A BACKBENCH MP’s Bill, which would oblige councils to do more to prevent people from becoming homeless, has won support from the Government and all sides of the House of Commons at its Second Reading.
Bob Blackman, a Conservative backbencher, introduced the Homelessness Reduction Bill last Friday, when it was passed by MPs from all parties without any votes against.
His Private Member’s Bill seeks to change the 1996 Housing Act to require councils to assess whether people are at risk of homelessness much earlier than is the case now — thus giving those threatened with losing their home more time to seek help from their local authority.
It would also give councils a longer period in which to help those who had recently become homeless to find accommodation.
The Communities and Local Government minister Marcus Jones pledged the Government’s “full and unfettered support” for the Bill.
Similar legislation passed by the Welsh Assembly last year had led to a 69-per-cent reduction in homelessness, Mr Blackman said. He hoped the new law could lead to a cultural shift at councils, from crisis management to a more active approach.
Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary, John Healey, said that the Government must provide more money for councils to meet the new obligations in the Bill, as well as address the root causes of the recent rise in homelessness.
Christian MPs from both main parties contributed to the debate, and Jonathan Reynolds — who chairs Christians on the Left — stood to urge MPs not to oppose all housing developments in their constituencies to appease existing residents, but to support efforts to create more homes.
The Conservative Kelly Tolhurst praised the efforts of charities in her constituency of Rochester and Strood, and in particular Caring Hands, which, she said, offered a “Christian response to the problems facing the marginalised in our society”, and Emmaus Medway, a branch of an international network of homes and social enterprises for homeless people, originally started by a French priest.
Homelessness charities have also praised the Bill and MPs’ backing for it. The chief executive of Housing Justice, Alison Gelder, said that the agency would provide briefing material for the committee that would scrutinise it, especially on the place of the Church in tackling homelessness.
The chief executive of the Roman Catholic social-action network CSAN, Phil McCarthy, said: “We support the Bill’s focus on prevention and treating homeless people with dignity. We know how much our charities have to offer to councils working to keep people in adequate accommodation.”