|Caroline Jones AM|
|Dawn Bowden AM|
|Huw Irranca-Davies AM|
|John Griffiths AM||Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor|
|Leanne Wood AM|
|Mark Isherwood AM|
|Emma Williams||Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr Adran Polisi Tai, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Deputy Director Housing Policy Division, Welsh Government|
|Julie James AM||Y Gweinidog Tai a Llywodraeth Leol|
|Minister for Housing and Local Government|
|Sarah Rhodes||Pennaeth y Gangen Ddigartrefedd, Llywodraeth Cymru|
|Head of Homelessness Branch, Welsh Government|
|Yan Thomas||Dirprwy Glerc|
|3. Cyflwyniad, Ymddiheuriadau, Dirprwyon a Datgan Buddiannau||3. Introductions, Apologies, Substitutions and Declarations of Interest|
|4. Gwaith Dilynol ar Gysgu ar y Stryd yng Nghymru: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth gyda'r Gweinidog||4. Rough-sleeping in Wales Follow-up: Evidence Session with the Minister|
|5. Papurau i’w Nodi||5. Papers to Note|
|6. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i Benderfynu Gwahardd y Cyhoedd o'r Cyfarfod||6. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 to Resolve to Exclude the Public from the Meeting|
Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.
The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.
Dechreuodd rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod am 10:40.
The public part of the meeting began at 10:40.
May I welcome everyone to this meeting of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee? The next item on our agenda today is: introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest. We haven't received any apologies. Are there any declarations of interest? No. Then we will move on.
Item 4 is our follow-up evidence session with the Minister on rough-sleeping in Wales. This is the final formal evidence session for the committee in terms of our follow-up work on our inquiry into rough-sleeping. So, I'm very pleased to welcome Julie James, Minister for Housing and Local Government; Sarah Rhodes, head of the homelessness branch of Welsh Government; and Emma Williams, deputy director of the housing policy division within Welsh Government. Welcome to you all.
Perhaps we might move quickly on. As ever, time is pressing today. Perhaps I might begin with a question, Minister, on strategy. The Welsh Government's 10-year homelessness plan for Wales comes to an end this year. Have you made an assessment of its impact?
Yes. The short answer is we have evaluated the impact of the major policy changes, but they're all telling us the same story. Although it's having a positive impact, we've got a steadily increasing stream of people suffering difficulties in maintaining their homes. The rough-sleeper numbers are rising and, although the official figures show us it's by less than 1 per cent on the count for the previous year, we know that that's masking larger figures than that. And so I think the best you can say for it is that it has slowed the stream of people who are experiencing that difficulty, but clearly we've still got rough-sleeping on the street, so it hasn't had—well, it hasn't stopped homelessness. So, that's why we're changing tack at this point.
It's interesting that you use that phrase, Minister, 'changing tack', because my next question, really, is about the latest strategy. What are the key differences, really, between that and the previous approach?
So, we're focusing much more on trying to get all public services to come together and be more responsive as a group, as a set of services, rather than concentrating on the housing aspect of homelessness, because it's quite clear that, for the vast majority of people who are homeless, even if when they arrive at homelessness they are not experiencing mental health difficulties or substance abuse, it's not very long before they are experiencing those difficulties because being homeless is a very, very stressful situation. So, even if you're not yet rough-sleeping, you are still experiencing stress, anxiety and so on, as your housing becomes more precarious. So, it's quite clear that we need to wrap services around people for mental health support, substance abuse—a whole range of things—family breakdown, a whole range of services, much more specifically for that individual to get them to be able to sustain a permanent home. So, it's a different approach, really—a more individualised approach, I suppose.
Yes. Is it more cross-governmental, then, and more overarching, as it were?
Yes. It's one of those problems that sounds easy when you say it—'We'll get all the services to work together'—but, in practice, has been very problematic. And it's around things like making sure that the thresholds for the services are the same. So, if you have somebody who is sliding into homelessness, but the threshold for mental health services is too high for that person—they have to be more anxious than they currently are to get the help—then they will slide all the way into homelessness. So, we need to get the services to be responsive in particular circumstances. So, that's a piece of work that is going on right across the Government.
I know—. I thought Leanne might want to come in at this stage, and I know Huw does as well, but I think it's particularly on this point, Leanne, isn't it? Yes, go on.
What we know is that 70 per cent of people with a mental health problem also have a substance misuse problem, but that mental health services won't accept people if they present with an alcohol or substance misuse problem. We also know that people with mental health problems self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. That's a major problem. And my understanding is it goes right back to the training of psychiatrists who stop them being able to see, or train people to deal with both co-morbidities. So, how can you work with the health Minister to ensure that psychiatry training is changed and practice is changed so that people with the multiple problems that you've already talked about can actually be dealt with, because at the moment they're being stopped from accessing both services?
I'll bring Sarah in in a moment, but, just at the ministerial level, Vaughan and I have had a lot of conversations about how we can bring these together, and about this issue about thresholds and all the rest of it, because it's quite clear that we cannot solve this problem unless we can get people the services that they require to sustain them in their long-term home. So, at ministerial level, we've been having those conversations, but I'll bring Sarah in to talk about some of the official work that's being done as well.
Thank you, Minister. We've been working very closely with the substance misuse and mental health team to look at how we can improve co-occurring services, essentially. In the 'Together for Mental Health' delivery plan that's been out for consultation, and the new substance misuse delivery plan, we've been looking at what actions can we put in there jointly to take forward some of that work. So, there's a focus on those co-occurring services and how they're delivered within a housing and homelessness setting as well. So, there are specific actions that we've been jointly working on within those plans.
We've also got—. The substance misuse team have put out very recently some additional funding that we've, again, been working with them on to look at—I can't remember exactly off the top of my head what it's called, the funding pot, but it's looking at how that funding can support, in particular, some of the Housing First projects that we've already been funding. So, we've had a range of bids in. So, as the Minister said, it's not just about that working together at an official level; it's also how do we jointly fund some projects as well on the ground to make sure that that join-up is happening at an operational level as well.
But if you've got mental health practitioners who don't know how to deal with people with substance misuse problems, you've got a real problem right at the very beginning of the journey, haven't you?
Yes, and we are having—we're working with colleagues to look at how do we ensure we make a difference to people who have got issues now, and how do we improve training for people who are out there at the moment, but also making sure that those coming through recognise that this is an issue, and that we work to look at how we can adapt training moving forward.
And, in the forthcoming substance misuse and mental health delivery plans, you'll see that we've done a lot of work on trying to get them to come together in that co-production, co-working way. So, we are—. I take your point, and it will take us a while to get the system to change, but we are working very hard. We absolutely recognise the point you're making.
The other thing is, around the Housing First pilot hubs, we've got all of the practitioners to come together, and that shared practice is also helping with that. So, we've got—. In the Wrexham hub, for example, we've got all the services in the same place so that they share practice with each other. So, they come together for that as well but, I mean, it's a system change, so you can't—. Unfortunately, I can't just completely re-change the system, but we are working very hard. We recognise the issue that you raise, and we are working very hard on it.
The other things is that it's the causal thing. I'm very reluctant to say that everybody who's facing some kind of homelessness has a substance abuse problem or a mental health problem, but I'm very clear that, once you've been in that situation for a while, you end up in that situation. So, it's about the preventative stuff as well, because we can all imagine that once we've—. If you actually end up rough-sleeping, you only have to be out over one night to know what a state you're in a result of that, but this is for the people who are sliding towards that. So, if you're sofa surfing or you've had family breakdown, you've had to move, whatever, you slide down that path pretty quickly. So, it is about trying to get the preventative services right as well, not just about the acute end, putting people back into housing. It's a whole system change that we require, and that's what I mean about we're changing tack. This is not about just the housing, although building a lot more housing would also help, because then people wouldn't be in such precarious housing in the first place. But it is about a whole system, really.
Thank you, Chair. I'm really intrigued as to what level of confidence you have that this change in tack will make material difference. And, I guess, the note of caution in my mind is the whole issue of resourcing, because this more comprehensive, more joined-up, cross-agency, cross-government approach, I think most people would agree is the right one to do, and to look at it in its entirety. But we know that many core services here are struggling, quite frankly. I'm trying to avoid over-egging it, but some services are creaking, some services are fracturing here, and they're some of the ones that will rely on this overarching strategy.
