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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for referring to running out of time. I wonder whether I may warn all noble Lords that if everyone runs out of time the Minister will have none at all.
Baroness Ludford: My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for initiating this very important debate. It is good to have someone speaking who is actually young. It seemed at the time that it was hard enough to grow up as a teenager in the 1960s, but I think that it was as nothing compared with the pressures now. Yet the greater the expectations and demands, the more we seem to treat young people as a problem to be controlled rather than as an asset to be invested in. Why do we so often demonise and penalise rather than celebrate and support? Perhaps it would help our perception of young people if we allowed them to be heard more.
I was at Westminster '99 yesterday, which was an occasion for politicians to be grilled by young people under the age of 18. It was a great experience and there were very pertinent and challenging questions. It really is time we gave young people votes at 16 and the right to be candidates at 18 so that they can have their say in how they are governed.
I believe that we will soon see the first generational accounts showing how much of national income and wealth go to different generations in this country. I will be most surprised if the picture is other than a huge bias towards the middle aged and old, particularly with the inheritance of houses and the receipt of second pensions by many people. I do not begrudge them--of course,
There are many reasons for giving young people a solid start in life which will afford them dignity, independence and security. But for vulnerable young people who need a place to live away from their family, we are not supplying that. That is when they come up against discrimination in the housing and benefits system which says that 16 and 17 year-olds cannot usually get benefits at all and that 18 to 25 year-olds qualify only for a lower rate of job seeker's allowance and housing benefit. That is curious reasoning because, to my knowledge, the cost of food and rent is not age related. What we are saying is that young people under the age of 25 are less valuable human beings than their older fellow citizens yet we preach at them that they lack a sense of proper values.
The most harmful and inhumane discrimination we apply to young people who need their own place to live is, as has already been mentioned, the single room rent restriction. The National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux,
Presumably, one thought behind the introduction of the SRR was that it would keep young people in the parental home. Yet many young people are highly vulnerable, not only because of their age but because of their lack of family support. It is often the breakdown of family relations, fleeing violence or physical or sexual abuse, or coming out of care, which has led them to the need to seek separate accommodation.
It seems that another assumption of the Department of Social Security was that the single room rent restriction would lead to the operation of market forces and a lowering of rents by landlords or the availability of a greater range of inexpensive shared accommodation. In fact, surprise, surprise, it has led landlords, in a situation where demand outstrips supply, to refuse to let to young tenants who they know will struggle to pay the rent. Thus those youngsters are being forced either onto the streets--and Centrepoint of course does not accept the assertion of the Social Exclusion Unit that there are very few rough sleepers under 18--or into the lower, shabbier end of the rented market; that is, if they can find any accommodation at all. Those in rural areas often have to move to the cities in order to find shared accommodation. Shared accommodation is not always suitable. It is one thing for a group of friends to take a flat together, as students often do; it is quite another for a young girl who may have been sexually abused, or an HIV-positive young man, to be forced to share with strangers.
The difficulty of finding or sustaining a tenancy, or the worry and insecurity involved, is hardly conducive to maintaining a job or training placement. That is where the irrationality comes in. The Department of Social Security is jeopardising effective participation in the New Deal, this Government's flagship.
Early vulnerability magnifies problems in later life. If young people have run away from home, slept rough, or had drug or alcohol problems, the chances of later addiction or ill- health, unemployment, prison, or mental breakdown are all greater in adulthood. That is very expensive, as the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said. That is why the Government often cite the figure, which I believe comes from the United States, that £1 spent on childcare saves £7 in later life, to justify investment in nurseries. Surely "joined up", coherent government demands the same approach to housing youngsters at risk.
Yet the evidence from voluntary organisations which are concerned on a day-to-day basis with vulnerable and homeless young people is that the discrimination against them that is built into the social security and housing benefit system is causing hardship and a spiralling downward decline for many into rough sleeping, crime and despair. It surely cannot pass a cross-departmental, cost-benefit test.
If that is not the legacy that we wish to confer on our children for the 21st century, I urge the Government to remove the discrimination and abolish the single room rent restriction, perhaps as part of their overall review of housing benefit. They should certainly not wait too long while further damage is done. What is the point of a Social Exclusion Unit if it allows the blatant social exclusion of under-25s?
Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I, too, wish to thank my noble friend for introducing this important topic. I must declare an interest. I am a non-executive director of the Green Park Healthcare Trust in Belfast, which includes the regional residential child psychiatry unit for the Province. I am also a trustee of the Housing for the Homeless fund, which is run by the Simon Community in Northern Ireland. The Simon Community provides accommodation for all ages of homeless. The total referrals in 1997-98 were 3,314, and the age group that we are discussing comprised 51 per cent. of that total; namely, 1,728. As we have heard, current trends in that age group are rising. Just as worrying is the fact that a survey in 1996 carried out in Northern Ireland indicated that 41 per cent. of the homeless in this age group had mental health problems as defined in the Children Act.
I wish, first, to look at the prevention of homelessness and at this group with mental problems in particular. They are in two categories: those with emotional problems which develop gradually and eventually may force them to become homeless; and those with behavioural and conduct problems, which are a form of mental handicap. One-third of this second category have specified reading disorders, such as dyslexia. It is vital
The Education Order in Northern Ireland--and the Education Act in Great Britain--provides for statement of special needs for 2½ per cent. of all children. However, it is felt by many professionals that another 2½ per cent. of children could benefit educationally and in terms of mental health given that extra support. Therefore, there is under-funding of the educational psychologists service, and only the more serious cases are treated. Diagnosis should take place in primary school or earlier; it is early intervention that is most important.
In addition to the lack of capacity in the system, we have, as we have been told today by Chris Woodhead, 15,000 teachers who are not up to the mark. Just over 40 per cent. of those, according to the Express, are primary school teachers. I welcome the Government's endeavours to improve teaching standards. However, I ask them specifically to target the skills needed for early diagnosis of these problem children. Too high a proportion of them are our future homeless young people. It is vital to treat them from primary school age and not leave them undiagnosed until their teens or, sadly, sometimes even later.
Good teachers make for happy schools; and happy schools with a good ethos are shown to have fewer children with emotional and mental health problems. That fact was identified in a report by Sir Michael Rutter in the 1980s. Therefore, that is a vital link in prevention or in the improvement of mental health in children.
Although we are not discussing suicides, it is important to note that the attempted suicide rate is five per million in the under-14s and 30 per million in 14 to 20 year-olds. Ninety per cent. of suicide victims among the under-20s have mental health problems, so we are also looking at the prevention of these tragedies in the long run.
