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SPECIAL UNIT TO TACKLE ROUGH SLEEPING IN LONDON

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A special unit is to tackle London's rough sleeping from April. The ...
A special unit is to tackle London's rough sleeping from April. The

unit was announced by housing minister Hilary Armstrong today, as the

Ministerial Committee on Rough Sleeping met for the first time.

The ministerial committee is chaired by Hilary Armstrong with a remit

to ensure the effective co-ordination of government policy on rough

sleeping. The other members are DETR minister Nick Raynsford, health

minister Tessa Jowell, employment minister Andrew Smith, home office

minister Paul Boateng and social security minister Angela Eagle.

Ministers from the treasury, ministry of defence, Scottish and Welsh

Offices will attend meetings where appropriate.

The decision to set up the London unit follows consultation on the

Social Exclusion Unit's Report on Rough Sleeping.

Hilary Armstrong said:

'The consultation strongly backed a new DETR-based London unit, which

will bring together officials from key departments and

representatives from the voluntary sector, local authorities and

business to take a fresh look at how to tackle rough sleeping across

the capital.

'It will be independent enough to get across tough messages within

government, to champion rough sleepers' issues throughout London, and

to come up with innovative solutions, overseeing a budget of£145m. The unit will be up and running by 1 April 1999. We will be

holding an open competition before Christmas to recruit a strong

person to head the unit.

'Every one of us on the committee is strongly committed to working

together to tackle the problem of rough sleeping and to give people a

chance to start a new life. Our target is to reduce the number of

people sleeping rough on the streets by two-thirds by 2002 - a target

supported by those who responded to the consultation.

'We also want to do all we can to ensure that people do not end up on

the streets in the first place - and this emphasis on prevention was

also well supported.

'The problem of rough sleeping is not unique to London. We are

determined to reduce the number of people sleeping rough across the

whole of England. As I said yesterday at a CRISIS/Shelter conference,

the joined up approach of local authorities, voluntary organisations

and other agencies working with government is already showing signs

of success.

'Voluntary organisations outside London will get£34m over

three years from next April to help tackle and prevent rough sleeping

under the Homelessness Action Programme, which will build on the past

successes of the Rough Sleepers Initiative.'

Following the meeting, Tessa Jowell said:

'The problem of rough sleepers is one which touches us all and

demands concerted action by government as a whole. It is not unique

to London, but the problem is probably most pronounced in the

capital. We have to start somewhere, in the hope that the lessons

learnt will have wider application in other big cities.

'Only last week, Frank Dobson announced a new£375m programme

for children - and young people. They are the most vulnerable age

group, particularly those who are leaving local authority care and do

not have the stability of a family life to keep them off the street.

We are extending, from the age of 16 years to 18, the duty of care

placed on all local authorities to support young people leaving care.

'We are also producing national standards for foster care, and we are

planning recruitment campaigns to increase the number of foster

carers in the hope that fewer children and young people end up on the

streets.'

Education minister Andrew Smith said:

'The DfEE is very supportive of this initiative and has already taken

the step of ensuring that young people claiming Job Seekers'

Allowance and sleeping rough can join the `New Deal' immediately.

'Rough sleepers are some of the most disadvantaged people in this

country and the creation of a new unit shows this government is

determined to reach out to those pushed to the margins of society.

Rough sleepers have many problems that will need urgent attention but

our ultimate aim must be to reconnect them with the world of work. My

department has already opened up access to our `New Deal' for young

people and we will be piloting improved employment and training help

for the over 25s in the next few months.'

For the home office, Paul Boateng said:

'Prevention is key to tackling the problem of rough sleeping.

Probation and Prison Services are making an important contribution by

doing all they can to ensure that ex-offenders are suitably housed on

release. Accommodation provides the stable environment needed to give

ex-offenders a fresh start and has also proved to play an important

role in preventing re-offending.'

Finally, Angela Eagle said:

'We support the integrated, effective approach across government to

help find a lasting solution to the problem of rough sleeping.'

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