So, are you confident that getting the organisations and agencies to work together in a more comprehensive way, that focusing on the individual and their needs that present, will actually result in that rising tide you've described of both homelessness and rough-sleeping, in turning that around, or are we—?
I don't have all the levers for that. So, one of the difficulties we've got here is the welfare system, and the problems with housing allowances inside universal credit. So, there's no doubt at all that we don't have all the levers that we need. And if I had those levers, I would be very happy to pull them, because we definitely are seeing people shifting to universal credit and becoming precarious where they weren't before. So, all the registered social landlords are reporting that, all the councils are reporting that, so we know that people are—that twenty quid difference, that makes a difference to people. So, we've got more precarious—. So, that's what I mean about the rising tide. There are more people who are in more precarious situations than they were. So, with the best will in the world, unless you can switch that so that we don't have that, we'll have more people presenting in those circumstances.
So, do we have enough resource in the system, Minister, anticipating that, and the fact that we don't have the levers at the moment to respond to that, with this more joined-up approach—do we have enough resource in the whole system to deal with that?
So, the answer to that is almost certainly 'no'. So, what we're having to do is refocus some of that resource, and, as Sarah was saying, we've put specific funding pots of money into this, so that they're housing-led pots of money, so that the housing-led people can pull the services in around the people, rather than you presenting to the mainstream mental health or the mainstream substance abuse services, so that you're basically wrapping something around an individual. So, it's a different approach to the same level of service.
We have put £30 million into the pot I think that Sarah was talking about. That may not be absolutely accurate. I'm happy to write to the committee and say how much it is, and I also can't remember the name of it, so we'll clarify that. But we've put pockets of money into these things—the Housing First money as well—and we're also funding the regional partnership boards to do some of this work, to pull it together.
And I think you're probably going to come on to the homelessness action group's work, but as part of the response to that, we've been working very hard with the strategic leadership of local authorities to try and get them to have a different approach to it. We've also been working very hard with the RSLs and with council housing leaders, so housing cabinet members and directors, to discuss our reaction to people who are getting into rent arrears difficulty. So, we're in the process of having a long conversation with them about our approach to that.
And, again, sorry, Chair, I'm jumping about all over your agenda, I expect, but we've recently had a report about evictions from social housing in Wales, which is very concerning. So, we're doing a lot of work with the various organisations identified there to understand what's happening in those organisations, moving towards us being able to say that we will have no eviction into homelessness from social housing in Wales. So, we're working very hard with them to understand what it would take to get to that position. I just want to emphasise we're not there yet. It's an ongoing conversation currently.
We will come on to some of these matters later, Minister, and you'll be pleased to know that, as you already know, the committee's on the case in terms of some of the benefits issues, and some of the levers that you might have that you do not have at the moment. Mark, did you want to come in at this point?
You mentioned the importance of prevention services. I hope you'll all agree—and you referred to the Wrexham model—that preventative interventions within the cycle of crisis are also essential. Yes, we need to get in early to stop the crisis, but prevention is part of tackling that crisis too. Recognising Wrexham, with its community collaborative hub, its community interest company, established by a general practitioner, working with the council, and a range of bodies, including non-devolved bodies, such as the Department for Work and Pensions, who are in the room, because you mentioned them, so no barriers, no appointments, no threats—'Here we are, we're here to help, and work with our friends on the other tables'—the key to that success is that it's a community interest company; it's not a statutory body, although statutory bodies are central to its performance. How, in that context, will you ensure that this isn't, again, a top-down statutory-sector-led thing and that those providing those key front-line services in the third sector really do have a seat at the top table and really do have a say on deciding, not just what's going to be done, but actually delivering that alongside the statutory sector too.
I think that's a good point. So, one of the things we're doing with our various housing first models at the moment is monitoring the data to see which one of them work the best so that we can see what will scale, or whether these models only work in the particular circumstances of a particular group of people who've come together. So, that's always the problem. The Wrexham hub works in Wrexham, but if we picked up that model and put it down in, I don't know, Gwynedd, would it work? So, the issue for us is to understand why it works and what the specifics about that and the area are. Because we've had many occasions in the past where we've had something that works beautifully somewhere, but when you pick it up and put it somewhere else, it just doesn't. So, the big trick is to get a system that works regardless of particular charismatic individuals as well. So, if you can get a self-sustaining system that works—.
So, earlier this week—my time sense is awful; it might have been the end of last week, but I think it was earlier this week—I went to visit Cardiff Community Housing Association. They have a project called Flourish, there, and that's based on the same thing—it's based on a self-help model with some assistance from professionals to reach out to people in the community and pull them together to assist them. I heard a lot of stories from people who have been in severe rent arrears, who are sliding towards homelessness, who have been picked up by that project and been assisted. One lady was happy to share with me that she'd been in thousands of pounds-worth of rent arrears and she was now down to £200 and clearly in a sustainable housing situation. So, there are other models that work is the point I'm making, and we need to understand why they work in particular areas. And one of the other things we need to understand is whether they will work without the charismatic starting GP or whatever, so that, if that person moves on, the whole thing doesn't collapse behind them. We'll all be familiar with things of that sort.
So, for us, it's about getting a self-sustaining system in place that can expand. The Wrexham model looks great, but we'd be very interested to see whether it is a model that we can pick up and put somewhere else or whether we need to do other things in the system to make that work. But I completely agree with your preventative thing, and the point about this is that you want to get in as early as possible, but that support needs to be there all the way through. And then once a person is rehoused in sustainable housing, they need support back into things for some time afterwards, almost certainly. So, it is about getting a whole-system thing in. And we've made a mistake in the past—all governments of all colours have made the mistake of thinking that, once you've got somebody into a house, and shut the door behind them, it's job done, and that clearly is not the case.
I think that point—I agree that Karen Sankey is a charismatic individual and she's fantastic, but without her, still, it's a genuine collaboration with parity of esteem and power between the participants. So, you've got the Wallich, Shelter and the third sector drug and alcohol charities in the same room as social services, statutory housing and the police and the DWP, of course. But it's parity of respect, parity of esteem, doing things together, even if Karen Sankey wasn't there.
I agree with that. Sorry, I wasn't trying to suggest that, for that project, it was reliant on—. It was started by a charismatic individual, and what you've got to be able to understand, when you're trying to design a system, is whether you happen to have a lovely convergence of people who all get on terribly well together—
—or whether there's a system, So, that's the point—whether there's something about that model that we could pick up and we could get it to work somewhere else. So, it is about making the learning around why that works and how it works, and seeing if we can get it to work. So, we've got a number of experiments all over Wales—officials don't like me calling them experiments. We've got a number of pilot projects all over Wales, to do exactly that: to see whether those models can be scaled out or if they only work in the specific circumstances that they have.
And the other thing I've always been really clear about is that we don't have a one-size-fits-all approach—that never works. It's got to have a community engagement—that community has got to come together and make it look like their own community in order to work; otherwise, it really is not sustainable. And we need to have learnt that lesson, if we haven't learnt any others.
Could I just ask another question, Minister? Llamau have written to us, pointing out that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people in Wales are disproportionately represented in the overall homelessness population. So, could you reassure the committee that the needs of specific groups will be adequately addressed within the overall overarching strategy?
Yes, so what we don't want to do is have artificial barriers in the support. This is an ongoing conversation. It's always a temptation to set up a scheme for LGBTQ+ youngsters under—what age is a youngster, I don't know—and then we'd have edges around it. So, if you are three days older than that or two days younger than it, or you don't quite fit into that, you somehow are barred from those services. We've had lots of examples of that with very successful successful projects like Jobs Growth Wales, for example, where a number of Assembly Members wrote to me saying, 'I've got somebody who's 24 and a half, what can I do with them?', and the answer was, 'Well, we can't do anything with them, because it cuts off at—.'