It is sad when any child has to be taken into care for mental health or other reasons, and we are lucky and can justly be proud of these establishments and the staff who work in them. However, that is not the end of the story but perhaps the start of another. These establishments are a form of housing for the homeless. Many will leave at 16, and we know that too many of them become homeless adolescents.
That brings me to the Simon Community and the help that it gives to its homeless residents. Like Centrepoint, it has many programmes. I should like to highlight one that is of particular note; namely, the Outhouse programme. It is in the form of a CD-ROM produced recently by the Simon Community. The CDs inform children about how to get on in the outside world and develop the skills that are needed to live there. They are now being distributed to every school in the Province by the Department of Education. I mention this programme as an example to show that charitable organisations strive very hard to fill this serious gap in government and educational responsibilities. I urge the Government to do even more to lower the number of adolescent homeless in the future.
Lord Judd: My Lords, I must declare an interest as national president of the YMCA in England. With great commitment and considerable experience, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has powerfully raised a vital social issue. He has chosen the words to describe his debate with care. "Appropriate" necessitates analysing the real nature of the problem, its underlying causes as well as its consequences. "Range" recognises that there is no one easy remedy, and certainly no quick fix. "Effective" underlines sustainability as essential. "Services"--a good, old-fashioned concept--indicates an honest acceptance of the importance of support. "Meet the needs" reflects the sensitivity to approach the issue, to see it from the standpoint of those who are affected.
As the noble Earl made plain, pressures on the young leading to homelessness can be formidable. Let me list some more: the impersonal pace of modern technology; the emphasis on league dominated educational performance, with its marginalisation of the weak and vulnerable; meritocracy, with its damaging impact on those who, for whatever reason, do not make it; low pay and/or low benefits or none--the Citizens Advice Bureaux and Shelter make this point emphatically--job insecurity and unemployment; the impact of commercialism and the market economy on traditional values; the downward and cheapening spiral in the media; the break up of families accentuated by the increasing career and job demands of parents who are in work; domestic violence; cynical, egocentric materialism which too often explicitly, let alone implicitly, rubbishes what used to be valued as mutual responsibility; and, to say the least, the confused messages sent out by too many at the peak of conventional success--in other words, the gap between strictures and performance: "Do as I say" not "Do as I do"; the fudged dividing line between what is seen as bright and astute and what is wrong or criminal. All the time, there waiting to exploit the opportunities of bewilderment and stress are the irresponsible pedlars of drugs and alcohol and their masters.
I say all this because homelessness is usually a symptom of a sick society rather than a separate self-contained social ill of its own. When I have met and talked with homeless young people--not just young people--I have always been struck by how all too easily, with a different life experience, with acute personal adversity of a kind I have fortunately not encountered, it could have been me or any of us in this House. Precisely because what we see begins to open up too many challenges and fears which we would rather brush away, it is tempting to retreat into an authoritarian response.
If there is any one single point I want to emphasise in support of the noble Earl this evening, it is that we cannot divorce our concern for the homeless from the whole ethos, values system and direction of society. The materialism of the market simply has to be balanced by the regeneration of a sense of community with mutual loyalties and responsibilities. Everything else we attempt--all the administrative systems in the world--will not prove effective unless and until we get that right. We may suppress or mask the unpalatable
There are some 141,000 homeless young people in Britain. Young people under the age of 25 are almost twice as likely to be unemployed as the rest of the population. And homelessness significantly increases the likelihood of being unemployed. No home, no job, no home becomes a vicious circle. A recent survey among YMCA residents indicated that 42 per cent. had been in trouble with the police, highlighting the relationship--cause or effect or both--between anti-social behaviour, as it is described, and homelessness.
Experience has brought the YMCA to recognise the importance of the holistic approach. The need is not just for bricks and mortar. Young people desperately need space, security, the opportunity to discover themselves and to grow in self confidence. A job or long-term meaningful training are priorities. Support and guidance are essential. Good quality housing of itself is seldom, if ever, the end of the road. The Foyer scheme to which the noble Earl referred has, as he suggested, proved an exciting initiative with great potential. The YMCA has experienced this with the foyers which it provides. Forty per cent. of young people who pass through those of the association leave with a job.
Social activities can also be invaluable. These can provide stimulation and bonding and can assist in creating a sense of community, a sense of belonging, something which is significant as a young person secures and, we hope, sustains permanent housing.
After housing has been secured, continued outreach support is invariably worthwhile. It helps to ensure that losing a tenancy and a return to homelessness are less likely. It can also contribute to reassuring neighbourhoods in which rehousing is taking place--a problem to which the right reverend Prelate referred. It is obviously important if the negative consequences of a hostile or suspicious environment are to be avoided. When such after care is not provided, there is sadly evidence that a significant minority of young people in fact return to homelessness.
I spoke earlier about the ethos of society as a whole. Perhaps I could conclude by repeating what I have said before in debates on related issues. Solidarity matters. Taking the hand and walking with the homeless towards their own self-confident future is the greatest test of commitment of all.
Lord St. John of Bletso: My Lords, it is perhaps opportune that this debate is taking place at a time when the nation is in the grip of some of the coldest weather that we have had for some time. It is also opportune that the debate is taking place after such an interesting programme last night on BBC2. It is also opportune that the debate is taking place when one of the youngest Members of your Lordships' House has introduced the
For those who have been assisting the homeless for many years, like the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, it is a well known fact that the homeless used to be mostly older men, many of whom had alcohol problems. Very few were women. Now there are many more young people, most of whom are not part of the same sub-culture.
I wholeheartedly support the Government's initiative to reduce the number of rough sleepers by two-thirds by the year 2002. The detailed report on rough sleeping by the Social Exclusion Unit gives a clear understanding of the complexities and causes of homelessness, as well as the enormous challenges that the Government and the many worthwhile voluntary agencies and charities have to tackle to produce a sustained successful result.
Concern has been expressed that a disproportionate amount of the Government's financial assistance has been allocated to London, rather than the other centres outside London. The National Homeless Alliance estimates that two-thirds of the nation's rough sleepers are found outside London. Also, the report by the Social Exclusion Unit quoted a figure of 2,000 people sleeping on the streets around England every night and 10,000 sleeping rough over the course of the year.
