Bishop of Rochester supports Homelessness Reduction Bill

On 24th February 2017 the House of Lords considered the Homelessness Reduction Bill, a Private Member’s Bill from Lord Best and Bob Blackman MP. The Bishop of Rochester, Rt Revd James Langstaff, spoke in support:

RochesterThe Lord Bishop of Rochester: My Lords, I declare my interest as the chair of the organisation Housing Justice and thank the noble Lord, Lord Best, for his sponsorship of this Bill in your Lordships’ House. I also add my thanks to Bob Blackman, the Member for Harrow East, for his initiative in bringing forward the Bill in the other place. Before turning to the specifics of the Bill, I will echo the final points made by the noble Lord about the connection between the wider issues of housing supply and housing finance and the sharper end of homelessness which we see on our streets and in other manifestations. It would be such a tragedy if some of those wider matters were not tackled and frustrated the good intentions of this Bill.

I particularly welcome in the Bill the extension and redefinition of the duties laid on local authorities around prevention, relief and referral. These new duties should significantly extend the reach of support, care and help for those who are homeless, not least those such as the single homeless, already referred to, who hitherto have tended to fall through every net that there is to fall through.

I also welcome the Government’s commitment of £61 million of funding. Clearly, where local authorities and other public bodies are being given new duties to undertake, they need to have the resources to do so. But there is the question of the unknown demand for advice, advocacy and support services which may result from the Bill—hence the commitment by the Government to a review after two years, which is very welcome. Slightly pre-empting that review, I will dare to express the hope that the Government might do something which we might not always associate with a Government of any hue, which is to be generous and, when the time comes, to make sure that in future spending rounds—to pick up another point that has already been made—all local authorities are resourced in such a way that they can operate at the level of the best, and thereby ensure that we are working together to tackle these issues.

Legislation provides frameworks, and the Bill will greatly improve the framework around which we deal with matters of homelessness. Local authorities and other public bodies have duties and, as we have already heard, new duties will be given as a result of this legislation if the Bill is passed. The reality on the ground is that much of the provision often comes from voluntary and community organisations of one kind or another, ranging from the big national organisations, some of which have already been referred to, to little local initiatives in particular communities. That will continue to be the case: indeed, that provision may even need to increase as new possibilities come forward through the Bill.

I know my right reverend friend the Bishop of Southwark will refer to some specific projects and initiatives in places which illustrate this, and the importance of partnership between statutory agencies and voluntary and community organisations in helping to end homelessness, and I suspect that other noble Lords will, too. Had I been minded to bring forward an amendment—I assure the noble Lord that I will not be doing so, because that would risk frustrating the passage of the Bill—it might have been around a clearer duty on local authorities to work in partnership with voluntary and community organisations. In the best places, that works really well—but that is not universal, and we need again to encourage all to aspire to what is done by the best. It is often the voluntary sector bodies that are providing those services, sometimes referred to as non-commissioned services, which are vital if we are going to achieve our intentions of reducing homelessness and even—it would be wonderful—ending it.

The organisation I referred to which I chair, Housing Justice, is a coalition body for a range of Christian and church-related organisations working in the homelessness and housing sector. Following a symposium at the end of last year which we convened across the road in Millbank, we published a statement in January, on the occasion of Homeless Sunday, which affirmed the commitment of the Christian homelessness sector to work with energy, enthusiasm and everything that we can bring to end homelessness in our country. We believe that the sector has resources to offer, not least in the form of people of good will who bring time, commitment and energy. We know that if the contribution of church-related organisations was taken out of the homelessness sector, we would all notice it. So we reaffirm our offer to be a resource and the offer of our experience, energy and commitment to work with central and local government to seek solutions to homelessness wherever it is found.

Alongside the affirmation of the offer, we also in that statement encourage both central and local government, at the different levels, to produce comprehensive and long-term strategies to end homelessness. It seems to me that the Bill provides a good framework within which that might happen. I encourage those statutory bodies to actively seek out partners in their particular area with which they might develop such strategies in order to give effect to what the Bill seeks to bring about.

I assure the Minister of the commitment of the sector that in a sense I represent, and of the willingness of the Christian homelessness sector to be part of the solution to these issues. I also affirm my continued support for the Bill as it passes through this House, and I very much hope to see it enacted. I therefore welcome it. I once again thank the noble Lord, Lord Best, for his sponsorship of the Bill, and trust that it will have a smooth passage through your Lordships’ House.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government and Wales Office (Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth) (Con) [extract]: …Mention has also been made of the role of other groups. Faith groups were mentioned, quite rightly, by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester, who I know has taken a lead on this in the Church and done much in relation to homelessness shelters. On a recent visit to Peterborough, I was pleased to meet some of those providing support as part of the network he referred to. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark also spoke, for example, of his experience of what is happening in Wandsworth and Croydon. I thank them because, whatever happens today, there is always a role for faith and voluntary organisations to come together. They are trusted, familial and responsive. They are a vital part of the fabric and mosaic in this area.


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