So, we're very keen to design a system where the plumbing is invisible to the person coming towards the services, so you don't have to say, 'I fit into this box', to get this help. But, of course, you have to have specialised services to deal with people's particular circumstances. So, as I was saying, it's very much about an individual approach. If somebody is having a particular problem because of their sexuality or because of their gender or because of their race or because of their particular set of circumstances, the front-line outreach workers are empowered themselves to put that set of services together for that person. So, it's about us allowing people to have the flexibility and autonomy in carrying out their outreach practice, to be able to put that together and not to have to be hedged about by a set of circumstances.
I'm going to tell you anecdote, because politicians like those. Very recently, in Swansea, I came across a young person who had clearly only just arrived in Swansea and was freezing on the side of the road, and my family and I were going into the cinema, so you always feel particularly awful when you're out for a pleasant night with your own family and see somebody in that situation. So, I had a chat with the young man and he'd clearly only just arrived in Swansea. I phoned the housing people, we couldn't get him sorted, so I put him into a bed and breakfast. What I want is for the outreach workers to be able to do that, because then he could be picked up the next morning by the services and so on. I'm happy to say that I know he's all right. But at the moment, it's not always clear that an outreach worker can produce the service that's needed right now for this person. We need to move to a system where that person can do that, and not have them them hedged around by a whole series of—. So, individual budgets for this.
I'm also trying really hard not to use the words 'front line'. We had a very good public services summit last week and I had the real pleasure of listening to a lot of the presentations. One of the frustrations of being a Minister is that you often arrive to do your speech and you leave again and you never get to get the learning that the rest of the people at the conference are getting because you're not allowed to stay. But I wanted very much to stay, because we were asking public service leaders around Wales to give up nearly two days of their time to do this, so I thought it was very important that I should do the same thing, and I was very anxious to hear some of the speakers. One of them in particular was a woman called Hilary Cottam, who's written a brilliant book called Radical Help—I'm plugging it shamelessly—who talked about the language that we use. And she particularly said, 'Why do we call it a front line? Is it a war? Are we are war with the people we're providing these services for?' And it really resonated with me. So, I've been really thinking about my own language in dealing with some of these circumstances, because everyone's an individual, they're a person, and so if you're a front-line worker, what are we saying about that person? So, I think we've got to really change some of the parameters around some of this stuff.
So, we're talking now about trying to empower the outreach people, the outreach workers, to be able to do the right thing on the ground, and then we'll sort the plumbing out behind them. So, when we come on to talk about the homelessness action group, that's very much where we are. We're talking about, 'You do the right thing, and we'll sort the plumbing out for you, rather than trying to sort it all out in advance, so that the system is complete before you're allowed to go out and do what you do.' So, it's a very different approach. Systems approaches take ages to bed through a system, the juggernaut of the ship, so we're trying to edge it around.
Thank you, Chair. I just wanted to ask when your first action plan to accompany the strategy is likely to be published, and really how you're going to monitor and report that?
Shortly, I hope. [Laughter.] In responding to the homelessness action group—. It's a terrible acronym, isn't it—HAG? Although, I think they might like it. [Laughter.] That's part of it. So, what we very much want is a living document. So, again, with this systems-approach change, we want a living document that gives people the freedom to do the right thing—not the correct thing or the acceptable thing, but the right thing. John, who chairs that—I've had a couple of very interesting meetings with him about how we accomplish that. How do we get the assertive outreach in place so that those people have the right tools in their armoury—see, it's a war again—to do the right thing and to get that help to that individual at that time that they need to sort them out? Then, you need that to come back up the system.
So, rough-sleeping, again, is the pointed, sharp end of this, but it's not the whole story. There's a whole pile of people going towards that. So, all of the people who are working in that system need to have the right set of tools, skills, flexibilities and autonomy to make the right decision for those people, rather than having to have, 'What can I do? The system says I have to do x.'
Yes, and also one of the things about that is that we have a lot of staff who have a very hard job all day, every day, and they burn out. The other thing they do is they numb off. If you have to deal with that level of misery all of the time, then you wall yourself off from it, don't you? That's not a criticism of any staff in the system—of course people do that. We have to find a system that allows them to not do that.
Do you see that, within that, there's a case for ensuring a kind of consistency of delivery? I'm not talking about consistency in terms of one size fitting all, because that's not what we're talking about, but so that anybody who presents themselves in any set of circumstances is entitled to the same level of service that they get.
Well, they're entitled to the same level of respect. So, one of the issues for people who've been rough-sleeping for a long time is that they present as somebody who doesn't want to come in off the streets. There'll be a whole series of complex issues around why they're presenting that way. Instead of seeing that as somebody saying, 'I don't want a home', you need to be able to have the skill to understand what that person is saying about their complex set of circumstances. It can take some of our housing first—. In one of the ones I went to see in Cardiff recently, I was talking to a brilliant gentleman there who was now in off the streets, but it had taken their outreach worker seven and a half months to get them to go from when they first contacted them and into secure accommodation.
So, this is not a quick fix. This is not sending somebody out to say to somebody, 'Hey, Pete, come and live in No. 2'. This is a long and complex interaction between somebody with a series of difficult problems and a person empowered to do the right thing for that person repeatedly over time, which is why I'm refusing to say that we won't have anybody rough-sleeping over Christmas. With the best will in the world, it may be that we simply cannot turn somebody's circumstances around in that amount of time.
Just on that, Minister, would you, nonetheless, expect to see a significant reduction in the number of rough-sleepers over this Christmas and winter period?
I would expect us to not know—I would expect us to be in contact with and understand the situation of every single person sleeping rough. So, that's a different thing. I'm not saying we'll definitely be able to get them off the street, but I'm saying we'll definitely be in contact with them and we will definitely be having a case conference about that person and what they need all the way through. Some of them will need a lot more support and help to get in off the street after—. If you've been sleeping rough for two years, you are not going to respond to that in—. All of our evidence shows that people don't respond quickly to that, so it might be February before they're in, if they're contacted. What we are saying is that we will get that assertive outreach to everyone on our streets now—we're starting the process now.
It's really interesting—your focus on the use of language has really interested me. At one point a few minutes ago, you used the phrase, 'Having the tools to sort them out'. Could I just ask how this approach fits with the assertive outreach and with having the tools to sort them out—how does that fit with the idea of treating each individual as an individual in a person-centred approach, where that individual might well say, 'Well, actually, what I need—what I feel I need—is this: it's this type of accommodation and it's this type of support', recognising that many of these individuals will have incredibly complex needs and may not be able to articulate? It just worries me a little bit—the sort of 'tools to sort them out' approach.
I don't mean to say that they're going into No. 2—'Hi Pete, you're going into No. 2.' And, again, the language is difficult, isn't it?
As soon as you start to think about the language, almost everything I say—
I know, I know, and I didn't mean to be protractive, but it's just, 'Bang', yes.
No, but once you're alerted to it, you hear what you're saying in a completely different way. So, the, 'tools in their armoury', the 'front line', the—
Tools are good. I'm a carpenter in my spare time. Tools are good.
Tools can help build, yes, but I did say 'sort them out'. But you hear the language—. Language is difficult. Anyway, we have a pamphlet, leaflet—set of whatever—which I can share with the committee, John, if that is helpful—
—which talks about assertive outreach and the principles of it. So, what we're doing is saying that the outreach workers will have this backing them up, they will all get this training, and then they will be able to make the contact with that individual, establish the relationship that they need to assist that individual to be able to express what they want, articulate it, start to trust somebody in authority—. All the kinds of issues—. People who have been rough-sleeping for ages very understandably have mental health and substance abuse issues very often, they have a massive distrust of authority figures, they have a dislike of anyone who seems to be patronising or—. Massive issues. So, the incredible people who are doing this work need to have the autonomy themselves to do the right thing.
So, that's what we're talking about, and then this is the set of tools that we're agreeing we will train everybody in, and when we come on to the homelessness action group—we're wondering about all over the place here—what we're saying there is that we're agreeing in our pinch-point places, so the four cities, that we will get everybody trained now immediately to do this so that, in the four pinch-point cities, we can get people out as fast as possible to start doing this. That's not to say we don't think there's no homelessness in the rest of Wales, but there are massive pinch-points in—. Swansea, Cardiff, Newport and Wrexham are the big pinch-points, so they're the suck places for people who need services and so on. So, we're getting that out as rapidly as we possibly can.