While many may blame the problem of homelessness for young people on lack of job opportunities, it is far broader. My noble friend Lord Listowel and others mentioned other causes such as broken marriages, cruelty, depression, alcoholism, loneliness and despair. They are all roads that lead to homelessness. An alarming statistic from Centrepoint revealed that 86 per cent. of young people across the country had been forced to leave home rather than choosing to do so. I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, that a major problem is that many young people do not know where to go for help.
As other noble Lords have highlighted, it is not just the challenge of tackling the need to accommodate the homeless, but, just as important, the need to offer effective services to help those suffering from mental health problems, alcohol and drug addiction. There are so many worthwhile charities. Noble Lords have mentioned Centrepoint, Shelter and Look Ahead. All those charities and others strive to provide 24-hour supervision, medical help, counselling for drug and alcohol abuse, as well as advice on finding permanent accommodation and assisting young people in getting training so that they can go out and get jobs.
One other programme that I believe is doing excellent work in endeavouring to prevent school children ending up on the streets in London is the Safe In The City homelessness prevention programme which has targeted persistent truants and expelled pupils. The project has identified the areas around London where children are suffering from abuse or poverty. As a result of these surveys, specialists have been sent into schools particularly to teach children between the ages of 13 and 16 all about budgets, how to claim benefits, how to cope with family breakdowns, how to find jobs and to assist
In conclusion, while I fully support the Government's integrated strategy to tackle homelessness, I believe that the challenge for the future should be to target the prevention of homelessness particularly for young people as well as to endeavour to cure the problem of homelessness on a sustained basis.
Lord Craigmyle: My Lords, 18 years ago I returned to this great capital of ours after a long absence. I had a little cash borrowed on a credit card. I held the notion that I could find lodging and a temporary job before looking up old contacts and that I might return to my family debt-free. Was I being too proud to seek that dignity? I regarded myself as a youth of great resource. I do not remember exactly how long it took me to discover what the noble Lord, Lord Judd, could have told me; namely, that without a proper address there would be no job, and that such a base would cost me more than I could raise. At about that time--I forget the exact chronology--I was offered a job as a male prostitute. So, I returned to my family like the prodigal son. Then, fed, rested and well turned-out, I got a job within days.
There are several points to my little story. The first is that starting out alone is beyond the means of an unsupported young person. I believe that the situation is worse now than it was then in regard to the basic earnings to basic accommodation ratio. This is an economic fact and is nobody's fault. But it drags people down and changes their self-perception from young optimist to urchin so fast that it makes your head spin. The charity London Connection has noted that there is a three to four-week opportunity for finding new arrivals to the streets, before they are lost to street sub-culture. They see about 3,000 young people a year.
The second point of my story is to show how very privileged I was to have a family to whom I could turn. We have heard much about children who come out of care. The one-third to two-thirds of homeless young people who have been in care institutions might well have been better served by adoption. Even when they are too old for official adoption, unofficial arrangements can still be useful and give a young person some kind of family and home to turn to. There are 36 centres for care leavers run by NCH Action For Children. Even those young people in its care would benefit from the personal and emotional support that experienced parents could provide during the rites of passage from dependence to independence.
At to those young people who have recently been in contact with their parents, or a parent, their situation might not have become so desperate had some kind of financial support been available to their families. We have absolute evidence of this from the experience of 1988: the withdrawal of income support from 16 to 18 year-olds produced an immediate rise in youth homelessness for that age group. There is a two-year gap, 16 to 18, to which my noble friend, Lord Northbourne, referred, in which a young person is a child or an adult depending on who asks. Many parents view 16 as a suitable age for children to leave home, especially where one has a new relationship, or a conflict arises within the home. But government policy has tended to regard 18 as the age when young people can claim benefit in their own right and earn adult wages. Therefore, they are in limbo. They are neither one nor the other. Those are two crisis years, which is not a good start in adult life.
In a survey of Centrepoint admissions--my noble friend Lord Listowel made reference to this, albeit in a slightly different way--48 per cent. of its visitors left home at 16 or 17 years of age. Minimum wages might help these people. Housing benefit that does not wither with earnings would help; I believe that the correct term is "higher earnings disregard". The withdrawal of the single room rent restriction has also been mentioned. Most of all, non-means-tested child benefit for this most expensive period would help. The idea that a means test will target poorer families mistakes the changed shape of families. In reconstituted families--and here we are talking almost exclusively about reconstituted families--in which a step-parent or new partner is not a long-term parent, there may be little obligation to support young adults, whatever the family income. Child benefit sends a message. Child benefit is not just a matter of reducing the financial burden on families. It goes only a small way to doing that. The perceived social responsibility of caring for a 16 year-old within a family has been undermined by governments' desire to shift that responsibility onto families from the state over the past 20 years. No doubt that is a well-intentioned desire, but responsibility has not been shifted so much as erased.
There is scope here for joined-up thinking. A young person on the streets is much more expensive than a young person at home who seeks to study, or seeks work. He is worth supporting while still at home. I should like to make a request that my noble friend Lord Alton has made in the past. I ask that a family and young person impact assessment accompany new social and benefit arrangements. That would assist everybody in joined-up thinking. Here we have the crux of the needs of homeless young people. Almost all youth homelessness can be traced to the breakdown of a family somewhere in the young person's life. There is no one cause, but this broad one covers most cases.
While charities and agencies try to help the homeless by mopping up the pools of young people in our cities, the tap that feeds these pools still runs freely. If we can sort out the families, we shall solve most of the problems that we have discussed today.
Lord Ahmed: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for providing me with this opportunity to speak on this very important subject. Many noble Lords have already spoken about the situation of young homeless people in London, the south and in Northern Ireland. As a Yorkshire lad it is my duty to draw the attention of noble Lords to youth homelessness in the South Yorkshire area. Recently Shelter Network produced a report which showed that between November 1996 and October 1997 based on multi-agency monitoring statistics for South Yorkshire over 2,000 young people had approached 27 agencies about their housing needs. Nearly 70 per cent. of those young people were either actually or imminently homeless, 9 per cent. of them having slept rough for at least one night and 6 per cent. having nowhere to sleep that night.
Forty per cent. of those young people were under 18 years of age. Almost half of all cases of homelessness were due to family breakdowns, with a further 14 per cent. fleeing because of the fear of or actual violence, abuse or other kinds of harassment or friction. This also includes a growing number of ethnic minority youth who leave home due to lack of understanding and conflicts of culture between parents and children. Over 20 per cent. of young people either contacted more than one agency or re-accessed a service at a later date due to the re-emergence of a housing need or crisis.
