Iain Wright MP

 Iain Wright MP

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State

No-one left out: Ending Rough Sleeping by 2012

Date of speech 18 November 2008
Location Crisis Annual Conference

Draft text of the speech - may differ from the delivered version.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to address you this morning.

Most of us have gone into public service determined to right the world's wrongs. Motivated by injustice and inequality, and committed to making a difference.

We often find the reality rather different.

We face innumerable frustrations and difficulties. Change seems to come at a snails pace. And just when you've overcome one hurdle, ten more spring up in its place. We come up against people who are far too willing to shrug their shoulders, and say "it can't be done" or "it's always been done this way."

So when you are part of something that truly makes a profound and lasting difference, it is really rather special.

And with the amazing results in reducing rough sleeping, we can all justifiably claim to be part of just such an achievement.

Ten years ago, government, local authorities and the voluntary sector all came together to say "enough is enough".

As a society, we can no longer tolerate the numbers of rough sleepers that are out on the street. And we are going to do something about it.

The cynics sneered that it was impossible, and impractical; that rough sleeping is an inevitable part of being a developed, industrial nation.

Actually, within just four years, we succeeded in cutting the number of rough sleepers by around 70 per cent.  Numbers have remained low ever since.

And we're a genuine global leader in this area. Jenny Edwards, from Homeless Link, has said that we have "inspired the world" in what we've achieved.

Partly, that's down to government leadership and political commitment to change.

We've brought together the right people, whether in local authorities or the voluntary sector.

We've invested unprecedented sums, in building new infrastructure and services like the pioneering Places of Change programme.

It's been called "one of the government's signature achievements" - and I absolutely agree.

But mostly, it's thanks to the local leadership and tireless efforts of you and your colleagues. Who have been prepared to stand up and be counted, get involved and do things differently. People who don't give up when things got difficult.

Frankly, over the past decade, I don't think either of us have had enough recognition or credit for this.

But I'd like to say that it has been a real honour and a privilege to work with you over the past eighteen months.

To see people at the front line who regularly go way beyond the job description.

To meet ex-rough sleepers who've not only got themselves back on their feet, but are also putting their experiences to positive use by mentoring other homeless people.

It's definitely the most rewarding and fulfilling work that I do as a Minister.

Last week, I went out with some people from Thames Reach Street Rescue Service to see their services at first hand.

One of the guys I met was called Robbie, who was sleeping rough behind a bookies. Though he's got problems with drugs and alcohol, he's really determined to get himself a place so that his kids can come round to visit. Robbie is a roofer by trade, and wants nothing more than to pass on his skills to the next generation.

It's really awe-inspiring. The guy doesn't just want to help himself, or even his family - but to give something back, be part of the community again.

Another person I'll never forget is Jimmy, who I met up in Newcastle. He'd been a successful and prosperous businessman. But he'd made a couple of poor business decisions - been treated pretty badly by people close to him. He ended up staring into the bottom of a whisky bottle on the streets, with no-where to go and no-one to turn to.

It's not exactly the stereotype, and really does remind you that there but for the grace of God.

Jimmy's now on his way to setting up his own business again, and is also mentoring other ex-rough sleepers at Crisis in Newcastle.

And on one of my very first visits as the Minister, I went out to Birmingham to see the work at St Basils. The principle that this is about more than short-term, sticking plaster solutions, is part of everything they do.

I've got the mug they gave me on my desk, to remind me of that every time I have a cup of tea.

I met one young girl who'd basically hit rock bottom, but with the help and support on offer was now studying to be a nursery manager. That ambition has really stuck with me. She didn't just want to work with kids - she wanted to run the place. The sky was the limit.

And if she didn't set any boundaries or limitations on what she could achieve, then neither should we.

That is why I'm launching today a new rough sleeping strategy that aims to end rough sleeping once and for all, by 2012.

It's called "No one left out" - and that's not empty words, but a genuine statement of purpose.

I am under no illusions about how difficult this might be; and I'm going into it with my eyes wide open. I know that many of you are concerned that progress is slowing, or even stalling.

Because of the progress that's already been made, many of those out on the streets today are some of the most vulnerable, most socially excluded people. Perhaps addicted to hard drugs, perhaps victims of serious abuse.

People say "there's nothing you can do to help them." But I don't agree. No-one should be considered beyond our reach. And no matter how difficult, we should never be afraid to try.

