THERE is “little hope” of Bolton’s homelessness problem improving in the foreseeable future, a town hall chief has claimed.

Cllr Nick Peel told a meeting of Bolton Council that while the authority was committed to tackling the scourge, there were “massive challenges” ahead.

Responding to fellow Labour councillor Bilkis Ismail’s question on why homelessness rates were on the rise, he pointed the finger squarely at the Tory government.

He said: “Unfortunately, I do not have much hope of the situation improving either here or elsewhere in the country.

"The challenges presented by the government’s reckless welfare reform programme, including the pending roll-out of the ill-thought-out Universal Credit, and the increasing difficulties of the supply of affordable housing will present us with massive challenges to the task of tackling homelessness and, in particular those with complicated and complex needs.”

The council’s environment leader said the authority remained committed to Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham’s pledge to drive down homelessness and rough sleeping – and was involved in a range of projects as part of the Homelessness Trailblazer Programme.

Describing the homelessness issue as a “scandal deliberately orchestrated by the policies of this government", he told the chamber that, nationally, 4,700 people are sleeping rough, while more than 300,000 are officially classed as homeless.

“That’s one in 200 of the population of this affluent country,” he said.

He added: “By no means wishing to detract from the problem, we fortunately have a better picture to tell in Bolton. The number of formal homeless applications in this borough stood at 553 in 2017/18 - up from 516 in 2016/17, but on a par with our high point of 560 in 2015/16.”

Cllr Peel added that, on average, the number of rough sleepers in Bolton on any one day stands at between 10 and 20 people.

He continued: “All of these individuals, who often have very complex lives are known to the council and its partners and are supported in every possible way.

“But it remains the case over the last few years that around half of the presentations are vulnerable single people – the most shocking figure is that 58 per cent of cases concern domestic abuse, and usually entails women with children.”

And he claimed that Bolton performing favourably relative to the national picture was “absolutely nothing to do with central government and absolutely everything to do with the policies pursued by this Labour council”.

He said: “This council has always adopted a proactive approach to homelessness, in all its various manifestations and has a good record of providing interventions to prevent homelessness when it occurs. For example we have not made cuts to supported temporary accommodation and remain committed to this vital service.”

He added that the authority’s 2017-21 homelessness strategy provided a “continued commitment” to tackling and preventing homelessness.

Cllr Peel’s assessment of the root causes of homelessness was supported by Gareth Bradbury, chairman of the volunteer-led Bolton Community Kitchen.

He said: “I totally agree that it’s not getting any better, as long as they’re sanctioning people on benefits how can they afford to live?

“If they miss an appointment through no fault of their own – say they have to go to hospital, or have mental health issues – they get sanctioned, and they don’t know how to get out of it.”

And Mr Bradbury says the “bedroom tax” was also driving the problem of homelessness.

He said: “That has a lot to do with it as well, people are moving out of their homes into flats that are not fit for humans. Some of the flats in Bolton, some people would rather live on the streets than live in them.”

And he added that there was not enough support available for vulnerable people at risk of homelessness.

He said: “Most of them have mental health issues, they shouldn’t be on the streets, they should be in a halfway house being looked after and having their medication supplied.”