Shapps attacks 'ludicrous' council over homeless
The housing minister has accused England’s largest council of being ‘ludicrous’ for reporting just nine rough sleepers in its annual street count.
Grant Shapps spoke out after he was challenged at a conference about the low number of rough sleepers reported by Birmingham Council in rough sleeping counts.
The council, which is the biggest local authority landlord in England and is run by a Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition, recorded just nine rough sleepers in the last count carried out in autumn 2010.
This compares to 23 reported in Bradford, 14 in Harrogate and 14 in Wychavon. It is the same number as that reported in leafy Tunbridge Wells.
Mr Shapps said: ‘For Birmingham to say it only has nine [rough sleepers] is ludicrous in my view.’
He added that solving rough sleeping ‘requires lots of political will’. He said London was currently leading the way in tackling rough sleeping because of the commitment of mayor Boris Johnson.
He added: ‘Where-ever you are if there is some assistance required, Birmingham being an obvious example, come to me and I will try to put pressure on towns and cities to provide that political leadership.’
Mr Shapps, who was speaking at a conference organised by Homeless Link on Wednesday, was also challenged by audience members over the impact that government housing benefit reforms will have on homelessness.
In response he stated that failing to tackle the deficit would have the worst possible impact on homelessness in the long-term.
‘I am not arguing that these things [benefit reform] will not have an impact,’ he said. ‘Of course they will. That is why we have quadrupled the discretionary fund [available to councils to support people in housing difficulty].’
The reforms to housing benefit are also incremental with Universal Credit not introduced until 2013, he said.
But he added: ‘It [housing benefit] has become such a mess that I am afraid that getting there is difficult and involves quite a bit of turmoil on the way.
‘Our job is to try and ensure that this doesn’t lead to a huge rise in homelessness. We are historically in a good place as far as homeless acceptances are concerned.’
As Inside Housing reported yesterday Mr Shapps used the conference to outline how the government is planning to spend £37.5 million funding from its Homeless Change Programme to provide new hostel bed spaces – and reveal that the government would now provide the programme with an additional £5 million.