THE PLIGHT of homeless people should be on our minds all year round – not just at Christmas. We can drop into a local homeless charity and feel good about the wonderful staff and volunteers taking care of members of our community who have fallen on hard times.
But the memory tugs at us when we walk away because ‘the homeless’ now have a face and we’ve listened to their stories and sympathised - an uncomfortable reminder that no one is immune and that the social factors that can tip the balance are present at every level of society.
We’re fortunate to have some of the toughest laws to prevent people from ending up on the streets. But while homelessness remains lower than in 28 of the last 30 years we are always anxious to do more.
So despite necessary cuts elsewhere we’ve maintained £400m homelessness prevention funding, including £20m of new funding which for the first time will specifically target single homeless people who all too often slip through the safety net.
But the real challenge is how to use this money in a more dynamic way to get to grips with factors that impinge on homelessness, such as family breakdown.
We know families suffering problems such as drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, poverty and anti-social behaviour cost an estimated £9bn a year in spending on the NHS, police and social services. So it makes sense to start at the beginning.
We want to get to the bottom of these families’ problems and resolve them - for their own good, and for the good of their communities.
It is time for leadership at the top. A new Troubled Families Team based within the Department for Communities and Local Government and headed by the former Victims’ Commissioner, Louise Casey, has been established to join up efforts across Whitehall, provide expert help to local areas and drive forward a strategy which will have at its heart a national network of ‘trouble-shooters’, appointed by local councils.
We will offer up to 40 per cent of the cost of dealing with these families to local authorities – on a payment-by-results basis. The programme will run over the next three financial years from 2012-13.
We will never completely banish family breakdown and one of its saddest consequences – homelessness. But we can make a new, determined effort to turn around the lives of 120,000 of some of the country’s most troubled families by the end of this Parliament.
MP for Horsham