And I'm jumping ahead, John, and anticipating things—I'm very sorry—but I've also managed to speak personally to the chief exec and leaders of Swansea, Cardiff and Newport. Officials have been in touch with Wrexham and I'm seeing Wrexham personally next week. So, they've all agreed to do this. So, they're all on board with it and they've all agreed to do it. So, we've gone as fast as we possibly can to get them on board.
Could I just ask about—? Sorry, Emma, were you going to come in there?
I was just going to add to the Minister's comments on this guidance. So, this isn't about us being top-down. This piece of work is being carried out by Cymorth Wales on our behalf, engaging with people who are out there doing assertive outreach and using it effectively. So, the guidance is in and of itself from the bottom up and a collaborative effort, and in using this to direct and help guide training, that will be training that will be for everybody who is working in an area. So, not focusing just on statutory services, but actually inviting third sector, church and charity groups who also have people out directly engaging with rough-sleepers to come in and be part of that training and to be part of the overall team in an area that is responding and getting that much more collaborative and co-operative arrangement across all of the services and all of the available personnel in an area.
Okay. Could I just ask about assertive outreach services, Minister, and how you will monitor the effectiveness of those services to ensure that there is that consistent approach right across Wales?
Yes. So, we're working very hard. The homelessness action group will be doing some part of that for us as well, and bear in mind that that homelessness action group is made up of a large number of the partner organisations that we're talking about—third sector, church. They're a diverse group of people. They're independent of us. Although they're advising me, they're independent of us, and fiercely so, if I could say so. So, we're confident that we'll get the right advice from them and also the right feedback from them about how we're doing. And anyway, it will be visible, if it works, won't it?
Okay. I'm anxious to move on because we've got 45 minutes left. We're halfway through and we haven't got on to the action group recommendations yet. But, I think, Dawn, you've got one further question before we do.
Yes please, Chair. It's just about the right to adequate housing—something that I've been a very strong advocate of. You might recall I led a debate on this some time ago, and I was delighted that David Melding came on board, and I think the Tories have actually incorporated it into their policy position. So, that's great. What is even better now is to see that we've got the housing sector on board with that campaign.
But I wanted to ask you what you think a right to adequate housing would actually look like in reality and whether that is a way, seriously, of addressing some of the issues, not just for rough-sleepers but homeless people across the board, or whether it is still partially down to housing supply or maybe wholly down to housing supply. Because I certainly know, talking to the housing providers in my area, the people who are in need of accommodation just don't have the type of accommodation in which to put them. So, even if we had a right to adequate housing, if there isn't the accommodation to put them in—. So, really, what does it look like to you, and is it about supply or is it about a bit more than that?
It's more complicated than just supply, but supply is clearly a big piece of this. So, for example, we've had to allow local authorities to place people in private sector rented accommodation because there is not enough social housing available for those who want it. So, we need to build social housing at pace and scale. One of the reasons that my portfolio has been put together is to give me a lot of the tools—it's not just about housing—to get that to happen. So, planning, local government, public sector land—a lot of these levers are necessary to shift that pattern.
Only this morning I was out in The Mill site with Tirion, looking at what we've done there. That's 50 per cent social housing. It's indistinguishable from the other housing, and it has intermediate equity arrangements there as well. So, we have everything from complete social rent to complete owner-occupation, and every stage through. You cannot tell, from outside or inside the houses, which one is which. It means if somebody who is partly buying their house, or are wholly buying their house, gets into difficulty, the social landlord can take that house over so they don't have to go through foreclosure and eviction, and so on. It's a pattern that is proving its worth. This morning, we were out looking at the next street that they're building that is carbon neutral, just to put that into the mix as well.
So, what we're trying to do is work with local authorities, planning authorities, housing authorities—they're all local authorities in a different guise—across Wales to reboot our system so that we produce those kinds of developments at pace and scale. We need 4,000 of these units a year just to prevent people being in temporary accommodation that's not suitable—so, just to get the scale. That's not for people who want to be in social housing; that's for people who need to be in it. So, it's a task. Now that the cap has been removed and the Conservative Government has finally seen sense, we're able to motor with that, and we've got councils and RSLs building more rapidly than we've seen in a generation across Wales.
But the supply is the issue, isn't it? So, if we put a duty on every local authority to house somebody in absolutely the accommodation they need, they would not be able to fulfil that at this point in time. So, what we're looking at is a slide towards that that's doable and pushes us in the right direction. So, I'm really interested and exploring at the moment whether we could put a due regard to adequate housing into the duties that local authorities will have.
Shortly, Chair, I think this committee will be looking at the local government Bill as it starts its passage. I hope to be introducing it, once the Llywydd has approved it, into the Senedd on 19 November, I think it is. You'll see that that has a change in the way that we monitor local authorities, and we're looking to put what we call a 'due regard' to the right to adequate housing in the same way as we've done with children's rights, which has shifted some of the conversation around that.
We are not in a position at this point in time to be able to fund or comply with a personal, individual right to adequate housing in the sense that you can present yourself to the local authorities and say, 'I have this right, and I will judicial review you if you don't provide it'. And that's just the pragmatic truth; they will not be able to do that. But what we can do is put a due regard in so that they, in putting their prudential borrowing requirements together, have the right scale of build in sorting out their tenant policies and their housing options policies—they have the due regard duty in there, they work with their private rented sector to get that to the standards that we've been pushing for from the other side with the Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016, which we're working hard to commence with our fees Bill and so on, to push the private rented sector in that direction as well, and then, ultimately, we've got the decarbonisation agenda, where we're trying to up the standard of all the housing. So, all those things need to come together to make that a reality. I wish with all my heart that I could just say that we would do that, but we would not be able to comply with it—that's the honest truth. So, we can move in that direction.
The other thing is this business about a system approach. We have to get authorities to obey the spirit of the law and not the letter. So, at the risk of my officials all trying to get under the table as I say this out loud, we're asking authorities to look at the 56-day limit for homelessness as a backstop—you know, that word we all love because of the Brexit negotiations—not as a target. So, the point of that is that that is for somebody who is desperate. So, the local authority should be working with people long, long upstream from there, and it should be regarded as a failure to ever get to that point, rather than the target that you must act on at this point. So, we're working really hard. So, if we put a due regard into the performance measurements, then you upstream that so that the authorities that are regarding that as a target are not seen as remotely best in class for what they're doing. So, there's a system change coming. And I'm working really hard across all parts of the portfolio to produce that system change.
Okay. We'll move on, then, to the action group recommendations, and we are going to need discipline in terms of short questions and, indeed, shorter answers, I'm afraid. [Laughter.]
We've covered some already, Chair, so this should be straightforward. A very straightforward one, Minister: when are we going to see the response to the remaining recommendations from the housing action group?
We've received the first report, which is one of several that will be coming through. The group will report at various points between now and March 2020. March is when they're scheduled to finish their work, at which point, we'll be in a position to pull together all of those recommendations around the longer term plans and do the first action plan, if you like, and then, a year later, we'll report against those. So, working on an annual basis, we're saying, 'This is our focus for one year, this is our focus' and keeping an eye to the long term.
Although, having said that, you'll see that we've put a written statement out immediately responding to the first report. So, I just want to emphasise that although that's the strategy, we're actually working at serious pace to respond to the recommendations as they come out. And I really meant what I said about this being a living document, so, yes, we will do the annual report and the wrap-up, but we're also intending to respond as instantly as we humanly can to each of the reports as they come out, so you'll see the—I think it was 10 days between the report and us responding to it, and in that time, I've spoken to all of the authorities involved as well.
We'd applaud that approach there, but I'm not sure if I got anything of a month or a season, or a—
Well, the final—. March next year. So, the housing action group will finish this piece of work that we've asked it to do in March next year—that was the ask. They will then produce a final wash-up report, and we will respond to that with a formal action plan. I think that's where we are. But the point I was trying to make is that we will have responded a number of times in the course of that period, so we will need to put an overarching piece, pulling together all our responses, that we can be held to account for as well.
