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Isherwood: Tackling homelessness in Wales

Speech to the National Assembly for Wales.

"Since 1997, the Housing Act 1996 has placed a statutory duty on local authorities to assist those who are homeless or threatened with homelessness. Since then, priority homelessness in Wales has more than doubled, with almost 10,000 households accepted as homeless last year, almost half of which include children.

Shelter Cymru estimates that at least 50,000 people now experience homelessness in Wales each year. The number of homelessness decisions taken in Wales since devolution has risen by 80 per cent.

The excellent work by housing associations like Clwyd Alyn in the north and Cadwyn in the south is but a drop in the ocean of need. As Shelter Cymru states:

'Latest figures show a continued rise in homelessness in Wales…. Even more alarming, is the increasing number of families with children with no alternatives but to stay in overcrowded bed and breakfast accommodation'.

In 2001, the Assembly Government extended the categories of priority homelessness, increasing the duty placed on local authorities to find suitable accommodation until a settled home becomes available.

In consequence, Conwy county councillors have told me that a lack of resources means that local people are being disadvantaged in favour of socially-excluded people moving into the area, with a consequent risk to community sustainability.

The Minister has disputed this. If she will not accept my word for it, perhaps she will listen to the Labour-led Flintshire council. Last year, Flintshire council overspent on its homelessness budget by £1.4 million and, in its words, this

'occurred due to the criteria by which a claimant qualifies for homelessness support becoming less onerous. This led to a massive increase in demand which increased the amount of payments to bed and breakfast establishments'.

It is perhaps no surprise, therefore, that waiting lists for housing across Wales rose by 50 per cent last year alone, and the number waiting is projected to exceed 100,000 out of a total population of just under 3 million.

The number of households needing accommodation in Wales is forecast to increase by 12 per cent over the next 10 years. Wales has the worst housing conditions in the United Kingdom, with an estimated 225,000 people living in unfit accommodation.

The backlog in urgent housing repairs across Wales exceeds £4 billion. However, we now see a Welsh local authority telling council tenants that their homes will not be repaired unless they are at risk of injury or death.

One in two of the poorest households live in their own homes, but Welsh local authorities now tell them that they will have to wait several years for essential repairs grants, and Welsh local authorities are reporting housing waiting lists of up to nine years, which did not exist seven years ago.

Despite all this, despite rising waiting lists, homelessness and increased house prices, Labour has massively cut funding for social housing since 1997, and its projected budget to 2008 continues to do so.

More than three fifths of all tenants who exercised the right to buy between 1980 and 1990 are still in residence in that housing now, as they would have been if they had not purchased it.

Legislation in the 1980s transferred responsibility for new housing for rent to non-profit social enterprises, that is, housing associations. Between 1992 and 1996 alone, nearly 14,500 new social housing dwellings were completed in Wales, but that collapsed to just over 3,000 during the first four years of devolution. The Welsh Consumer Council states that

'Unless house building and renovation is stepped up, Wales could face a housing crisis.'

Shelter Cymru states that:

'we need a significant and urgent public increase in housing in Wales if we are to reverse this alarming trend in rising homelessness.'

Counties such as Wrexham are reporting a growing problem with rough sleepers, many of whom have mental health and drug and alcohol problems. Traumatised ex-servicemen tell me that up to 70 per cent of the street homeless comes from among their own ranks.

Prisoners tell me that housing is their biggest concern on release. Priority is given to housing former prisoners locally, but many do not want to return to peer groups in their home areas and councils report that they cannot meet demand.

Assembly Government housing need guidance excludes migration from outside the UK, causing a major problem in parts of north Wales where the migrant labour population is now larger than that in Cardiff.

Wrexham reports a recent big increase in in-migration from eastern Europe, with people now also bringing over their families. The public health department is having to consider taking over some houses in multiple occupation because of their poor condition.

Families classed as intentionally homeless are being permanently separated and moved into care, and only charities such as Save the Family in north-east Wales are giving them the chance to be reunited and rehabilitated in quality accommodation.

Cardiff University states that good housing should be at the heart of community regeneration, and the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru states that an adequate supply of affordable housing is key to creating sustainable communities.

