New £30m fund to help rough sleepers

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Councils in England with high levels of rough sleepers will soon receive a share of a new £30m fund.

A team of experts will be formed by government to help reduce the number of people living on the street, which has been rising for the last seven years.

The measures aim to "break the homelessness cycle once and for all", the government said.

Labour dismissed the initiative as a "pitiful response to a national crisis".

But Communities Secretary Sajid Javid told the BBC he was "absolutely committed" to reducing homelessness.

"People can look at ministers like me and say 'are they really going to do this?'" Mr Javid told BBC Breakfast. "Judge us by the actual actions and this is real action that is going to help people."

Homelessness minister Heather Wheeler has said she would resign if the problem of rough sleeping worsens while she is in office.

There were 4,751 people counted or estimated to be bedding down outside in autumn 2017, a 15% rise on the year before and more than double the figure recorded five years ago.

Record numbers of rough sleepers were also referred to a specialist helpline as the so-called Beast from the East hit the UK earlier this year, bringing with it sub zero temperatures.

Media caption,
Communities Secretary Sajid Javid says he is "absolutely committed" to reducing homelessness

Mr Javid said it was "unacceptable" that people in modern Britain had died on the streets this winter.

The new task force team will include experts from government departments and agencies with specialisms in mental health, housing and addiction.

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The initiative comes as a new homelessness law comes into force next week.

From April, councils in England will be legally obliged to provide services to anyone at risk of becoming homeless, not just those with a priority need such as vulnerable people or families with children.

The Homelessness Reduction Bill will oblige councils to start assessing someone at risk of being made homeless 56 days before losing their home. Currently, the threat of homelessness is defined as starting 28 days before the person loses their home.

Greg Beales, campaigns director at homelessness charity Shelter, said that while the new measures would make "a genuine difference", most people become homeless because they cannot afford anywhere to live - "a situation made far worse by welfare cuts".

The government's strategy should include "building more social homes to rent, and making sure housing benefit is fit for purpose," he added.

This was echoed by shadow housing secretary John Healey, who said: "You can't help the homeless if you won't provide the homes, and the money announced here is less than 1% of the Conservatives' annual cut to funding for new low-cost housing."

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