The only other question I have on this, because some of the areas have been covered already, is, you mentioned to the Chair that we're not necessarily going to see a reduction in the numbers of rough-sleepers or numbers of homeless this winter, as we head into the winter, although everybody will be actively contacted as part of the recommendations that have already been there. Do you want to add anything else to that, as to what materially will be the changes that have come forth from the recommendations that will impact on the ground this winter?
Yes. If you run through the recommendations, some of it is about what I'm calling the plumbing. So, I think the action group actually calls for us to suspend parts of the legislation. Actually, we can't do that, but what we are saying is—and I've said this very specifically to the local authorities concerned—we do not want to hear that you have restrictively interpreted this legislation so that you can't help people. We want to hear that the other way around, and if that causes you difficulties, we will stand firmly behind you in sorting those difficulties out.
There is no reason why anyone sleeping rough should not be in priority need. The idea that you can find somehow that they aren't is nonsense, and many authorities already don't have that problem. I don't want any authority to find themselves in that situation. We've just reversed it, we're saying, 'We're going to be asking very difficult questions of you if that's the attitude that you've got.' They've all assured me upfront, with no difficulty, that that is not how they're going to be approaching it. Strictly speaking, we can't suspend the legislation, but what we can do is have the best possible interpretation of that legislation to help.
The other thing I will say is we are making sure that we have the emergency accommodation available. The point I was really making is that not everybody wants to access it. So, obviously, you're not going to force people to do that, but we are very keen to make sure we have the right kind of emergency accommodation available—that's not the solution, but it is a band aid, if you like—and that that accommodation is as dignified as humanly possible. So, I do not want to see—I'll say this very clearly out loud—I not want to see people being offered a space on a floor with nowhere to put their belongings because the organisation in question is worried about substance abuse. That is not a humane way to treat people.
People are entitled to at least a bed, something soft to lie on, and a place to put their belongings in a secure fashion, so that they don't have to worry all night that the only thing they own will be stolen off them. They also need to be in a place where they are secure, so they're not going to be attacked. So, we're working very, very hard to make sure that the emergency accommodation that we supply, where that's necessary, at least meets those minimum standards, because some of the stuff that we've seen in the past has not been anything that I personally would have ever wanted to access, and I don't see why anybody should be in that situation.
Minister, you say that happened in the past, but it's actually happening now, and we all know it's happening now, don't we? We all know of people who are presenting to councils who are getting fobbed off, who are being treated like they're a problem, that if they don't fit into a particular box—I've got a whole set of questions I'd like to ask you about people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but I don't know if we're going to have time for that. What I'd like to know from you is if we do come across people who tell us that they've presented and been fobbed off, is there a mechanism for us to come to you, as Assembly Members, to raise those issues for you then to go back—
Yes. So, the pinch-point authorities, as I've been calling them—and, again, language is an interesting thing—have agreed that we're going to do this, so, they—
Their strategic leadership has agreed. Well, we've done this in the last 10 days, to be fair to them, because the action group has reported, we've said 'yes', we've spoken to them about going forward. So, I would expect them to start the process of the system change, if they needed to do that, and some authorities will need to do more than others, so that we don't have that. If Assembly Members have casework where that's happening, then I'll be very glad to hear about it, because, obviously, we want to make sure that they're doing the right thing as well.
Yes, okay. As you know, I've been concerned about the implications of the Vagrancy Act 1824, and South Wales Police were in the top five areas for convictions under the Vagrancy Act. Now, given it's not devolved, can you tell us what discussions are ongoing with the Home Office and what discussions are going on with other partners? You answered a question to me in Plenary recently where you said that you were hoping to be able to disapply bits of the Vagrancy Act in practice, as opposed to having the powers to repeal it. I've had a correspondence with the police and crime commissioner for North Wales Police, Arfon Jones, who is trying to disapply the Vagrancy Act in the north Wales force. Discussions are happening in Dyfed-Powys as well, and I understand that there's going to be a discussion in an all-Wales police meeting that's coming up quite soon. Are you plugged into those discussions, and can we take it from this that, at a certain point, nobody in Wales should be arrested under the Vagrancy Act?
That's certainly where we're going towards. It was discussed at the partnership council for Wales as well. So, that's the forum for local authorities that Alun Michael sits on as a representative of the police and crime commissioners, so, not as himself, but as the representative. So, we're working with all of the partners to see what we can do. We've got some legal advice and work going on about where the edge of the devolution settlement is, to see whether we can, in fact, disapply any of it ourselves, but the rest of it will be working with partners to just not use it, effectively.
I'm asking you this because I was somewhat concerned that we had a meeting with the police recently, didn't we, and I asked about the Vagrancy Act, and one of the responses from South Wales Police was that it was needed in order to deal with aggressive begging. I don't need to explain to you why that's a problematic answer. But there is public order legislation to deal with people who are being a problem from a public order perspective. There is no justification for using the Vagrancy Act as far as I can see. If there is something more you can do, Minister, to send out that message publicly that police officers shouldn't be using it as far as you are concerned, even though you have no power over them, I think that politically that would send a strong message.
And I'm extremely happy to do that. I'll say it now: I don't think anyone in Wales should be using the Vagrancy Act to deal with any perceived problem of people who are living on the street. There are other ways to deal with that around our assertive outreach. We're actually about to run a big publicity campaign—it's just about to go live—explaining to people (a) what homelessness really is, so people recognise it in themselves before they get to the sharp end, but (b) what people should do, because I do think a very large number of members of the public are not sure what they should do if they see somebody. So we'll be running a big publicity campaign about what you should do, who you should call, what the best way to help is.
That goes back to the question about rights, though, doesn't it? Because if people understood they had a set of rights, then there would be a clearer message—
I just think that a lot of people don't realise that they're in that—. So, if you have had a family break-up and you've got to move out of your home for whatever reason, you wouldn't necessarily recognise yourself as homeless. You're living with your friend for a bit, and so on. You won't necessarily present at the right point in time to start to access services. So it is about trying to get people to understand. We're working very hard to get all the pathways, and this principle of no eviction into homelessness. There should also be no discharge into homelessness. So we're working very hard. At the moment, we've got a task and finish group—see, the language is terrible—working with Cardiff prison, Cardiff Council and ourselves about what happens to people discharged from Cardiff prison to make sure that they're on the pathway. The pathway exists. It's about implementing it in this enabling way rather than in a narrow, 'Who are you to say that you've got—'. So we're working really hard, and that piece of work is ongoing. When we've got some results from that I'm hoping to roll that out to Wrexham and Swansea because they have similar things. The same with our hospital systems—not to be discharging people who've got nowhere to go, for them to contact the outreach team so that those people are picked up. So we've got some system things that we need to do, and I'm hoping to have to come back and say that we've got an agreement in Wales that we will not have discharge or eviction into homelessness.
Can I just ask a question about prevention, Chair? We've heard from research from Helen that many people that she's spoken to who are homeless identified certain points back in the school system, maybe primary school or secondary school, where things started to go wrong. Have you had any discussions with the health Minister about screening people for ADHD? I suspect that, of those people who are excluded from schools, a large proportion of them would be people with ADHD. If there was some sort of screening for that earlier on in the system, within the prisons, within the homeless population, treatments are available. Has any discussion gone on about this?
I haven't had that very specific discussion with the health Minister. I've had a slightly broader discussion than that about neuro-atypical issues, and we've got a new system going, an all-school system going in for mental health support as well, which should help. So we've had some tripartite discussions with the education Minister, myself, the health Minister and—somebody else was in the meeting. I can't think. Maybe the Minister for finance was there; there was certainly another Minister. I'm sorry, I'm having a blank moment about who was in the room. Because we recognise that. So in my particular constituency, Chair, Swansea prison, if you go in there, you'll see that a very large number of the young men in there are from the area, and they have some kind of undiagnosed learning difficulty or whatever. It's very visible. So they've got the dual problem that they were born poor and they had some kind of neurological atypical problem going on. We've got to do something about that. Then the pathway—that they are then discharged onto the street at 4.30 p.m. on a Friday and left to try and sort themselves out is clearly not okay. That's not what's supposed to happen, but it does happen, and I'm aware of that in my own constituency work. So the point about these groups is to try to work out why the pathway, which works when it works, doesn't work always and what we can do about it. So, we've got a particular group of civil servants working with Cardiff Council and Cardiff prison to try to sort out the plumbing again. So, things like, if you're discharged onto the streets of Cardiff but you're from Gwynedd, Cardiff Council wouldn't necessarily pick you up because you're not theirs, so what happens to you? So, we're just trying to say, 'Look, pick them up, sort them out into the pathway, we'll sort out how you get reimbursed for that upstream.' So, part of the conversation we've been having with the chief executives and leaders is, 'Please stop worrying about that at the point of delivery of the service. Please worry about that afterwards, and we'll sort it out for you. I'm giving you my word that we will sort that out for you afterwards and you won't be picking it up.'