They are right—housing should be a core public service alongside health and education, and hence I propose amendment 8. Without that, we will never break the cycle of hopelessness that is wreaking havoc in too many communities in Wales under the Labour Party today."

"Ers 1997, mae Deddf Dai 1996 wedi gosod dyletswydd statudol ar awdurdodau lleol i gynorthwyo pobl sydd yn ddigartref neu dan fygythiad digartrefedd. Ers hynny, mae digartrefedd gaiff flaenoriaeth yng Nghymru wedi mwy na dyblu, gyda bron 10,000 o deuluoedd wedi'u derbyn fel rhai digartref y llynedd, a bron hanner ohonynt yn cynnwys plant.

Mae Shelter Cymru'n amcangyfrif bod o leiaf 50,000 o bobl erbyn hyn yn profi digartrefedd yng Nghymru bob blwyddyn. Mae nifer y penderfyniadau digartrefedd a wneir yng Nghymru ers datganoli wedi codi 80 y cant. Nid yw'r gwaith rhagorol a wneir gan gymdeithasau tai fel Clwyd Alun yn y gogledd a Chadwyn yn y de ond megis diferyn yn y môr o angen. Fel y dywed Shelter Cymru:

Mae'r ffigurau diweddaraf yn dangos cynnydd parhaus mewn digartrefedd yng Nghymru... Mwy dychrynllyd byth yw'r nifer gynyddol o deuluoedd â phlant sydd heb ddewis ond aros mewn llety gwely a brecwast gorlawn.

Yn 2001, ehangodd Llywodraeth y Cynulliad y categorïau digartrefedd a gaiff flaenoriaeth, gan gynyddu'r ddyletswydd a osodir ar awdurdodau lleol i ganfod llety addas nes daw cartref sefydlog ar gael.

O ganlyniad, mae cynghorwyr sir Conwy wedi dweud wrthyf fod diffyg adnoddau'n golygu bod pobl leol dan anfantais i bobl gymdeithasol allgaeedig sy'n symud i mewn i'r ardal, gan beryglu cynaliadwyedd y gymuned. Mae'r Gweinidog wedi gwadu hyn.

Os na wnaiff dderbyn fy ngair amdano, efallai y gwnaiff wrando ar gyngor Llafur sir y Fflint. Y llynedd, gorwariodd cyngor sir y Fflint £1.4 miliwn ar ei gyllideb ar gyfer digartrefedd, ac yng ngeiriau'r cyngor,

digwyddodd hyn oherwydd i'r meini prawf i hawlydd fod yn gymwys ar gyfer cymorth digartrefedd fynd yn llai trwm. Arweiniodd hyn at gynnydd enfawr yn y galw, a gynyddodd gyfanswm y taliadau i sefydliadau gwely a brecwast.

Nid yw'n ddim syndod, felly, i restrau aros am dai ledled Cymru godi 50 y cant y llynedd yn unig, a rhagamcenir y bydd y nifer sydd yn aros yn codi i fwy na 100,000 allan o gyfanswm poblogaeth o ychydig dan 3 miliwn.

Rhagwelir cynnydd o 12 y cant yn nifer y teuluoedd fydd angen llety yng Nghymru yn y 10 mlynedd nesaf. Yng Nghymru y mae'r amodau tai gwaethaf yn y Deyrnas Unedig, gydag amcangyfrif bod 225,000 o bobl yn byw mewn llety anaddas. Mae ôl-groniad gwaith atgyweirio brys ar dai ledled Cymru bellach dros £4 biliwn.

Fodd bynnag, dyma ni'n awr yn gweld awdurdod lleol yng Nghymru'n dweud wrth denantiaid cyngor nad atgyweirir eu tai oni bai eu bod mewn perygl o anaf neu farwolaeth.

Mae un o bob dau o'r teuluoedd tlotaf yn byw yn eu cartrefi eu hunain, ond dywed awdurdodau lleol Cymru wrthynt bellach y bydd yn rhaid iddynt aros am rai blynyddoedd am grantiau atgyweirio hanfodol, ac mae awdurdodau lleol Cymru'n adrodd am restrau aros o hyd at naw mlynedd am dai, nad oeddent yn bodoli saith mlynedd yn ôl.