Young people have limited access to social housing. Many local authorities do not accept onto their waiting lists young people under 18. There is little tenancy support available for young people who move into independent accommodation. Access to the private rented sector is limited, with high rent levels, poor quality accommodation and the requirement to pay a bond and rent in advance. In recognition of that difficulty, a bond guarantee scheme exists in Rotherham and Sheffield and moneys have been secured to set up such a scheme in Barnsley. Landlords are unwilling to allocate tenancies to under 25 year-olds partly due to housing benefit restrictions and partly to preconceived ideas about the behaviour of young people.
A multi-agency consortium in Rotherham has been successful in setting up a young people's housing advice centre with lottery money. The local statutory and voluntary sector play an important role in delivering services and creating an effective and co-ordinated network of services.
No single solution exists to the problem of youth homelessness. An effective response acknowledges the need for a range of services, in particular different types of accommodation and a variety of support structures. I welcome the Government's new initiatives to tackle the housing problem including the Youth Homelessness Action Partnership, the New Deal for the young, and the phased release of moneys to local authorities to build new homes.
In conclusion, will the Minister consider issuing guidance to local authorities on the following? Local authorities should regard care-leavers and homeless 16 and 17 year-olds as vulnerable and in priority need under the homeless legislation, and provide appropriate support by social services departments to enable them to maintain their new home. Every person aged 16 and over should have the right to appear on the housing register. Every young person should be able to obtain independent housing information advice and advocacy services when they need them. And every young person should be able to obtain accommodation in an emergency. The local authority should ensure that placement in emergency accommodation is followed by an assessment of the longer-term housing needs.
On that final point, as a local councillor in Rotherham, I am aware that there is a shortage of single person's accommodation. Will my noble friend consider schemes to bring into use the thousands of commercial properties by introducing grants and rate concessions for those property owners who would convert those empty storerooms for single person accommodation, with penalties and compulsory purchase orders for those who refuse to co-operate?
The policy of successive governments on homelessness has demonstrably worked. Because of the Rough Sleepers Initiative and hostel provision, there is now an expert voluntary sector. Volunteers have always been imbued with altruistic and Christian values. Now, augmented with the acquired expertise and the earned trust of the homeless, the voluntary sector is in a position to continue this success and address the issues which the Social Exclusion Unit raised in its report, Rough Sleeping, in July of last year.
I wish to address a specific problem with which rough sleeping drug users in the 16 to 24 year-old age group are faced. Most young people who die on the streets die of drug overdose. Many, but by no means all of them, are homeless through a breakdown in their family circumstances. In some cases they have been forced to leave the family environment through the poverty of, or lack of space within, the household. In others they have suffered physical mistreatment or sexual abuse and are therefore understandably self-evacuees from the family. Others have been rejected and expelled by parents.
Let us consider Bill. Bill is 17 years-old. He left home because he was not contributing a wage to the household in Newcastle where his father was unemployed and he had four younger siblings. Once on the streets, young people are vulnerable. Because they cannot get money on which to live, and in desperation, prostitution
Bill came to London and soon his meagre savings were gone. He managed to find shelter in a squat where he was introduced to heroin. Bill had been smoking cannabis since he was 15. He became addicted. To finance his habit he took to petty theft. He shoplifted to eat. In desperation he then became a sex worker: a rent boy in the West End.
The use of drugs is initiated through many reasons--peer pressure, curiosity or boredom--but is sustained by the poignant motive so common in rough sleepers: lack of self-esteem. That is perpetuated within a cycle of drug use, petty crime, greater loss of self-esteem, and greater use of drugs. That cycle cannot be broken if the sole provider of housing is the emergency night shelter which must be evacuated during the day thus exposing the victim to the vulnerable environment of the streets all day and every day.
Over three to four months Bill became depressed and drifted apart from his friends at the squat. He was sleeping on the streets. He was miserable and cared little for himself or his peer group. He occasionally slept at the Lord Clyde, an emergency night shelter in Vauxhall run by the Depaul Trust. The Lord Clyde is a night shelter with 26 beds. The shelter supplies emergency provision for 16 to 25 year-olds between the hours of 7.30 at night and 8.00 in the morning. But entry to the next stage of accommodation beyond the emergency night shelters, the direct access hostel, is denied the drug user since the criteria for progression are that they must be rough sleepers, they must not be drug users or have a history of drug use, and they must not have a criminal record. Although the Social Exclusion Unit identified that 39 per cent. of young rough sleepers have a drug problem, the truth is that about 90 per cent. of that group are drug users.
The Social Exclusion Unit reported that in some London boroughs the wait for drug rehabilitation is four months. Many hostels aim to move people on after three months. This does not include any delay in preparing the groundwork and getting the drug user to accept the need for rehabilitation.
Bill sometimes wishes that he could start again. He could be persuaded to undergo drug rehabilitation but needs secure accommodation as a base. He cannot get into a direct access hostel because he has a history of drug use and a record of petty crime--shoplifting, possession of heroin. Even if he were fortunate enough to obtain a place in a hostel, he would be moved on before a place on drug rehabilitation could be fixed up.
I cannot believe that it is government policy to return these youngsters to the streets rather than remove them from the dangers of street life, especially in view of the new initiative due to start in April. There is a need for a secure environment where the voluntary sector can work with young drug users, a need to provide support,
But where is there a form of 24-hour accommodation which will house the young rough sleeper with a history of drug use and a criminal record? Can the Government offer an option other than constant rejection and a bleak future (having been denied access to the next rung on the ladder to recovery) leading inevitably to death on the streets? Bill needs help now. In a few more months he may well be just another young rough sleeper dead on the streets from a drug overdose.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I rise to give the Minister good news. I have no solution to nor analysis of the problem, other than those about which we have heard for the past hour. Never before have I listened to a debate and at the end of every speech said, "Hear, hear". The debate was devoid of acrimony. Noble Lords know where the problems lie and the terrible damage being done to many young people by the social consequences. I was delighted that it was not a party political debate and that no party was blamed for the situation. No party in this House has a control over passion, a blame or a mischievousness. All parties bear some responsibility for the present situation.
I congratulate the noble Earl and those on his Benches. They have encouraged more people to attend the debate who have not only spoken but assiduously listened to others. As a former Chief Whip, I am envious to see how well the noble Earl has been supported by his colleagues on this important topic.
