POLITICS
07/03/2018 13:00 GMT | Updated 07/03/2018 15:03 GMT

Theresa May Admits Government’s Rough Sleeping Taskforce Hadn’t Met Once In 4 Months - Until Today

'There is a homelessness crisis in this country.'

A government taskforce set up to tackle rough sleeping did not meet for nearly four months, it has emerged.

Chancellor Philip Hammond announced the creation of the new body, along with £28 million for three new schemes to support those living on the streets, in his autumn budget late last year.

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told the Commons on Wednesday that he understood the group was yet to meet and that none of the new funding had been spent to date.

He used Prime Minister’s Questions to ask Theresa May: “In November the chancellor announced a rough sleeping taskforce and £28 million for three pilot schemes to tackle homelessness. 

“I understand, four months on, that the taskforce has not yet met.  Not a penny has been spent on that programme.

PA Wire/PA Images
Theresa May said the government will eradicate rough sleeping by 2027

“There is a homelessness crisis in this country. Rough sleeping has doubled since 2010.  Doesn’t the prime minister think it’s a little unambitious to say we are going to tackle rough sleeping by 2027?”

May said the government planned to completely eradicate rough sleeping by that date and that the taskforce had in fact met that morning. 

She added: “But more importantly, this isn’t the only group of people we bring together to look at rough sleeping.

“We have an expert advisory group that has been meeting over recent months and whose reports and whose information and whose expertise is being input into that taskforce.”

Conservative backbencher Andrew Bridgen later claimed there were “no rough sleepers” in his North West Leicester constituency. 

“Over the last three years more than 2,000 new homes have been built, including a record 731 in the last 12 months,” he said.

“My local authority are building new council houses for the first time in decades - all in contrast with just 227 houses completed in the year to 2010, the last time Labour were in government.

“Will my Right Honourable Friend use North West Leicester as an example to other local authorities,show then our unemployment rate of 1% and fact that we have no rough sleepers?”

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Rough sleeping has doubled since 2010

May said statutory homelessness is at “less than half of its peak in 2003”.

“But we recognise there is more to do,” she added.

The PM’s spokesman later said Cabinet Office minister David Lidington had chaired the inaugural meeting of the taskforce.

Asked if it was a ‘coincidence’ that the meeting took place on the same day as Prime Minister’s Questions, he replied: “It has always been planned. 

“After the Cabinet [discussed this] a couple of weeks we said it was ‘imminent’.

“It’s the first meeting of the taskforce. There is another group which has met.”

A rough sleeper died just yards from an entrance to Parliament last month, and latest figures showed there were 4,751 rough sleepers on a single night in autumn 2017 - the highest number since comparable records began.

The statistics also revealed an 18% increase in the number of rough sleepers in London since 2016, with the figure rising from 964 to 1,137 in autumn 2017.

Following the death last month, Labour MPs said the government could not continue “passing the buck” on the issue. 

Neil Coyle, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on homelessness, told HuffPost UK: “I think members of the public will believe this is utterly unacceptable and it is time for the government to commit to action to ending rough sleeping and homelessness - many of the root causes of which we know already.”