'Nobody should have to sleep rough' - Theresa May vows homelessness crackdown
Theresa May has vowed to wipe rough sleeping from England's streets by 2027 - as Labour warned that her new plan to tackle the problem would "barely register".
The Prime Minister is throwing her weight behind the Government's new Rough Sleepers Strategy, which pledges £100m of existing funding towards eliminating rough sleeping entirely within a decade.
But Labour said the "feeble" amount pledged will not make up for the impact of cuts to affordable housing and welfare that the party claimed had made the crisis worse.
The number of people estimated to be bedded down in the open air in England has soared in recent years, with 4,751 recorded at the last count in autumn 2017.
That marked a 15% rise on the year before, and a 169% rise since 2010.
The Government's new strategy vows to tackle the problem with £30m of funding for mental health and substance abuse services in areas with the highest number of rough sleepers.
It also promises a focus on preventing people from becoming homeless in the first place, pledging "intensive support" for those at risk of homelessness, including people leaving prison or care.
The strategy meanwhile vows £50m for new homes outside of London for those ready to move on from hostels and refuges, and promises to "rapidly" house people who are already sleeping rough.
Ministers are also expected to look at the current laws on homelessness and rough sleeping, and are mulling plans to axe the 1824 Vagrancy Act which means it is still illegal to beg or sleep rough in England and Wales.
'TURN LIVES AROUND'
Mrs May said: "Nobody should have to sleep rough, and that's why we must do all we can to help the most vulnerable in our society get the support they need.
"But we recognise this is a complex issue - as well as ensuring people have somewhere to live, we have to deal with underlying problems and ultimately help people turn their lives around.
"The strategy launched today will help us act to prevent rough sleeping before it happens and make sure targeted support is reaching those that need it."
Labour's John Healey tore into the proposals, however, warning that the strategy would do little to tackle the problem of rough sleeping.
"This is a feeble plan that lacks any urgency to tackle the crisis of rising rough sleeping," the Shadow Housing Secretary said.
"The scale of the problem is clear today but the Government’s target means waiting almost a decade to deal with this crisis.
"The funding announced will barely register compared to the reckless Conservative cuts to affordable housing, social security benefits and homelessness services that have caused this crisis.
"If ministers believed this was a serious plan they wouldn’t be burying it in mid-August."
The plans were meanwhile given a cautious welcome by a coalition of seven homelessness charities - Crisis, Homeless Link, National Housing Federation, Shelter, St Basils, St Mungo's and Thames Reach - who worked with ministers on the strategy.
In a joint statement, the group said the plan was "a significant step towards the government's goal of ending rough sleeping by 2027".
But they added: "For the strategy to work, the Government must also set out bold, cross-departmental plans to tackle the root causes of all forms of homelessness and prevent it from happening in the first place.
"This must include plans to build significantly more social housing, to foster greater security for renters, to ensure people have access to benefits and other support they need to help them keep their homes.
"We also need to see a reversal of policies that leave migrants homeless and destitute, and healthcare, mental health and substance misuse services that are available and truly accessible to those who need it."