As regards my two penny-worth, my days in housing go back 35 years to when I was a councillor. When I was a Member of Parliament I received more complaints or requests for help about housing than any other topic. I am not sure what the position is today, but I do not think that it has changed a great deal. Housing has always been at the heart of good government, local or national. The lack of good, affordable housing has brought misery to many people in this country. If ever there were a topic which ought not to be made a political football it is housing and the solution to the problem.
Tonight, we are considering the problems of the young homeless. Fortunately, I arrived home last night in time to see the television programme about the young, disabled homeless people. They live in wretched circumstances. I applaud the Minister and all the agencies who are striving to find the right mix. The young people I saw were not proud and knew exactly what had caused them to be on the streets. They knew that there was help, some of which they were able to grasp.
I tried to visualise the circumstances in which I or members of my family could have been driven out of our home. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, told us what he considered to be the reasons for there being many homeless people. He listed leaving care or the Armed Forces, sexual or physical abuse, step-parents who were
I am grateful to the London Government Association, of which I am vice-president, because it recognises that this is not a party problem. The word "partnership" was used more than once. I believe that that is the way forward. We will never, ever solve the problem of housing, but we can demonstrate to young people that our society in general has a responsibility. I greatly value my home, family and stability and I have some idea, but only remotely, of what these young people are missing.
It is our job in life to work together. That means money and it also means pride. We must work together and settle big differences. We must say to the Minister and his colleagues, "We believe that you are doing a good job--you are doing all that you can within the limits--but there is much more that can be done if you consult more widely and recognise the solutions which may be found elsewhere". I wish the Minister and his colleagues well in trying to solve these difficult problems.
The Earl of Iveagh: My Lords, it is with a great source of pride that I stand tonight and declare an interest in that I am a kinsman and a friend of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. My knowledge and information about the problem of homelessness has been greatly enhanced by listening to tonight's commendable debate.
The Government have implemented some welcome measures to address homelessness--for instance, the publication of the report of the Social Exclusion Unit on rough sleeping--and have brought forward enabling measures to give young people an immediate chance to join the New Deal. The Government's target to reduce the number of people sleeping rough in England to one-third of its present level by 2002 is very welcome. I am sure your Lordships will welcome the Minister's feedback as to the progress of that initiative.
A real concern when reading the report of the Social Exclusion Unit is the estimate of the number of homeless people on the streets, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie. Does it not underestimate the extent of the problem and, therefore, are not its targets flawed? From casual observation of the streets of London, it seems that there are many more than 2,000 people living homeless at any one time. Can the Minister give us an assurance as to the basis of that figure? After all, if the extent of the problem is not known, how can we have an action plan that will adequately alleviate this very great social problem?
On visiting the London charity, Centrepoint, I found commendable the extent of partnership between government and the charitable sector. Centrepoint's activities include providing shelter during the cold winter months and providing the young homeless people with a point of contact with drug, drink and medical health experts. Very importantly, it tries to prepare the youngsters for a life inside the remits of conventional society and social responsibility.
As regards co-ordination of the Government's policy, will the Minister investigate whether there are significant differences between the various local authorities' treatment of the homeless? It seems that it is far too easy for local authorities to brush the problem aside and, in effect, pass the homeless on to neighbouring authorities. That unsettling process would surely be to the detriment of any disadvantaged young person.
I hope that the new London-based DETR unit will seek to encourage a holistic approach to the problem in our capital and, if the London model is successful, that the Government will consider setting up similar networks in all parts of the country where there is a problem of homelessness.
The Earl of Longford: My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh. He is a credit of that little society of Earls! I have known so many members of his family and have been friends with them.
The debate is a credit to the House. If I were asked to explain what the House of Lords does I would invite him or her to come along and listen to a debate such as this. That would justify the House of Lords in the eyes of any fair-minded observer. Quite a few hereditary Peers have taken part. I speak as half-and-half, but the noble Earl is a genuine hereditary Peer. They have played their full part in the debate and it represents the House of Lords at its best.
Your Lordships might ask why I am intervening in the gap. I put my name down on the list a long time ago, but it escaped someone's attention. It appears that nowadays only the youngsters are listed and that anyone over 90 is not registered. Therefore, I have been allowed to speak.
This is the House of Lords at its best and it is particularly appropriate to follow the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. When I was at Eton, his father was the only known socialist in that school of 1,000 boys. There was a dreadful rumour that there might be a socialist there. There was an even worse rumour that the headmaster's wife had Labour sympathies. But the point about the noble Earl's father is that, although at that time he was called Lord Ennismore, he preferred to be known as plain Mr. Hare. Therefore, throughout the school it was known that there was one very dangerous man called plain Mr. Hare. We feel that his son is a chip off the old block. He is perhaps not as dangerous but is as brave as his father.
I hesitate to boast about anything but the other day a woman on the train said to me, "Lord Longford, how many great grandchildren do you have?" I said that I thought I had 14 but in fact, I have 15 now. That must be more than most. But the man opposite said, "That's nothing at all. I have 17". Therefore, one should not boast too quickly.
However, I took the initiative which led to the foundation of the New Horizon Youth Centre. That was for young people aged 16 to 21. I am delighted to think that it has flourished today. It was not always a powerful organisation. When we began, there was one woman
Now it is visited by about 1,000 young people every year and, perhaps, 300 of them for considerable periods. Most of them, perhaps 700, obtain advice and move on but the other 300 receive long-term help. Therefore, on my behalf, I wish to pay tribute to the present Government who are extremely helpful. Are the Government going to live up to their promises? I hope that they will.
Baroness Maddock: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for giving us the opportunity to debate this very important issue of homeless young people.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, I do not believe that there is anything new to be said on the issue. Many of us are grateful for the extremely good briefings and large amount of research that has been undertaken by a wide range of voluntary agencies and other bodies.
As the debate has indicated, a large number of issues which affect homeless young people are being looked at by a wide range of bodies, including government. I hope that this debate will give the Government the opportunity to acknowledge the scale and nature of the problem and come forward with further firm announcements as to how we can improve our efforts to tackle the problem.
As has already been highlighted this evening, a wealth of research has been undertaken. I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to the conclusions of a Rowntree research report which was entitled Young Homeless People and their Families. In particular, I wish to quote some of the conclusions because they reflect what has been said this evening. It states:
I believe that those conclusions have been reflected in the contributions to the debate this evening. In his opening remarks, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, set the scene extremely well. He is to be congratulated on instigating such a well-informed debate and a debate which has attracted a larger proportion than usual of young Members of the House. I particularly welcome that.