I understand too, that there are new challenges emerging all the time. The recent economic downturn will undoubtedly take its toll - bringing increased pressures at the very time when budgets are being squeezed.

But I hope you agree with me that having come this far, we have a responsibility to make this final push.

It might not be easy, but it is the right thing to do.

And I know that you share this belief.

In our recent discussion paper on the draft strategy, you overwhelming endorsed the idea that we should be getting as close to zero as possible.

You said it would be tough, but with a renewed focus, we could make this happen.

And this strategy is completely grounded in your experiences of success over the past ten years.

With £200 million worth of investment, this is the biggest ever cash injection into tackling rough sleeping.

But this isn't about throwing money at the problem.

It's also about changing the way in which we work - doing what's most effective rather than what's easiest or what we've always done.

And so this strategy emphasises three things - prevention, partnerships, and personalised, comprehensive services.

Firstly, it's about prevention.

We know that there are trigger points where people are more likely to be at risk of becoming homeless. Maybe when leaving care or the armed forces, maybe when being released from prison or discharged from hospital. We need to be alert and ready to respond.

We also recognise the importance of working with family, friends and the wider community to avoiding rough sleeping.

We now need to make sure that this focus on prevention is absolutely central to everything we do - rather than just picking up the pieces afterwards.

Already, we've got much better at preventing homelessness for those with children or the very vulnerable. We can use that experience to make services work more effectively for single people too.

This means, for example, that we'll develop more effective housing options services.

The rent-deposit schemes and other initiatives which Crisis supports, helping people find suitable housing in the private rented sector - is a very encouraging move in that direction.

We will also look again at the relevant legislation, considering proposals to make the safety net even stronger.

And we will share best practice about how to commission and establish effective prevention services.

Secondly, it's about partnerships. Services working together, sharing collective ownership and responsibility.

We all know that rough sleepers often have multiple, complex needs that require support from various different services.  But we also know that often doesn't happen as quickly, or as easily as we'd want.

I know that a commitment to partnership working has got to start at the top. This strategy has got the personal backing of the Prime Minister. He is as determined as each one of you to make this happen.

For my part, I'm going to work with my colleagues responsible for issues like mental health, social care, and skills, so that you don't face unnecessary bureaucratic idiocy that stops you getting on with the job.

All the relevant departments are signed up to this strategy, and they all have specific roles to play.

But local partnerships are even more important - in order to bring the right people, with the right skills together.

In fact, we know that those authorities who have got strong partnerships in place are those which have already had greatest success.

We also want to see local communities playing a greater role in these partnerships - helping to reintegrate and support rough sleepers on the path back to independent living.

And thirdly it's about personalised, comprehensive services which offer long-term, life changing solutions.

Services which don't just get people off the streets and think "job done."

The kind of support which helped Jimmy get his life back together should be open to everyone.

That means working with people to ask "what do you want to achieve - and what help do you need to make that happen?"

It means helping people to get back on a secure footing, but then go way beyond this.

The emphasis has got to be on holistic solutions. Where positive activities are not just a nice afterthought; the first thing to be discarded when budgets are squeezed. But an essential part of helping people to rebuild confidence and self-esteem that may be totally shot to pieces.

This is about offering people genuine opportunities to make the best of themselves. Like the Spark programme, which give rough sleepers the chance to become entrepreneurs. Leading businesses like PWC and BT offer constructive mentoring and advice to get good ideas off the ground.

I'm pleased to be announce that we're going to give Spark a further £2.5 million to continue this excellent work.

Let me just finish by saying that none of the ideas or principles which inform the strategy will be new to you.

But I think that if we can make what is currently best practice into standard, consistent practice, then we can achieve some truly spectacular results.

Thankfully, the sight of someone begging in the subway or huddled in a doorway is far less common today.

But even one is too many. In today's prosperous society, it is nothing less than a moral outrage.

It's often argued that societies should be judged against how they treat their weakest and most vulnerable members.

That's why I believe that the homeless should be entitled to the same respect and dignity, the same compassion and empathy, that we would want for ourselves.

And it's why I believe that once again, we need to come together and say, "enough is enough." But this time, for everyone, and for once and for all. We've proved the cynics wrong once, and we can do it again.

With our combined efforts, we can be the first country in the world to make rough sleeping a thing of the past.

Thank you very much.

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