On the back of that, Minister, presumably the four local authorities would have had concerns about the suspension of priority need, intentionality, local connection. So, has that been your response, that, 'Okay, you have these concerns, but, as a Welsh Government, we will work with you and we'll deal with it'?
Yes, so what we've been saying is, 'Look, do the right thing and we will sort it out with you upstream. Don't try and sort it out first so that somebody isn't getting the service they need because you haven't been able to sort the plumbing out.'
I have to say it's slightly more complicated for the border authorities. In Cardiff, it's mostly people from other Welsh authorities, and in Swansea it's mostly people from other—. But in Wrexham and Newport, we have people from English authorities, so it's a slightly more complex thing, but I've said the same thing, 'You sort it out and we'll stand behind you and sort out the upstream problem.' What we don't want is somebody not getting the help they need because the authority isn't in a position to know at that point that they can sort it out. So, we've just tried to reassure the authorities, and I'm saying it absolutely categorically here in the committee that we will sort that out upstream and that should not be a barrier to assisting somebody who is on the street.
And could I just ask as well, Minister, about urban areas outside of those four local authority areas and, indeed, rural areas, and to what extent they'll benefit from the action group recommendations?
We're doing outreach training across the whole of Wales, and we're concentrating on the urban authorities because that it where the vast majority of people who end up on the street are. But any authority that's experiencing those problems on a smaller scale is obviously part of the group. So, if they want to behave in that way, then we will also stand behind them. They tend not to have the problem of having people who are not from their area in their authority, and that seems to be the biggest bureaucratic barrier to trying to sort some of it out. But, if they do find themselves in that position, of course we will sort it out.
Yes, thank you. What action have you taken since the report from this committee in April last year highlighted the comparatively low level of social housing allocations to homeless households?
As I said, we've got a real shortage of social housing. We've been working very hard with all of the providers to make sure that they have the right allocation policies to go with that. It's a conversation that we're having on an ongoing basis both with Community Housing Cymru, as the umbrella organisation for the registered social landlords—most of the RSLs—and actually with the housing cabinet members as part of the Welsh Local Government Association liaison around how they are doing that.
And we've got to do some work ourselves—and we're looking to review our regulatory system in this regard—around whether any of the things that we're doing are driving the wrong response. So, for example, and I don't have any specific examples of this, but it's a hypothetical example, we monitor how much rent arrears an RSL is carrying, and so is that making them less likely to take somebody who is homeless and whose finances are precarious because that then might affect their overall rating for rent arrears? So, that's an unintended consequence of what we're doing. But we need to be sure that we're not producing unintended consequences of that sort into the system. So, we're doing that piece of work with the umbrella groups and, actually, we've been having a good conversation with individual councils and RSLs as well.
You've already indicated that you're responding positively to the action group's recommendation calling for no evictions from social housing into homelessness. What impact do you think that might have on the housing management functions of social landlords? And more broadly, I'm conscious that, in 2004, when the then Welsh Assembly Government introduced voluntary interventions to prevent homelessness, the providers in the sector stated that hidden homelessness doubled.
That's a real concern, isn't it? So, that's why I'm saying we're not just announcing it; we're working really hard with the sector to understand what those barriers look like. But we're also working very hard with the sector, especially the local authority sector I have to say, to get them to understand what they're doing. So, if a local authority evicts somebody into homelessness, all that person does is walk around the civic centre to the other side and present themselves five times more expensive to the other bit of the council. How does that make any sense? That makes no sense. That person is highly vulnerable at that point, and their lives are very precarious, and they're an enormous amount more expensive to the same local authority. That makes no sense. So, we're trying to work with them to get systems in place so that people are worked with, as I say, a long way up. You don't want to be starting to talk to somebody when they're thousands of pounds in rent arrears; you want to be starting to talk to them the first time they say to any kind of housing manager that they're struggling a little bit with their rent. You need to upstream all of those interventions because it makes no sense at all on a human scale, or financially, or efficiently or anything else, for an authority to behave in that way.
I think we would all agree with you on that, but the question was what impact this might have on housing management functions.
It will mean that they'll have to work harder to understand where their tenants are, and that's something that we should be monitoring them for anyway, in my view. One of the reasons we're looking again at the regulatory regime is I think that we need to have a lot stronger tenants' involvement, satisfaction, engagement-type activities as part of our regulatory function. That is very patchy across Wales; we have absolutely excellent in class and we have very poor indeed in the same small country.
Mark, do you want to move on to the resource questions that we have under the action group recommendations?
Yes indeed, because you've already told us about the public awareness campaign. What additional resources do you anticipate the Welsh Government making available to support implementation of the recommendations, and when do you anticipate that being made available?
We have smaller amounts of additional money, but what I've said is, 'Look, do it, and then we'll sort it out', because I don't want to have a conversation with them about there being only £5 million available, and so when you get to £5 million and three pennies, you can't sort out the person. What we've said is—. To my mind, I don't see why this costs any more than what we're already doing—we're just doing it differently, but we'll see.
To turn that around, then, to carts and horses, what work is being undertaken to ensure that funding decisions are based on estimates of need and, if so, what will those estimates of need be based upon? Will it be local authority figures or something else?
At the moment, that's broadly funded through the revenue support grant through the distribution sub-group formulas. So, it's driven by need to some extent. What I'm saying is we're prepared to put extra money into those authorities where they can demonstrate that it's costing them more money to do this. I gave the example of Cardiff, so let's use that as an example. If Cardiff demonstrates to me that because we've asked them to behave in this way, they have rehoused a number of people who aren't from Cardiff and who aren't their responsibility, and who actually come from anywhere else in Wales, then we will sort out with them what that additional cost is, and we will help them get the authority that should have picked that cost up to pick it up. So, we might have to have some what I call smoothing money in that but, eventually, the authority that ought to have paid for that should pay for it. That's what I mean by the plumbing.
What I don't want—which is what appears to me to be happening; I've no empirical evidence for this, but appears to be happening—is that services are not being offered to people in those circumstances because the outreach worker isn't sure that they've got the funding to be able to deliver it. So, we're just trying to shift it around. Emma's desperate to come in here, I can see.
[Inaudible.] if we were to do it, is what estimates of need will be used to established funding.
The way this will work in practice is that there are some elements that we will fund directly—so, the provision of training in assertive outreach, bringing people together. Those are costs that Welsh Government will pick up directly and provide that funding. There are a number of posts that are identified as being helpful within the four areas and, again, we've made a commitment; the Minister in her announcement last week said that we will make a commitment to fund those posts—so, the co-ordinator for outreach workers and a case co-ordinator, those posts will be directly funded.
Everything else then will be about us sitting down on a round-table basis with local authority and key partners to actually work through what is the need there. So, not working on a formula basis, for example, in terms of emergency accommodation, but saying what is the emergency accommodation available in an area, what we need to invest to make sure that it does meet the dignity and need aspects so that there is provision, therefore, for couples, for people with pets, for people with different needs, and making funding available for—I was going to slip into bad practice and say 'front-line workers' there, but I stopped myself just in the nick of time—
—to make sure that the funding is available to enable people to do the right thing immediately when they are talking to individuals on the street, making those choices about perhaps walking down the street and booking somebody into a bed-and-breakfast, if that is the right thing to do for that individual at that point in time. So, a very different approach for us and for local authorities, in that we're not looking for bids, we're not looking for a funding formula. We're looking to have a conversation and say, 'Actually, where are the gaps that we need to fill on a local basis, and how do we work together to fill them?'
