Nigel Adams MP defensive over Universal Credit in Leeds visit for rough sleeping strategy launch

Nigel Adams MP at St George's Crypt. Credit: Department of Communities.
Nigel Adams MP at St George's Crypt. Credit: Department of Communities.

The Minister for homelessness and rough sleeping has sought to play down the impact that benefits changes may have had on the issue during the launch of a new strategy – despite a chorus of charities saying that the Government needs to address root causes.

During a visit to the St George’s Crypt shelter in Leeds to promote a £100m attempt to eradicate rough sleeping in England by 2027, Nigel Adams MP said it was too simplistic to blame one issue - Universal Credit - for rising numbers of people on the streets.

The new Government strategy, revealed by Communities Secretary James Brokenshire on Saturday ahead of its official launch today, is aimed at offering support with mental health and addictions as well as help with accommodation and to stop people becoming homeless in the first place.

Read more: Rough sleeper found dead near Dark Arches is fifth to die on city's streets since October

But seven homelessness charities - including Crisis, Homeless Link, National Housing Federation and Shelter - warned in a joint statement that the strategy “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.”

The Crypt’s development director, Martin Paterson, today said that the service was concerned that there could be an “explosion” of referrals when Universal Credit is further rolled out in Leeds in October.

Read more: Leeds rough sleeping stats rise for second year in a row

He said its success would depend on the way in which it is rolled out, but noting instances where people have faced weeks of delays during benefit changes, he said: “People with chaotic lives can’t just adjust.”

Speaking to media at the service’s headquarters in Great George Street, Conservative Mr Adams, MP for Selby and Ainsty in North Yorkshire, said it was “far too simplistic to blame one issue”.

He added: “There isn’t a silver bullet, it’s a much wider strategy and a very complex issue.”

On private rent increases, Mr Adams said: “We are changing the law around tenancies to provide more protection for tenants,” adding, “we’re clamping down on rogue landlords”.

He also joined calls for new rules which would demand proper reviews after each homeless person dies on the streets – something the YEP highlighted during its series about the issue following deaths in Leeds.

Read more: New review to examine deaths of homeless in Leeds

It has also emerged that not all of the money Government has committed to pay for the strategy is new.

In interviews, Mr Brokenshire said half the cash had been committed to rough sleeping and the other half was “reprioritised” from existing budgets in his department.

Before the news broke earlier today, Mr Adams told the YEP that yearly reviews into the strategy “may very well mean more money”.

Universal Credit explained

Universal credit is a style of new benefit for people who need help with living and housing costs – but has faced criticism.

It is replacing and merging housing benefit, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, income support and child and working tax credits.

The benefit was billed as a way to make work pay - instead of incomes dropping when people move off benefits into low-paid work – but also to simplify the system.

It pays once a month, rather than fortnightly or weekly, and goes directly into a bank account.

But many claimants have reported delays or sanctions during the changeover period.

Single unemployed people were the first to start being transferred to the system in Leeds from February 2016, and the rollout will continue in the coming October.

Late last year, a senior member of Leeds City Council said the authority was “appalled” after learning the number of Leeds residents hit by sanctions.

Labour’s Coun Debra Coupar said a quarter of single unemployed people in the city had faced sanctions in the first year.

Recipients have to pledge a Claimant Commitment which stipulates responsibilities which could include applying for jobs, reporting a change in circumstance and paying their own rent – or payments can be stopped.