04/03/2018 19:41 GMT

Housing Minster Heather Wheeler Promises To Resign If Rough Sleeping Crisis Gets Worse

A record 4,700 people are sleeping on England's streets.

A Conservative government housing minster has promised to resign if the rough sleeping crisis gets worse while she is in charge as homelessness reaches record levels.

Heather Wheeler insisted there would be improvements after the plight of England’s estimated 4,700 rough sleepers was starkly highlighted by the “Beast from the East” storm which plunged the country into sub-zero temperatures over the last week.

A record number of rough sleepers were referred to a specialist helpline by members of the public as the icy blast gripped the country.

More than 3,600 alerts were sent to StreetLink, which connects the homeless to local services, between Monday and Tuesday morning - the highest total ever for a 24-hour period.

In Nottinghamshire, a homeless man was found dead inside a tent as blizzards struck the country. 

Wheeler announced that pilot schemes providing “wraparound” care for homeless people would launch in Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool next month.

Asked if she believed the government will meet its target of eliminating rough sleeping within a decade, Wheeler told BBC Radio 4′s Westminster Hour said: “It’s a high ambition. But I don’t see why we won’t get that sorted.

“I accept that I am inheriting a very difficult, complex problem - and I also accept that, six weeks in to the job, I am inheriting a decisive prime ministerial decree which I will deliver.”

Asked how she would feel if the problem gets worse on her watch, she said: “Well there are two answers to that: a) it won’t and b) I’d resign.”

The £28 million “housing first” scheme will direct homeless people to shelters and help them deal with drug, alcohol, mental health and family breakdown problems.

From there they will be allowed to progress to “move-on” accommodation, supported by outreach workers, and then homes of their own.

“That is the utopia and that is the line I want to see happening for these poor friends,” Wheeler said.

“The Government has accepted, and acknowledges, and wants to do more in this area - and has given me the budget.”

The number of people sleeping rough on the streets of England has reached the highest level since current records began.

An estimated 4,751 people were sleeping rough in the autumn of 2017, according to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

This is a 15% rise, up by 617 from the autumn 2016 total of 4,134.