Task force launched to cut number of rough sleepers

A rough sleeping task force to cut the number of people living on the street is being launched as the Government promised to break the cycle of homelessness.

Councils with high levels of rough sleepers will also be given cash from a £30 million fund, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said.

The Government has faced intense criticism over spiralling numbers of people on the streets and housing minster Heather Wheeler has promised to resign if the problem gets worse on her watch.

Mr Javid said the latest plans were part of the Government's ongoing work to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminate it by 2027.

"This winter has tragically claimed the lives of a number of people sleeping on the streets," he said.

"This is completely unacceptable in modern Britain.

"No-one should ever have to sleep rough and this Government is determined to break the homelessness cycle once and for all."

The plight of England's estimated 4,700 rough sleepers was starkly highlighted by the Beast from the East storm which plunged the country into sub-zero temperatures.

A record number of rough sleepers were referred to a specialist helpline by members of the public as the icy blast gripped the country.

The rough sleeping team will be made up of experts from government departments and agencies that have specialist knowledge in areas such as housing, mental health and addiction.

Mr Javid also said £100,000 of funding will go to frontline rough sleeping workers across the country to ensure they have the right skills to deal with the issue.

He added: "Tackling the causes of rough sleeping is undoubtedly complex but we must do all we can - working across central and local government, the voluntary and charity sector - to help the most vulnerable in society and eliminate rough sleeping for good."

It comes as new laws come into force next week that will place extra legal duties on councils to ensure rough sleepers are supported in their area.

Shadow housing secretary John Healey dismissed the initiative as "a pitiful response to a national crisis that has grown worse every year since 2010.

"You can't help the homeless if you won't provide the homes, and the money announced here is less than 1% of the Conservatives' annual cut to funding for new low-cost housing," said Mr Healey.

Greg Beales, campaigns director at homelessness charity Shelter, said the new measures would make "a genuine difference", but added: "Most of these people became homeless simply because they couldn't afford anywhere to live, a situation made far worse by welfare cuts.

"We very much hope that the Government's new strategy will go far enough in removing the barriers that deny people a safe, secure and affordable home. That means building more social homes to rent, and making sure housing benefit is fit for purpose."