Just a couple of questions on support services for rough-sleepers and the housing support grant. How will that allow authorities to better align statutory and non-statutory services? I know you've talked about the outreach services, but that's something different. Does that take us back to what you were saying right at the beginning about the joined-up strategy?
Yes, that's the purpose of the grant. That's the entire purpose of it, to allow the authority to bring services together in that joined-up way. And where we have best practice, we have people doing that very effectively, and the big issue for us is to make sure that that best practice travels across Wales in an appropriate fashion. So, that's just a very simple, straightforward 'that is the entire purpose of the grant'.
Absolutely. So, I understand that. And the comment you've just made there, I think, probably answers part of my second question, because I was going to ask you about the differences across Wales. Are the differences primarily aligned to the size of the authority, or the size of the authority's problem with roug-sleepers, or is there a mix?
No, there's no alignment of size or whatever. It is largely around what was funded in the first place, and how those those services have come together, and historic patterns of service delivery and so on. So, for some authorities, it's a bigger shift than others to shift the services using the grant, and so we're just working with them to make sure that they're able to do that. For some authorities, it aligns nicely with what they historically always did, and it's just about that shift.
And one of the other issues with it is that we fund it on a historic basis at the moment, and talking to authorities about how we might shift from that into a needs-based approach is one of the conversations that we need to have, because we don't want services to fall off a cliff because we suddenly stop funding them because the needs have changed, but, on the other hand, we have to get from where we are now to a needs-based approach over a period of time.
So, some authorities are very effective in commissioning the right services, others not so. You're hoping that this strategy will bring all that together.
Yes, so we worked with them to shift them to best in class. The other thing to say is that this piece of work would be a lot easier if we weren't in a diminishing resources situation. If this was not set against austerity, it would be a lot easier to do, but it is set against austerity. So, an authority that's using this grant, perhaps not optimally, but is still supporting services with it, we don't want to disrupt that service by saying, 'Well, that's not optimal. Can you shift it?' In the teeth of austerity, it's a much more difficult system shift than it would otherwise be.
Diolch, Gadeirydd. Good morning, Minister. I'd like to ask, although you've partly answered the first part of my question when Leanne asked about the Vagrancy Act. Regarding ex-offenders and homelessness, as you know, I have first-hand experience, working in a prison, of people being released with a black bag, and then, consequently, they reoffend. So, I'd just like to re-emphasise really the importance of the work that does go on in a prison and how let down people feel. So, I have a quote from a service user in Caer Las, Swansea, who says,
'My cell mate hung himself in jail. There was no support when I came out, no-one to talk to. I came out with £46 and my head was messed up. I took a lot of drugs and it's been a downward spiral since then. But when I came out of prison, I was healthy.'
So, the work that had gone on to help rehabilitate that person was extremely important. But it was to no avail because when he came out, the support mechanism wasn't there and he had nowhere to live. So, this is really a common area. So, I just want to ask you, really, about the new board that you've set up and what you can tell me regarding how it helps in terms of reoffending.
Yes. So, what we've done is we've got the prison authorities, Cardiff Council and our officials to work together—as I say, to work out why the pathway, which exists, isn’t always implemented in an optimal fashion, shall we say. And a lot of that is about working upstream of people before they’re released. So, it’s always men in Wales, obviously, because we haven’t got a women’s prison—so, working upstream of them, in the weeks before they’re released, to make sure that all of the ingredients for successfully maintaining a home are in place. Because, again, it’s not just about saying, ‘Here’s No. 2, off you go.’ If you haven’t got any furniture and you haven’t got an income and you’ve got mental health and substance abuse problems, having No. 2 being available to you is not going to help. So, it’s all about making sure that they have the right outreach workers, they have the right skills, that somebody has sorted out their benefits situation, and that they’ve got the ingredients together to sustain them in accommodation—exactly like for everybody else, except that, in this instance, we know the exact moment in time that they’re going to be released, so we can line that up.
And it is about the prison authorities and the council working co-operatively together. It is not helpful if a prison releases people at 17.30 p.m. on a Friday. That’s clearly problematic. With the best will in the world about 24/7 services, people are people, the services are not—. So, if the prison can rejig that so that they’re released at 09.00 a.a. on a Monday, the outcome is very different. So, it is about getting that kind of thing. Sarah, did you want to add something?
Yes, thank you, Minister. Just to say that the programme that we’ve put together with Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service—so we‘ve got a secondee working in the team specifically working on this agenda. So, the project that the Minister’s talking about is one area of work that we’re looking at, but we’re looking across Wales in terms of how do we improve the implementation of the pathway? How does it need to be tweaked to make sure it works effectively? How do we ensure that that multi-agency public protection arrangements process works effectively? So, there’s a suite of things that is being taken forward within that implementation plan.
And then the board that’s overseeing that is jointly chaired by Welsh Government and HMPPS, so that we’ve got a joint ownership of all the actions in there and we’re working together to look at how we jointly fund projects as well to make sure—. Because, obviously, it’s in both of our interests to make sure that people coming out of prison have absolutely got the best chance of success and are breaking that cycle and not reoffending. So, it’s about making sure that that transition plan happens in the prison before they’re released, so that everything’s in place on their release. So, all that work is happening at the moment.
Although, I will make a political point that the shorter the prison sentence, the more difficult it is to do that. So, some of the very short-term sentences we see are really counter-productive and, again, one of the levers I wish that we had was the ability to prevent that happening. Because if somebody's in prison for just enough time for them to lose their job and their tenancy and their family, but not enough time to have any work done with them around any of the issues they have, that is a perfect storm of the wrong thing to do. So, we're trying to put a band aid on a system that needs a system change in it as well in order to, again, stop this descent of homelessness from a particular path. So, we're dong a lot of work on that, but there are real issues about what's producing that in the first place.
Eventually. The pathway exists. This is about, as we say, trying to sort out what tweaks it needs—that's a good word—to make sure that it works every time. It works—it works some of the time. We're trying to get it to work all the time.
On that very point, predecessor committees of this committee have taken detailed evidence on the point about short sentences, including looking at local magistrates' courts and tenancy records and so on. So, I would commend our past recommendations to you on that point, and, obviously, as you know, the UK now seems to have got the point and are looking at shorter sentences too—
But my main point: several years ago, in the context of those committee inquiries, I visited Altcourse prison a few times, and the last time I was there, I visited their Welsh resource centre—it was where outreach agencies from north Wales could meet prisoners as they were coming to the end of their sentences, and, amongst other things, they gave them a little credit card and it was like a passport to services once they came back into north Wales on release. I have no idea what became of that, whether it's still operating or how effective it was. So, what consideration have you given, or might you give, to engagement, for example, with Altcourse to see how those programmes worked?
In north Wales, actually, our secondee has actually been having conversations with the community care collaborative up there in terms of that approach and all those services—how we make sure that that can actually go into the prison before people are released, to make sure that they've got access to all those services. So, we're having some of those discussions at the moment. So, it's a similar approach in terms of making sure that they've got all those services and access to it, so that they don't have to come out onto the streets and then have to access the services through the hub—so, making sure that it goes into the prison.
Well, of course we've Styal down the road where the same principle applied, but I think the evidence then was it didn't have an equivalent unit to the unit established at Altcourse, and we as a committee then, and I as an AM, found that—they welcomed me in at Altcourse—they wanted to engage with this place over the prisoners who came from north Wales.
Obviously, again, it's the issue about, if it works somewhere, would it work everywhere else? Can we scale it up? But there's a particular issue for women prisoners because we want them to have the ability to come back to the community they came from. Jane Hutt is actually the Minister with responsibility for that, but we've been having some discussions about how we can have a similar system for Welsh prisoners coming out of women's prisons, so that they have the wherewithal to get back to their communities. There are lots of charities working in that sector, but I feel very strongly that we should have a Government approach to that as well, because that's one of the biggest injustices that we see.
Regarding the collation of data on homelessness, we've been told by stakeholders that it's very sketchy at best and it needs to improve. It is difficult—people move around, they hide away and so on—so it's not that easy to collect the data, but can you say when you think data on an individual basis will be available to different service providers, so that then they can see exactly what's needed and so on?