He reminded me of a sleep-out in which I took part. But he also reminded me of a matter which still concerns me. All of us here this evening are concerned about homeless young people. But when I took up the issue in the constituency which I used to represent, I was pilloried by my political opponents for daring to talk about the young homeless in a constituency which perhaps had a higher proportion of elderly people than many others.
I helped to promote something called HYPID--Homeless Young People in Dorset. Again, I came up against prejudices of other people. One Christmas the organisation undertook an appeal and one of the most distressing things that I ever heard in the time that I was involved in homelessness issues was that that organisation received in its envelopes hate mail about young people. So although in this House we may understand the problem, outside there is still an argument to win. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for reminding us of that this evening.
We also need to agree with the matters raised by my noble friend Lady Ludford and expanded upon by the noble Lord, Lord Judd; that is, our attitude to young people in society and what our priorities as a society should be.
There are two main concerns in relation to foyers. One has already been mentioned this evening. There is a particular problem for rural foyers. They find that their work is much more difficult in a rural area where the support services are more scattered. It is not so easy to integrate services. I hope that the Government will look at ways in which they can assist foyers in that regard.
The other matter I wish to raise is the funding of foyers and in particular revenue funding and keeping them going. I say that because curiously, just last week I was asked whether I would be involved in helping to raise money for a foyer which is being set up in Poole in Dorset. I said that I should be delighted to do that, but in return I asked them to send me a briefing note about how it had been for them in trying to set up the foyer for this week's debate.
I was here at the end of the last debate and I listened to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, giving us quite good news about lottery funding. He said that the Government are looking at revenue funding and how they can assist projects which need lottery funding. Some foyers have tried to obtain lottery funding and it is very difficult to put together a package which meets the criteria. As has been highlighted, it is the running costs that are often the problem. I hope that the Government can give us
In the few moments I have left I wish to return to the problem of the single room rent. I was involved in highlighting this issue when the National Rent Deposit Forum produced a report last autumn. Also, like other noble Lords I received briefings from CAB and Shelter. All those organisations have done quite a bit of research. We had some detail tonight about landlords not wanting to continue to provide this type of accommodation to young people and the problems young people face in meeting the rent when they are in and out of work and only receive a little help towards the single room rent. In fact, it is often the most vulnerable people who have the most problems and who are also required to share accommodation with people whom they do not know well.
All those matters have been raised tonight. Research by a variety of groups reached the same conclusion; that is, that the single room rent has led to increases in the level of homelessness and the level of hardship among young people and it is time we abolished it. I know from a series of Questions tabled by the honourable Gordon Marsden in another place that the Government are currently reviewing this issue as part of a general review of housing benefit. I know also that they commissioned research which will explore its effects. I hope therefore that the Minister can keep us even more up to date and expand a little on that.
I want to end by reflecting on what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod. She told us of her involvement in setting up Crisis at Christmas. She said that she had been involved in setting up that organisation over 30 years ago; yet here we are, still debating this issue. The challenge for us all, and particularly for this Government, is to really make a change. I am sure that none of us wants to be debating this issue again in two years time, let alone 30.
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, anyone who walks around in central London rapidly becomes aware that homeless people are living on the streets. The evidence is there for all to see at any time. The waste of lives that that represents is all too obvious and, where young people are concerned, the lost potential is enormous. In calling this debate, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, gave us an opportunity to discuss a problem that has exercised many minds for a long time and I join in adding my thanks to those that have already been expressed by many other noble Lords.
As the noble Earl mentioned when introducing the debate, the Rough Sleepers Initiative was started by the previous government in the early 1990s and led to the successful resettlement of more than 4,000 previously homeless people. The scheme currently costs around £24 million a year. The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions administers Section 180 grants. Payments under that heading started around 1990 and now cost around £8 million a year. That is all to help prevent single homelessness. The DSS
Thus it can be seen that Government concern in this area is long-standing. The previous government, having first toughened conditions to try to encourage the young to remain at home, began to assist those who, despite discouragement, nonetheless felt the need or, worse, were compelled to leave. The Government are now working to bring together and co-ordinate action in this field, and that we wholly welcome.
I took the trouble to discuss this issue with the manager of a hostel for young homeless run by a less well-known charity in my borough of Kensington and Chelsea as I wished to hear the experience of a practitioner. He reported that the picture has changed considerably over recent years and that the proportion of his clients that used to come from outside London has reduced from around 50 per cent. to around 10 per cent. At least that might be held to indicate that the situation has improved to a certain extent outside London.
The manager said that 20 per cent. of his clients now come from his own borough; 30 per cent. come from next door Westminster, which may seem odd; and most of the rest come from Inner London. For 90 per cent. of his clients family breakdown lies at the root of their problems, in particular problems arising from conflicts of loyalty with step-parents and problems with step-parents and step-brothers and sisters. Most of the rest of his clients are those who were caught in the trap when leaving care. Social services departments work very well for the young who have to go or have to be taken into care until they are 16. But at that point there is a tendency to pass the problem on to others by an abrupt withdrawal of support. Regrettably, some are lost as a result of that transfer process. The manager also commented that he could fill his hostel daily from start to finish with asylum seekers, but that is a separate problem outside our remit today.
The hostel provides accommodation for up to six months and in that time they expect to train and educate their clients so that they are able to live independently in their own accommodation. Some of their clients have none of the necessary skills when they arrive and need intensive one-to-one training. This is a high cost establishment. At the end of six months clients are moved on, generally into private-let accommodation but otherwise into longer-term accommodation. But they can still receive guidance from a resettlement officer who is funded by a combination of money from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and money from the lottery fund.
Most clients, in a welcome way, go into further education, but some go straight into work. For all of them a continuing income is a constant worry. The normal costs of running this hostel are met by a combination of charges based on their clients' housing benefit and jobseeker's allowance, though the latter is
Two points stick in my mind as a result of that discussion. The first is the significance of the family and responsible parenthood. That has been mentioned by many noble Lords tonight. Although it is somewhat outside the remit of this debate, anything that can be done to improve family stability and relationships must be of great help if it results in fewer young people leaving home prematurely and becoming homeless. Indeed, in the long term that must be the most profitable way of tackling this subject. We, in this House, might regard parental obligations as absolute but, sadly, too many parents today take an altogether different view. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, talked about the ethos of society. The noble Lord, Lord Craigmyle, also touched on this aspect. That is the root problem. There are educational and social implications that run far beyond our debate tonight, but I cannot help but think that we must improve this area.
