Minister pledges extra money for homelessness if Welsh budget increases

The latest rough sleeper count found that over a period of two weeks in November there were 405 people sleeping on the streets of Wales.

The housing minister says that there’ll be more money for a fund considered important in tackling homeless, if the Welsh Government sees an increase in its budget from Westminster.

There’s been criticism of a decision in the draft Welsh budget to freeze funding for the Housing Support Grant, seen as one of the main ways of stopping people become homeless, because keeping it at the same level is effectively a cut.

Speaking on last night’s Sharp End programme, the minister defended that decision, saying that it had been protected during nine years of UK Government austerity.

Julie James told the programme that freezing it had enabled more money to go to local councils to build social housing - another way of trying to prevent homelessness.

But she said that if the Welsh Government gets increased funding as the UK Government has promised, then the grant will be a top priority for extra cash.

If at all possible, when we go to the final budget we’ll be looking to increase it but at this point of time we’re not sure, because of the way the UK budget is structured this year, whether we can do that...If we can we will.

What we’ve done is we’ve prioritised, as we said we would, in our pledges around the budget, the health service and local government.

This is the next thing and in fact, in the finance subgroup of the partnership council, the minister for finance and myself both said that, if there is extra money coming out of the UK government process, this will be right up there in the queue for it.

– Julie James AM Housing and Local Government minister
Julie James is the minister responsible for tackling homelessness. Credit: ITV Wales News

Julie James will update Assembly Members on the Housing Support Grant today (Tuesday) but it’s not thought the statement in the Senedd will refer to any increase in funding.

It comes with renewed focus on homelessness after the latest rough sleeper count found that over a period of two weeks in November there were 405 people sleeping on the streets of Wales.

That’s led to those calls for increases to the housing support grant and other moves. The Welsh Conservatives are pushing the idea of a Homelessness Tsar.

Their Shadow Housing Minister David Melding said someone appointed to that role could be "a champion for the vulnerable."

We still believe that the Welsh Labour Government should appoint a homelessness Tsar in Wales, someone who will scrutinise the progress of Welsh Government homelessness policies and – ideally – who will have direct lived experience of homelessness themselves.

Our strategy is not the whole vision or solution, but it is a change of direction that would be undertaken by a Welsh Conservative Government, putting the issue of homelessness at the forefront of our administration.

It is vital that everyone has a safe and supported home to call their own, enabling them to access the public services that we all rely on in a time of need.

A new Homelessness Tsar would be a champion for the vulnerable and will ensure that the voices of homeless people themselves – who all too often go unheard – will ring out loud.

– David Melding AM, Welsh Conservatives

But Julie James said such an appointment wouldn’t deal with the root of the problem.

That’s all very well but we know that the problem is that we don’t have enough money and I’m not sure how a tsar would be able to manufacture the money out of thin air.

If the Tories wanted to do something they could get their government to change the local housing allowances back to where they should be.

– Julie James AM, Housing and Local Government minister