I think the first thing to say is that, actually, at a local level, the people delivering services and engaging with individuals, particularly rough-sleepers, do have a very good grasp of the individual nature of each of the individuals that they work with. Scaling that up to something that balances rights to privacy and security of data and generates management information, if you like, is something quite different. So, we're working very closely with the Wallich at the moment, looking at their project around the SHIN—street homeless information network—project, to see what we can learn, and we'll be evaluating that to see what lessons we can take away and whether there is a national approach to that kind of service delivery. But really it's about trying to meet two very different needs and whether that can sensibly be done with a single system, but I would reiterate that the people that are delivering outreach generally have very, very good knowledge of the individuals.
And finally from me regarding welfare reform, we've heard in evidence to the committee that the system of universal credit is extremely complicated, it takes six weeks sometimes to come though and so on, so it does hamper individuals and it obviously has a negative impact on homelessness. So, the delays in the payment are extremely important, and the restrictions placed on local housing association rates were also noted as causing hardship to individuals. So, what can the Welsh Government do to try and mitigate the impact of both of those that I've just mentioned?
I've written repeatedly to the various UK Ministers about the effect of some of the ways that universal credit has been rolled out in Wales, and we were just discussing earlier in this session some of the precarious nature—a small change in swapping from housing benefit to universal credit can make an enormous difference. It might seem like a very small amount of money, but it makes a difference between you being okay and you not being okay. So, we're working very hard with RSLs and councils to get upstream of that. We've currently got a project on with the Wales Centre for Public Policy—I've got a real dyslexia problem with the way that that works, WCPP; I really struggle with that, for some reason—about what effect us taking over the administration of some parts of the welfare system may or may not have. We're awaiting the outcome of that piece of research at the moment.
We've been working very hard with the DWP to make people in Wales aware that they can ask for their universal credit to be paid in a different way, so they don't have to have it all paid to them monthly and so on. We want the DWP to be much more proactive in telling people that they can do that, rather than have to have that as a reactive sort of thing. So, we've been working—they're part of our round-table discussions and work closely with us on a number of things.
But, in the end, it's not enough money—let's just be clear. We can put sticking plasters over it and try to mitigate—mitigate is the right word—but, in the end, the system doesn't work. It's not enough money—would that we could do something about that.
But it's costing you a lot more than it needs to at the moment as well, isn't it? Can I just go back to the issue about ex-offenders? I heard with horror earlier on from Helen's research about people sleeping in hostels on floorspace—one woman and 30 men. I welcome what you said about reforming hostel spaces, but the question arose for me: where do sex offenders get housed when they come out of prison? Is there any specialist housing, because, clearly, that's a very high-risk group? It they're going through hostels and there are, by the very nature of the people living there, vulnerable people, clearly that's a problem, so what's the solution to that?
It was important because when we went around taking the evidence and speaking to people who were homeless, that was one of their concerns—that they had come across people who were sex offenders sleeping next to them. I said, 'Well, how do you know who they are?', and they said, 'Well, from the newspapers and the things that they tell us, because they talk to us about the crimes they've committed.'
It's part of the implementation plan that's been put together and the MAPPA process that I mentioned earlier, in terms of how we deal with high-risk offenders and how we improve the transition arrangements when they're coming out of prison. It is a difficult area. They can't always, obviously, be rehoused in the area that they've come from and, sometimes, the local authorities are reluctant to house them. There are also issues in terms of the public sometimes becoming aware of people in the area and that posing risks to the individuals, and in making sure that the public are safe.
There are lots of considerations, so we're working, with our secondee, with local authorities to look at how we can ensure that MAPPA arrangements are working and that MAPPA discussions are going on in the ways that they should be, and that we're putting the appropriate arrangements in place. But it is a difficult area.
Also, the issue that Leanne raises is a slightly wider issue than that. So, this is where we know that somebody who's been convicted of that kind of offence is being released from prison and there's a pathway that you can follow. That's quite different from a single woman having to sleep in a place with 30 men, which I, personally, would not do. Many women walk all night and try to sleep in the day, if they find themselves in that position. So, one of the things we want to do with this piece of work is to try to sort out that we have the right kinds of accommodation.
The other issue is that there are lots of issues here. So, things that can seem like red tape are actually really important. Only yesterday, we had a short debate about people who find themselves homeless who have a pet. It's very important that that person stays together with that pet, and they won't leave them on the street and go into a hostel and all that sort of stuff. All of that's great, but if that pet is a rottweiler, then you'd want a risk assessment done of what that dog is likely to do in a circumstance where they're in a room with several other people. There's a balance, isn't there, between making sure that that person stays with that pet, and that'll be very important, and making sure that somebody who's also vulnerable is not housed next door to somebody who's got a big dog that they are having a problem with? It's about getting a balance.
—because a lot of them are being sent out of area, and that raises risks, because if the local community doesn't know the background, then that can make them more risky. So, what we need to have is specialist sex-offender accommodation as close to home as possible, but I also recognise the political difficulty in that, because why should we prioritise sex offenders over everybody else who's homeless? I'll just leave that there.
As I say, as Sarah said, we have the secondee that we've got in. That is part of the work we're doing as we're working on the pathway in general, so it's a particular category of prisoner. There are others that we need to work with as a specific piece. But, as I say, there's a more general point about the danger for a woman sleeping in a very male environment.
Sorry, it's just a very short supplementary on the issue of sex offenders and their tracking and pathways because I simply put to the Minister, surely the important thing here is that the police do actually know where the offenders are and that they're monitored effectively. Curiously—and I've had it—the reaction of some in the communities, when identifying that there's a sex offender being monitored by the police in the community, to try and drive them out could well drive them into homelessness, unmonitored, untracked. So, actually, as opposed to identifying and then, if you like, drawing a ring around that accommodation and saying, 'That's where that individual is', what we need is to know that the police and other agencies are effectively monitoring them. I just want to put that on record.
Absolutely right. You're absolutely right, Huw, but it's a complex area and, as Leanne Wood just said, the politics of it can be very complex, can't they?
So, often, people can't go back to their home authority, for example, and so all of the arrangements around it are very complex. But it is part of the pathway that we're working on. And it's not just sex offenders, it's prisoners convicted of serious violence and all that. There are other categories of prisoners that present those kinds of problems.
Okay. Minister and your officials, thank you very much for coming in to give evidence to the committee today.
Yes, please. Yes. Thank you very much. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy. Diolch yn fawr.
Okay. The next item today, then, is papers to note. We have three papers that we're asked to note, the first of which is correspondence to the Minister for Economy and Transport regarding our inquiry into the blue badge scheme, which, of course, we debated in Plenary yesterday, and then correspondence from the Deputy Minister and Chief Whip in relation to Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, which is part of one of the—. It is one of the regular updates that committee receives from the Minister on that matter. And then paper 4 is correspondence to me in relation to the inquiry into fire safety in high-rise buildings. So, that's from an individual raising issues in terms of their accommodation and the builder involved, and, indeed, the management of the property.
Is there anything we can do on that in relation to the report we did recently on Grenfell?
Yes, I think so. I think what we might do is to first of all share it with the Minister and, obviously, ask for a response to the issues, but then we could also raise it in our forthcoming scrutiny of the Minister, which is part of our follow-up work on the fire inquiry, and that will take place, that evidence session with the Minister, on 21 November. So, I think we could share with the Minister now in advance, but then, if committee is happy, raise it on the day.
I did question the Minister about this recently and she did say that she was hoping to meet with some of the residents and Vaughan Gething, who is the local Assembly Member. So, it may be that we want information from that meeting as well.
Yes, sure. Well, that might well be part of the response we get then, I guess. Okay.
That's right, yes. Yes, it was on the programme last night, wasn't it, and covered in the media yesterday. Okay. Well, thanks very much for that.
bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).
that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).
Cynigiwyd y cynnig.
The next item, then, item 6, is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of this meeting. Is committee content to do so? Yes. Okay. We will move into private session.
Derbyniwyd y cynnig.
Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 12:09.
The public part of the meeting ended at 12:09.