The other lesson is that it is essential that everybody recognises the need to work together so that there are no gaps between services, parts of services or between organisations through which clients can fall. Follow up and cross-referencing between different services and charities are essential if the homeless are to be brought back successfully into normal society. The instinctive corporate ethic of any particular group, be it a public body or a charity, can, on occasions, be damaging to the prospect of finding solutions to these problems and needs to be suppressed.
This has been a thoroughly interesting and helpful debate and one to which I have greatly enjoyed listening. I look forward to the Minister's response. I am sure he will tell us that the work which has been of concern for such a long time is continuing in a better and perhaps even more helpful way.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I add my thanks to those already expressed to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for initiating this debate. He made a splendid contribution at the beginning and set the tone for the whole debate. I thank noble Lords from all sides of the House who have participated including, in particular, the Cross-Benchers and, indeed, the Irish Earls, with their wide age range.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Lord, Lord Craigmyle, brought home to us the terrible experience of being homeless and young. To be without somewhere you can call home at any age is pretty awful, but without the experience and robustness that maturity brings, homelessness must be absolutely terrible. It robs people of their identity and their individuality. It can lead--not just immediately but for some time afterwards--to the kind of social exclusion that this Government are determined to tackle. At the very best, the experience takes a long time to get over and people need help to get over it. At worst, people do not get over it and there is a downward spiral into drugs, crime and prostitution.
Much has been made of the need to provide for young people the security of a home background. For most young people, that situation still applies. However, for many, the experience at home has been of trauma, break up, being thrown out, abuse or family break up. As the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and many noble Lords have emphasised, we therefore need to pay particular attention to preventive measures. We hope that our comprehensive proposals to strengthen the support available to families in this context will increase family stability and reduce the pressure on families. In particular, the Youth Homelessness Action Partnership has identified preventive measures as a priority for research so that knowledge about the range of measures that can be taken in the early stages is improved and we can base our policies on that.
There is one slight correction I want to make. It is not always the family's fault that young people become homeless. There are many families who have done their best but, nevertheless, the kids have walked out or otherwise moved away, often through addiction or attraction to crime. However, there are over 2 million young people who still live with their families in varying degrees of harmony.
I should also like to make a broader correction with regard to an issue raised by my noble friend Lord Judd and other noble Lords; namely, that much of the problem relates to the ethos of society and the fact that there is no collective help for some of these people. They feel that once they have dropped out there is no way back.
I turn to the role of the Government and the public authorities. I pay tribute to what was done under the previous government in recognising the problem and setting up the Rough Sleepers Initiative and other such measures, as noted by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. We all recognise, at both national and local authority level, that there is a serious problem here. It is important that all public authorities, together with the voluntary sector, act together. That is why we established the Youth Homelessness Action Partnership which, for the first time, brings together senior representatives of central government, local government and the voluntary sector to tackle and prevent youth homelessness. The partnership has already agreed on priorities for research and a working definition of youth homelessness which will be used to provide a reliable estimate of the numbers involved.
In response to the noble Earl, Lord Iveagh, I should point out that there are real problems in attempting to measure the scale of youth homelessness. In one sense it is a sub-set, albeit a growing proportion, of homelessness as a whole. Clearly from the experiences relayed by a number of noble Lords, the proportion of homeless people who are young is increasing. However, the term "youth homelessness" may be used to represent a number of different levels of housing need. At its most extreme, we are talking about total homelessness--rough sleeping. I shall return to that shortly. However, that is only a relatively small proportion of the total problem. There are young people accommodated in emergency night shelters, direct access hostels, various
As the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, indicated, there are also young people who will stay with friends and relatives on a temporary basis which may not be satisfactory to anybody concerned. In many ways they, too, are suffering from a lack of a permanent or a satisfactory home. So a wide spectrum of young people is involved. As I have said, the most extreme cases include rough sleeping. It is totally unacceptable to all in this House that anyone should be out there tonight sleeping on the streets of London, or any other of our towns and cities. That problem was taken up as a priority issue by this Government.
The Prime Minister asked the Social Exclusion Unit to address the issue of rough sleeping as one of its first priorities. The report, published last July, sets a tough initial target of reducing the number of people sleeping rough throughout England to a third of its current level by 2002. Information compiled by the Housing Services Agency indicates that about a third of the rough sleepers contacted were under 26 years old. Of those, a quarter were aged between 18 and 25. There were some under the age of 18 but that was only 7 per cent. of the total. However, they are obviously by far the most vulnerable, as many noble Lords have emphasised. The SEU report emphasises the need for a joined-up approach and hammers home the message that better integration of policy and service delivery and better co-operation between the voluntary and public sectors is needed in this area. We have established at the top level a new ministerial committee to ensure that our policies are truly consistent and joined up. My honourable friend Hilary Armstrong will be responsible for that co-ordination.
We are establishing a new unit for London where the problem is most acute. Some noble Lords have queried the emphasis on London. Despite the figures for Kensington, indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, London is still an attraction for many homeless and displaced people from outside London. Some of the figures quoted perhaps misrepresent the emphasis on London. Nevertheless, there is a disproportionate problem here and therefore disproportionate resources are allocated to it.
The new London unit will have an integrated budget of £145 million over three years until 2002 to combat rough sleeping and the causes of rough sleeping. We are intending to appoint a person heading that unit who the newspapers have described as a "street czar". Whatever the press call him or her, the important point is that there will be one person with the responsibility and the means to arrange the co-ordinated delivery of services here in London.
We have heard examples relating to the problem outside London from my noble friend Lord Ahmed, who referred to the situation in Yorkshire, from the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, who referred to the situation in Northern Ireland, and from the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells, who has now gone to test
The SEU report confirms that, in general, local authorities are in the best position to co-ordinate rough sleeping and general homelessness outside London. To support local authorities, the DETR has launched the Homelessness Action Programme, which will provide £34 million over the next three years to help voluntary organisations outside London to tackle and prevent single homelessness and rough sleeping. Details of the first tranche of successful applications were announced the other day by my colleague Hilary Armstrong. A number of those projects will now get underway rapidly. As well as addressing rough sleeping, we shall be funding schemes to ensure that young people never have to experience homelessness in any of its forms.
