Thank you for contacting me about tackling homelessness and rough sleeping.
A single person without a roof over their head is one too many and it is important that the most vulnerable people are helped to get their lives back on track. I stood on a commitment to end rough sleeping once and for all and it is welcome news that almost 15,000 rough sleepers and those at risk of becoming so have been offered safe accommodation since the start of the pandemic.
But the real challenge has just begun. There needs to be a long-term solution which is why over half a billion in support has been provided to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. It is encouraging to see that the Next Steps Accommodation Programme has been launched, which will cover property costs and support new tenancies for around 15,000 vulnerable people. Local councils and their partners can apply for support from the £266 million fund, helping make sure people continue to have a safe place to stay and can begin to rebuild their lives with wrap-around services and care.
Furthermore, I am encouraged that £105 million has been given towards interim accommodation and £433 million has been allocated to provide 6,000 safe and long-term homes for those in need. £161 million of this funding is available this year to provide 3,300 units of supported housing for those in emergency accommodation. Also, Public Health England has provided £23 million for this year to ensure that drug and alcohol treatment is maintained for those who need such support as they move into longer-term move-on accommodation and to support those who have not previously engaged with treatment services.
I am glad that the Government has extended powers to the most affected local authorities to support certain EEA nationals sleeping rough to the end of the year. I have been assured by ministerial colleagues that they are coordinating across departments on how these challenges can be addressed long-term as we begin recovering from the pandemic.
Everyone deserves a home to call their own and affordability is key to ensuring people can do so. The Government has committed to building 300,000 new homes of all tenures each year by the mid-2020s, and great progress has been made with over 240,000 homes delivered in 2018-19 – the highest number in 32 years. The current £9 billion Affordable Homes Programme will be replaced by a £12 billion one to ensure that homes for low-income families are built where they are urgently needed.
At this time of emergency, we need to keep the momentum up to address rough sleeping once and for all.
Turning to the Universal Credit standard allowance for those under 25, your points about the challenges faced by some young people are important.
Universal Credit was designed to simplify the benefits system with a focus on helping people into work and supporting their in-work progression. Having a simplified benefits system has been hugely beneficial during this crisis and has allowed much of the focus to be on bolstering the existing system, not trying to reinvent it. Differential rates are paid according to people's individual circumstances and ages, although I would emphasise that the Department for Work and Pensions has increased the standard allowance in UC for all claimants. I would also add that additional amounts which provide for specific needs such as children or disability are paid at a standard rate in addition to the standard allowance, irrespective of age.
Universal Credit claimants can also get support with housing costs which can help to pay private landlords, local authorities or interest payments on a mortgage. In response to Covid-19, the Local Housing Allowance rates for Housing Benefit and Universal Credit claimants have been increased to the 30th percentile of local rents, providing additional financial support for private renters. If people need further support with rent Discretionary Housing Payments are available, while a £500 million Hardship Fund provides council tax relief to vulnerable people in England.
That being said, I share your concern that young people are supported through the Coronavirus emergency. Benefits, however, are only one part of that support. I know my colleagues in Government have been working hard to protect jobs by helping businesses to open safely, while the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and Self Employed Income Support Scheme have helped to keep people in their roles throughout an uncertain period. I hope the new Job Retention Bonus will add to this.
I hope this reassures you that supporting young people is a key priority and is certainly something I will continue to champion in Parliament.
Thank you for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP