Speech I NEVER MADE.
Time constraints and the need for a debating speech denied the House of Commons the benefit of the erudite words (below) in favour of what I actually said (further below)
The Housing (Wales) Act 2014 became law in Wales in the 17th September 2014 and included a number of changes aimed at reducing levels of homelessness. Under the previous legislation, Part VII of the Housing Act 1996, homelessness assistance was required when a person was threatened with homelessness within 28 days. The new Welsh legislation extended that time limit for being threatened with homelessness to 56 days. The main aim of the Welsh legislation was to reduce levels of homelessness by placing prevention at the centre of local authority duties to help everyone at risk rather than just those in priority need groups. Prevention, according to the Welsh Government, focuses on local authorities taking positive action to provide housing assistance to someone who the authority considers is threatened with homelessness within 56 days. For positive action to be recorded as successful, the authority must be satisfied that the intervention is likely to result in homelessness being prevented for at least 6 months and that the accommodation is suitable for that person. Not only is Wales providing people with a roof over their head, it aims to provide them with dignity.
The Housing (Wales) Act is just one of many revolutionary pieces of legislation being passed by the National Assembly for Wales. Another of note is the Well-being of Future Generations Act. An Act which sets about improving the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales. That Act puts in place seven well-being goals for Wales. These desire, a more equal, prosperous, resilient, healthier and globally responsible Wales, with cohesive communities and a vibrant culture and thriving Welsh Language. One key indicator of Wales’ well-being is the number of households successfully prevented from becoming homeless, per 10,000 households. Since the Housing (Wales) Act that number is on the rise. When asked about the Well-being of Future Generations Act, the UN said, ‘What Wales is doing today, the world will do tomorrow’. I believe the same could be said for Wales’ approach to preventing homelessness.
The effect of the Welsh Legislation is remarkable. During 2015-16 a total of 7, 128 households were assessed as threatened with homelessness within 56 days. In 65 per cent of those cases, homelessness was successfully prevented for at least 6 months. During 2015-16 a total of 6,891 households were assessed as being homeless, of these households, 45 per cent were successfully relieved of their homelessness and helped to secure accommodation that was likely to last more than 6 months. During 2015-16, 1, 563 households were assess to be unintentionally homeless and in priority need and qualified for the duty to have accommodation secured for them. Of these households, 80 per cent were positively discharged and accepted an offer of accommodation. As incredible as these results are, the legislation does not go to the root of the problems and causes of homelessness. The reason that the figure for finding someone a new home is so low, is because of the difficulty in finding suitable, affordable accommodation. Because of the lack of council house stock and increasing rents in the private sector. In the words of Shelter, ‘New laws are only as effective as the supply of affordable accommodation available to councils’. Councils cannot prevent homelessness for good if people can’t remain in their homes, or if there is a shortage of affordable housing to move people into. New homelessness laws will not solve a housing crisis.
The financial effect of this legislation is again to be marvelled at, Crisis estimates that the cost to the public purse of every person who is not helped to avoid homelessness in the first year alone, is between £3,000 and £18,000. Simon Rose, the Housing needs Manager in Newport, estimates that for every pound spent, Newport Council is saving £4, due to this Welsh Government scheme. Frances Beecher, Chief executive of Llamau, has called it a ‘phenomenally brave step to take in times of austerity, not to wait for a crisis point but to take a step back, get behind the issues and try to tackle them.’ This is advice the Government should take on board in a number of its endeavours.
The Welsh Legislation is not flawless. Shelter Cymru, raised issue with the Welsh model for only guaranteeing accommodation for 6 months. Highlighting that in England the duty is a requirement of 12 months accommodation. Shelter state that it often takes more than 12 months to gain the stability required after being made homeless. However, the 6 months guarantee represents once again the difficulty faced by many searching for a home in our present housing sector. As identified in the Welsh Government’s 10 year homelessness plan, private landlords are more willing to offer tenancies of a period of 6 months, than they are to offer tenancies of 12 months. With very few tenancies in these instances being made under terms of 12 months. While it is recognised that the draft Homelessness reduction Bill maintains the 12 month period, there remains concern that a shortage of affordable housing may hinder the intended outcome of the Bill.
What has been the cultural effect of the Welsh Housing Legislation? In Flintshire, they have described staff transitioning from ‘tick box’ decision making to a much more supportive role. Whereas once the focus was on sifting through young, single people, who were not considered a priority, now staff can focus on offering help and advice to those in need. The Welsh Government’s £5.6 Million implementation fund, has not only paid for rental deposits and letting agents’ fees, paying off rent and mortgage arrears, it has gone to funding support workers, environmental health officers and Shelter Cymru Caseworkers. Transforming the once adversarial relationship between those making applications on behalf of the homeless and those challenging them into a relationship of cooperation. It is the dignity with which these two sides now treat each other, that has resulted in the increased results for those who need it most.
Hansard 10.54 am
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst), particularly given her comments about Emmaus, which is by far the most impressive group working and producing practical results in this area. I had the experience of visiting Emmaus, and, uniquely, the people there insisted that the visiting MPs washed their dishes after the modest meal that we had. This was a symbol of the democratic nature there; MPs, no matter who we thought we were, were on the same level as the homeless people and companions in the house. Emmaus is a splendid institution.
The hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) deserves our full congratulations on introducing this Bill. May I urge everyone else to follow his advice to keep a Bill simple and not to adorn it with amendments? I once had the experience of the late Alan Clark and the late Eric Forth making speeches in support of a Third Reading of a Bill I had. I then realised to my horror that neither of those two colourful figures actually understood the Bill, and the only way of getting it through was to make a 13-second speech in case they understood the details and then sabotaged it. Simplicity is the way of getting things through in this House.
The Welsh Government, to their credit, already have this measure. It is the best of legislation, because it is not overambitious; it does not attempt to change the world. We know the problems of homelessness. A lot of it is to do with mental ill health, or with addiction to drugs or alcohol. Homelessness is a very complex issue and there is no simple solution to it, but they have introduced this measure modestly and it has been very successful. May I commend another measure that the Welsh Government took, which is on consent for organ donations? About three years ago, I had a constituent visit me who was waiting for a heart transplant. This 19-year-old boy found that there was a shortage of donors and six months later I attended his funeral. Again, we should look at what is happening in Wales with the presumed consent measure and follow that example.
I have a half-hour speech written out, but I will not burden hon. Members with it. On the Bill, I wish just to say something to my Labour colleagues. A simplistic way to solve these problems is to say that the Labour party should end the sale of council houses. That is a very controversial issue, and may I commend the work of the late David Taylor, who was a councillor in Leicestershire and a marvellous MP? Members should read a great book about him called “Clockwinder Who Wouldn’t Say No”. He was a model MP, and anyone who wants to should read that book and find out—
Who wrote it?
Don’t bother buying it, as it is much too expensive—come to see me. [Interruption.] No money is made from it. Those who remember David will know of the sad circumstances of his death. I believe he was killed by press criticism, which destroyed him, because he was a great Christian gentleman who was undermined by an attack on him; he dropped dead a fortnight later. I mention him today because when he was on the council, long before he became an MP, he and Newport’s council did the same thing. Long before Thatcher sold council houses, we decided, for good socialist reasons, to sell council houses, because it is not property that is theft in today’s housing world, but rent. We could not continue, in good conscience, to deny the people who support us so well—the council house tenants—the chance of acquiring an appreciating asset: a house. I say that we must not take that road, as that would be the wrong way to go, and there are other ways of tackling the problem.
This Bill is a fine Bill, and it is wonderful to see a progressive, highly intelligent and practical politician following the example of socialists in Wales.