One part of MPs’ work you don’t see much of is the committee stage of a bill. Once the main general debate has taken place at what is called 2nd Reading, the bill goes into committee. Here a smaller number of MPs, between 20 and 40 depending on the size of the bill, go through it in detail, clause by clause.
These bill committees can be time consuming. They sit all day, often two full days a week in one of the committee rooms upstairs from the main chamber of the Commons.
I have just finished on the committee for the Homelessness Reduction Bill. Homelessness in Chester is up 3 times since 2010, with seven rough sleepers identified locally. Seven doesn’t seem much and it’s actually likely to be higher – but regardless, even one person sleeping on the streets is one too many.
There are various causes for homelessness, which might include an individual’s chaotic life and addiction problems. But more likely is the record level of private sector rents and the chronic lack of affordable housing. The bedroom tax is still putting people into avoidable arrears, and two people came to see me last week, both wanting to downsize but unable to do so because there aren’t enough one bedroom properties for rent.
As long as our housing strategy nationally is led by the needs of developers and not of single adults or families, we will remain in a housing crisis. In Chester, developers are always looking to put in new student accommodation where family homes for social rent could go.
The Homelessness Reduction Bill is one way to address these problems, by giving more responsibility to councils to help people before they actually lose their home. There is one problem with the bill – money. Having slashed £57 million from CWaC’s budget, the government is only making around £60 million available for the entire country to help councils implement this bill – and that support is only available for two years. My fear is that they are dumping responsibility on to councils without making the money available to make it work.
In Chester this week, councillors, local charities, churches and the council came together at a meeting hosted by Chester Cathedral to discuss homelessness in Chester. At a time of decreasing budgets and increasing homelessness, I pay tribute to those groups for coordinating a local response to a national problem. I offer my full support to this group and I will continue to argue that in the long term we need more social, council and affordable housing if we really want to end the scandal of homelessness.