In relation to one particular group, we are co-ordinating the provision of homelessness grants with those provided under the Homeless Mentally Ill Initiative. People who are mentally ill, even prior to becoming homeless, often have secondary problems, such as those relating to alcohol and drug misuse, and then encounter even greater problems in getting out of that situation. We are prioritising support for homeless people with drug and alcohol problems. We have recently published details of how voluntary organisations can bid for funding under the specific grant relating to those with drug and alcohol problems. That issue was raised by several noble Lords, including the noble Viscount, Lord Leathers.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Lord, Lord Laming, referred to mentoring. In pursuing its strategy, the Social Exclusion Unit has been in discussion with a number of government departments and with those in the voluntary sector, including organisations such as the Big Issue and the Homeless Network, to try to find the best way to take forward the Government's commitment to rough sleeper mentoring initiatives. As a result of those discussions, the Homeless Network, working with homelessness organisations, including the Prince's Trust, is already running mentoring projects and has produced a paper for the SEU outlining the basis for further development. I join the noble Lord, Lord Laming, in paying tribute to those adults and others who engage in the mentoring process. It provides vital support to very vulnerable people.
Perhaps I may add a general tribute to the work of the voluntary sector and the Church-based organisations which have developed a substantial response to these problems. I refer not only to the household names, such as Shelter, the National Children's Home, and Centrepoint, but also to the hundreds of smaller, locally based, voluntary organisations. I pay particular tribute to the efforts of the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of
Voluntary sector organisations, in conjunction with local authorities, can do much to help those who have often become deeply suspicious of more formal organisations. The Government are helping. Grants totalling £27 million over three years have been awarded and we shall shortly make an announcement about the allocation of a further £7 million to help voluntary organisations in this area. As the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, indicated, young people often do not know where to turn. Frequently, the voluntary organisations provide the point at which those young people have any contact with potential support.
I have been asked about foyers and funding for them by, among others, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. The Government support the work of foyers through the Employment Service and Careers Service funding. Those agencies work closely with foyers to give residents access to guidance, support and training. Several successful foyers have operated. My noble friend Lord Judd referred to the YMCA, and there are many others. Both now and beyond, into the new funding arrangements after 2002, foyer schemes will be able to bid for employment and training provision alongside other providers. Individual local authorities are probably best placed to assess whether or not foyer schemes meet the need. As has been identified, there is not much point in giving a foyer project capital support if there is no workable proposal on how the running costs will be met. It is important that all prospective partners in new foyer schemes--the local authority, the housing associations and the voluntary organisations--properly plan the future financing of such schemes. That will enable them to play an important part.
Wider policies impact on youth homelessness. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, referred to the impact of the New Deal which will mean that we can begin to take young people out of the situation of total unemployment and therefore, in many cases, homelessness. Young people need to be in the labour market so that the cycle of "no home, no job/no job, no home" will be broken. The New Deal offers many such people a real opportunity to address other problems at the same time as maintaining a focus on employment, which is the central element of that scheme.
Issues relating to housing benefit have been raised. Clearly, access to housing benefit is a key factor for many young people. Inadequacy of resources is clearly one of the main causes of homelessness. For most young people under the age of 25, support for living in the private rented sector is restricted to the single room rent. That is supposed to represent the average rent for a single room with shared facilities. The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and others, asked whether the Government should be looking again at that. We have received reports from voluntary organisations showing that the single room rent is causing problems in many localities where landlords and, to some extent, local authorities are avoiding letting accommodation to young people. We have therefore
Perhaps I may make two qualifications in relation to the single-room rent allowance. There is already some degree of flexibility. Those who are most likely to face additional problems and who are living independently without family support, for example, care leavers and disabled people, are exempt from the single-room rent provisions. It is also true that claimants suffering exceptional hardship as a result of the single room rent restriction can apply to the local authority for discretionary help.
The noble Viscount, Lord Leathers, referred specifically to the fact that drugs aggravate the problems of homelessness. A large proportion of those most severely affected by homelessness are also subject to drug abuse. Our new drug strategy will provide treatment for groups which are hard to reach. I refer, for example, to the young homeless. In total, the health authorities are deploying an extra £70.5 million over the next three years to develop and commission drug services. Some of that will benefit the young homeless. We must also consider the implications of restrictions on access to hostels and other services.
The noble Viscount, Lord Leathers, and other noble Lords, referred to prostitution. That is a serious problem in our major cities and elsewhere. Child prostitution and that of young persons must be dealt with. We have provided new guidance on that for police and local authorities. We are also developing a national plan to combat the commercial exploitation of children. It is vital that young people are seen as victims, not criminals, in that respect. We hope that all public authorities will take that view. It is a demeaning and disastrous side effect of homelessness in our cities.
There are other aspects as regards vulnerable people and the housing legislation which need to be tackled. We are currently strengthening the advice in the code of guidance about the duties of local authorities. My noble friend Lady Goudie referred to that. We need to give priority to all young people at risk.
That brings me to a point which a number of noble Lords raised; namely, those who have left care. They belong to probably one of the most vulnerable groups of young people. They have been in the care of local authorities and left. They have then found great difficulty in finding suitable and affordable accommodation. We know that between one third and one quarter of rough sleepers have been looked after by local authorities as children. Through our other policies in relation to care we intend to try to improve the position of those leaving care so that the transition out of care is managed more effectively than clearly it has been. Improving the support
We are planning to make radical changes in the whole area of care leavers' support so that those aged between 16 and 18 years will have a plan setting out a "pathway to independence", including arrangements for their accommodation and ensuring that they have the necessary life skills. I hope that reassures my noble friend Lord Ahmed that we are beginning to tackle these problems.
I see that my time is almost up. There are a number of points which I have not touched on. In the normal way, I shall write to noble Lords about them. The issues raised in this debate go far wider than simple accommodation. It is a central social problem of our times. I hope that the expectations that have been raised by government action will be fulfilled. We owe it to all the young people on the cold streets tonight, or in inappropriate hostels and others forms of accommodation, to improve their circumstances. The Government are committed to that, as I know your Lordships are. I very much appreciate the contributions of noble Lords in this debate.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken this evening. It has been a fascinating debate. There are a few points that I would like to emphasise. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Longford. I have now at last found out something about my father's life at school and I am very grateful for that. The noble Lord, Lord Laming, made the important point that we expect the most from those who can give the least. The noble Lord, Lord Leathers, made some important points on which the Minister went some way to reassure us as regards the need for a secure environment for working with drug users so that they do not fall through the net of provision. There was an encouraging note from the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, as regards the Rowntree Report. Sometimes it is possible to re-establish a relationship with a family and that can be pursued, but obviously, it is not always possible.