A £30m fund to cut the number of people living on the street has been announced by the government, amid intense criticism of the soaring numbers of rough sleepers.

But the sum was immediately dismissed as “a pitiful response to a national crisis” by Labour, who said it was swamped by cuts to money for low-cost housing.

Housing minister Heather Wheeler has promised to resign if the rough sleeping problem gets worse on her watch.

And the Government has been sharply criticised as unambitious, after pledging to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminate it only by 2027. 

Sajid Javid, the Housing Secretary, also announced a new task force, made up of rough sleeping and homelessness experts with knowledge of housing, mental health and addiction.

“This winter has tragically claimed the lives of a number of people sleeping on the streets. This is completely unacceptable in modern Britain,” he said.

“No-one should ever have to sleep rough and this government is determined to break the homelessness cycle once and for all.”

The plight of England’s estimated 4,700 rough sleepers was starkly highlighted by the Beast from the East storm which plunged the country into sub-zero temperatures.

A record number of people were referred to a specialist helpline by members of the public as the icy blast gripped the country.

But John Healey, Labour’s shadow housing secretary, said: “This is a pitiful response to a national crisis that has grown worse every year since 2010.

“Ministers’ ambitions are so feeble that even if they do what they say they will, rough sleeping will still be higher at the end of this Parliament than it was in 2010.

“You can’t help the homeless if you won’t provide the homes, and the money announced here is less than 1% of the Conservatives’ annual cut to funding for new low-cost housing.”

Mr Javid said the £30m would go to local councils with the worst rough sleeping problems, with £100,000 for frontline rough sleeping workers across the country to ensure they have the right skills to deal with the issue.

It comes as new laws come into force next week that will place extra legal duties on councils to ensure rough sleepers are supported in their area.

Official figures show that rough sleeping has risen by 169 per cent since 2010, with the finger pointed at cuts to benefits and for support workers, as well as funds for housing.