1981 the typical single homeless person was a male in his late 40s or older. By 1991 the majority of single homeless people were young people. It is particularly worrying to note the increase in numbers of homeless young women and girls.
In seeking ways to improve this truly shocking state of affairs, it is important to be aware of the major causes of homelessness. Most homeless young people say that they have left home because of household conflicts. Our Children's Society report, Running the Risk, showed that young people have experienced high levels of disruption, lack of support networks, and being cut off from the education system. Together with household conflict, these were the main causes of their leaving home in the first place. As we have just heard, it is estimated that one-third of homeless youngsters are estimated to have come from local authority care.
These young people are especially vulnerable, with significant levels of substance abuse, self-harm, depression and criminal offending, aggravated by fear and sometimes by assaults, and of course prostitution. I particularly welcome the Government's recent steps to treat young prostitutes as victims and not as criminals.
We have an example which confirms some of these facts in relation to New Age travellers. The Children's Society is involved in a number of projects in Somerset with homeless young people, including a participation project in Bath. Successive research carried out by the project in the west country has shown that 50 per cent. of New Age travellers were homeless prior to going on the road. So, for members of this group at least, becoming a traveller has been seen as a viable housing option.
It would appear that domestic problems like family breakdown are responsible for a high proportion of youth homelessness. There needs to be an examination of the financial impact of government policies as they affect young people--for example, the payment of the jobseeker's allowance at a lower rate until the age of 25, as has been mentioned, and the restrictions on housing benefit payments on the under-25s, cannot make it easier for young people facing housing difficulties. One policy change in particular, mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, would make a significant difference to smoothing the transition of young people into independent accommodation: that is, reform of the single-room rent restriction on housing benefit. Changes introduced in 1996 mean that young people under 25 can only receive housing benefit up to a maximum of the single-room rent, the amount set by the rent office as the average cost of accommodation in a shared house in the area.
A report by the National Rent Deposit Forum and the Catholic Housing Aid Society, published last June, showed that the effect of this on young people is considerable. Shared housing is often unsuitable,
In addition to measures to assist young people in obtaining and sustaining suitable independent housing, efforts should also be made to help those experiencing difficulties at home--if not to remain there, then to leave in a constructive and planned manner when absolutely necessary. There should be a great deal more family mediation and counselling, as well as development of local services, to achieve that smooth transition from home to independence.
Before I finish, I should like to mention one other scheme, a project in Norwich, carried out in partnership with other agencies. The Milestone Youth Build Scheme enables young people between the ages of 18 and 25 to be involved in building their own flats. The programme lasts for 12 months. Training takes place on site and in college, and successful participants gain an NVQ at the end of the scheme. That seems to me to be a very good example of the sort of self-help that can be set up if charities, government and housing associations form partnerships that will help them.
There is a great deal still to be done, but I am grateful for all that is done by volunteers and voluntary agencies throughout our society. I hope that the Government will do all that they can to help them.
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I, too, wish to thank the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for introducing this debate on such an important subject. Unfortunately, it has been a tremendously well-informed debate up to now; I have already had to score two good quotations out of my speech. I pity noble Lords who speak at the end of the list.
It is estimated that some 2,500 young people sleep on the streets at some time each year. As your Lordships leave the Palace of Westminster this evening, and gather your great coats around you, it may well be worth thinking about the young people who are sleeping out tonight. Although nearly all rough sleepers are homeless, by no means are all homeless people rough sleepers. There are also many who squat with friends or live in refuges or hostels. A recent survey showed that in each of seven major UK cities about 5 per cent. of 16 to 18 year-olds are homeless. Research shows that most homeless young people do not just "walk out" of home. They are either thrown out or forced out.
The noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, and the noble Lord, Lord Laming, both referred to the 30 per cent. of homeless young people who have come from local authority care. That is a devastating indictment of local authority care. Forty per cent. have been abused, a minority have mental health problems and others have alcohol and drug dependency problems. A significant proportion are women.
The vast majority of homeless young people are the victims of their families: families who cannot or will not support them; families which are so dysfunctional because of violence, alcohol or abuse in one form or another that young people feel they have to leave. There is also the problem of reconstituted families where a step-parent, a mother's lover, or whoever it may be, makes them feel they are not wanted. Only about 5 per cent. of young people walk away from the family willingly.
Let us look a little more closely at these family problems. The noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, referred to the great family of children in care. I would suggest that the care system has to be redesigned and funded in such a way that it does not just look after children but has the resources and skills to rehabilitate them, prepare them for adult life and then help them to make the transition to adult life.
One of the issues we have to face in the context of homeless people is that the Government appear to be quite unclear as to how 16 and 17 year-olds are expected to be financed. The previous government introduced arrangements for the tax and benefits system which implied that families would support them. But no one has ever said clearly that families had the duty to support them. I shall come later to some suggestions on that matter.
When older people today were 16, they were able to earn money and so were expected to contribute to the housekeeping, even if it was only £10 a week. They are now parents and they do not understand why their young people cannot contribute in the same way. However, the reality of our technological society is that 16 and 17 year-olds are not ready to contribute and are not ready to be earners. Either they are in training or in education or else they are in such a no-hope situation that they have rejected both training and education and are unemployable. There is a need for us, society, to decide who is supposed to pay for these people and what will be the system by which they receive the funding they need just to live.
I do not want to enlarge on the problem of abuse within the family but I should point out that we are not talking only about sexual abuse but also about physical abuse, constant verbal abuse and disparagement, and violence between the parents which sometimes the children are obliged to watch. There are many reasons why such abuse occurs.
There is a real problem with reconstituted families. One report I have read describes them as parents "living a new script with a new partner" who does not want a resentful, stroppy teenager around. Children of reconstituted families are particularly vulnerable to abuse. I would suggest to the Minister that the Government address the question of whether the cost of dealing with homelessness is greater or less than the cost of dealing with the problems caused by homelessness. Those problems are likely to be lifelong dependency on the state, poor health and all the problems associated with having nothing to do--crime, drugs, alcohol, and irresponsible parenthood.
Perhaps I may suggest some short-term solutions. Several noble Lords have said--I do not want to waste time repeating it--that each person needs the support a normal family gives. Each young person needs a shoulder to lean on--perhaps a shoulder to cry on--and someone to listen. That is far more important that more bricks and mortar. Perhaps I may quote the report of the Social Exclusion Unit on rough sleeping. It stated:
I am running out of time. I wish to stress the point that the Government must set the cost of doing something against the cost of doing nothing.
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