Stephen Williams MP
Stephen Williams MP addressing the Crisis annual conferenceCrisis

Communities and local government minister Stephen Williams has been left red-faced after refusing to knowledge the housing crisis as a contributing factor behind the "unprecedented" rise in homelessness in Britain.

The minister was laughed at during Crisis charity's annual conference today (11 March) when he boasted that more than four million affordable homes have been built in the last decade to help ease the housing shortage.

Andrew Winter from Brighton Housing Trust (BHT) was met with rapturous applause when he told the minister: "It is only credible if you regard 80% of the market as affordable."

Earlier the BHT worker told Williams: "I'd like to commend you for the way that you presented that record of the government, not the record itself, but the fact you did it with a straight face in a room with so many people, who see on a daily basis of the real human impact of the unprecedented crisis in supply of affordable homes."

The lack of housing is seen as one of the main factors behind the 55% rise in people (2,744) sleeping rough compared with five years ago.

Crisis charity also blames factors such as cuts to benefits and changes to government welfare reform for the steep increase in homelessness.

During a Q&A, the Bristol West MP also refused to accept welfare reform as the "principle driver" in forcing people onto the streets and said other factors had to be taken into account such as individual mental health problems and drug addiction issues as well as the impact of immigrants who cannot find work.

Williams said more than half of rough sleepers in London were not British and were unable to get work in this country – adding homelessness has "nothing to do with local government services".

"The reasons for rough sleeping are complex and are not due to the government policy of the day," he said.

"For some it will be down to the economic cycles and due to people who have come to this country. More than half of people sleeping rough in London are not British citizens, who have come from other parts of the world and aren't able to find work.

"It's got absolutely nothing to do with local government services, it's often due to immigration issues."

Sarah Gorton from Homeless Link welcomed the minister's announcement of "pots of money" already aimed at helping homelessness and domestic violence but said it could not cover the "huge cuts in local authorities and welfare reform".

She also asked for assurance from the minister against another "massive rise in rough sleepers because of the cuts that are already on the horizon", which he did not respond to directly, citing the multiple factors involved in homelessness. But he later pledged it was the duty of the next government to ensure the economy grows rather than contracts again to keep people in employment.

Crisis is now calling on the government to review the help given to single homeless people under the law.