Er gwaethaf hyn i gyd, er gwaethaf cynnydd mewn rhestrau aros, digartrefedd a phrisiau tai, mae Llafur wedi cwtogi'n aruthrol ar gyllid ar gyfer tai cymdeithasol ers 1997, ac mae ei gyllideb ragamcanedig am 2008 yn parhau i wneud hynny. Mae mwy na thri o bob pum tenant a fanteisiodd ar yr hawl i brynu rhwng 1980 a 1990 yn dal i fyw yn y tai hynny'n awr, fel y buasent pe na baent wedi'u prynu.

Deddfwyd yn y 1980au i drosglwyddo cyfrifoldeb am dai newydd i'w rhentu i fentrau cymdeithasol dielw, hynny yw, cymdeithasau tai. Rhwng 1992 a 1996 yn unig, cwblhawyd bron 14,500 o dai cymdeithasol newydd yng Nghymru, ond cwympodd hynny i ychydig dros 3,000 yn ystod pedair blynedd gyntaf datganoli. Dywed Cyngor Defnyddwyr Cymru

Os na chynyddir y gwaith o adeiladu ac adnewyddu tai, gallai Cymru wynebu argyfwng tai.

Dywed Shelter Cymru:

Mae arnom angen cynnydd cyhoeddus sylweddol ar fyrder yng Nghymru os ydym am wrthdroi'r duedd ddychrynllyd hon o ran digartrefedd cynyddol.

Mae siroedd fel Wrecsam yn sôn am broblem gynyddol gyda phobl yn cysgu ar y stryd, llawer ohonynt yn dioddef problemau iechyd meddwl a chyffuriau ac alcohol. Dywed cyn-filwyr sydd yn dioddef trawma mai o'u rhengoedd hwy y daw hyd at 70 y cant o bobl ddigartref y stryd. Dywed carcharorion wrthyf mai tai yw eu pryder mwyaf pan gânt eu rhyddhau.

Rhoddir blaenoriaeth i gartrefu cyn-garcharorion yn lleol, ond bydd llawer ohonynt yn gyndyn o ddychwelyd at eu cyfoedion yn ardaloedd eu cartrefi a dywed cynghorau na allant gwrdd â'r galw.

Nid yw canllawiau Llywodraeth y Cynulliad ar anghenion tai yn cynnwys ymfudiad o'r tu allan i'r Deyrnas Unedig, sy'n peri problem fawr mewn rhannau o'r gogledd lle mae'r boblogaeth lafur fewnfudol bellach yn fwy nag yng Nghaerdydd.

Yn Wrecsam cafwyd cynnydd mawr yn ddiweddar mewn mewnfudiad o ddwyrain Ewrop, gyda phobl erbyn hyn yn dod â'u teuluoedd gyda hwy. Mae'r adran iechyd cyhoeddus yn gorfod ystyried cymryd rheolaeth dros rai tai amlfeddiannaeth oherwydd eu cyflwr gwael.

Caiff teuluoedd y dyfernir eu bod yn fwriadol ddigartref eu gwahanu'n barhaol a'u symud i mewn i ofal, a dim ond elusennau fel 'Save the Family' yn y gogledd-ddwyrain sydd yn rhoi'r cyfle iddynt gael eu haduno a'u hadsefydlu mewn llety o ansawdd da.

Dywed Prifysgol Caerdydd y dylai tai da fod wrth galon cynlluniau adfywio cymunedol, a dywed Sefydliad Siartredig Tai Cymru fod cyflenwad digonol o dai fforddiadwy'n allweddol i greu cymunedau cynaliadwy.

Maent yn iawn—dylai tai fod yn wasanaeth cyhoeddus creiddiol ochr yn ochr â iechyd ac addysg, ac felly cynigiaf welliant 8. Heb hynny, ni wnawn fyth dorri'r cylch o anobaith sydd yn gwneud llanast mewn gormod o gymunedau yng Nghymru dan y Blaid Lafur heddiw."

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