New working group to make urgent recommendations to end rough sleeping

homeless EdinburghThe Scottish Government has pledged to establish an expert group together with a £50 million fund with the aim of eradicating homelessness for good.

Announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as she delivered her Programme for Government for 2017/18 to the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, the ‘Ending Homelessness Together’ fund of £10m a year over five years will support the recommendations of a Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group aimed at eradicating rough sleeping and transforming the use of temporary accommodation.

The initiative was part of a package of social security measures which will see new powers rolled out to also tackle inequality, child poverty, reduce drug deaths and provide free sanitary protection to students in school, college and university.

To coincide with the fund, an additional investment of £20m a year will also be made to refresh the government’s alcohol and drug addiction strategy.

Ms Sturgeon said her government is not prepared to tolerate the increase in homelessness and rough sleeping.

The First Minister said: “We must eradicate rough sleeping. We will therefore establish a short life expert group to make urgent recommendations on the actions, services and legislative changes required to end rough sleeping and transform the use of temporary accommodation.”

Homelessness charities hailed the announcement but were under no illusions of the “significant” task facing the rough sleeping action group.

Adam Lang, head of communications and policy at Shelter Scotland, said: “Shelter Scotland has been campaigning for the last year for renewed focus and leadership on homelessness, so the announcement of a new action group to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping is extremely welcome.

“The challenges facing this new action group are significant. Last year, a household became homeless every 19 minutes in Scotland and tomorrow morning more than 6,000 children will wake up without a permanent home of their own.

“The need for action is urgent and we look forward to working with the new group to quickly deliver changes on the ground to see improved support for those currently enduring or at risk of homelessness.”

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, added: “I warmly welcome the Scottish Government’s renewed commitment to tackling homelessness and their £50m investment in finding solutions to this issue. Banishing rough sleeping from our streets is an ambition we fully support and chimes with our intention to produce a plan to end homelessness in Scotland for good.

“The use of temporary accommodation in Scotland is on the rise and at Crisis we have particular concerns about the number of individuals left to languish for months in unsuitable forms of temporary accommodation, without access to cooking facilities the use of a washing machine or no bathroom of their own. Our members tell us living in limbo like this can have an impact on their confidence, state of mind and ability to find or sustain work. Crisis looks forward to the opportunity to work with the Scottish Government to ensure councils provide the same rights to all homeless people and are supported into permanent accommodation as quickly as possible.”

Homeless Action Scotland’s chief executive, Gavin Yates, said: “We asked before the weekend for a genuine commitment to end rough sleeping and £50m over five years certainly shows intent.

“As always the devil will be in the detail but my organisation continues to be happy to be part of a solution to end every aspect of homelessness and we will work with the Scottish Government and others to make it happen. We are ready to serve on the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group. We welcome the commitment that the work of that group will be informed by the views of those with direct personal experience of homelessness.

“We have always said that we need to ensure that all aspects of government are joined up and working effectively together and we will push to ensure that everybody from the NHS, Police, Local Authorities and Voluntary Organisations can all play their part in ending the scourge of homelessness in Scotland.”

Citizens Advice Scotland has also welcomed proposals in the programme for government to tackle homelessness as well as child poverty.

Head of policy, Susan McPhee, said: “There are still too many children in poverty and too many people who find themselves without a home, and additional funding is essential to tackle these twin issues.

“The proposals to empower the Poverty and Inequality Commission to look at how new social security powers could be used and to create a homelessness action group have the potential to focus efforts and resources to help these groups.”

On housing, the Scottish Government plans to double its funding to the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership and an upcoming Warm Homes Bill will set a new statutory fuel poverty target.

New energy efficiency standards for the private rented sector will also be introduced to improve the quality of housing and help lower fuel bills, particularly for young people, who rely on privately rented accommodation.

It will also consult on permitting the conversion of farm building to form new homes to increase rural housing stock.

Responding to the announcements, Homes for Scotland emphasised the fundamental importance of ensuring that Scotland has a housing system that works for everyone.

Chief executive Nicola Barclay said: “With the number of new homes being built in Scotland flatlining, tackling our country’s housing crisis requires a broad approach that includes all market segments.  The private sector has a huge role to play by not only helping to meet the aspiration of Scots to own their own home but also in relieving pressure on social housing.

“Key to the Scottish Government’s objectives will be its delivery of an effective planning system and the provision of the infrastructure that is needed to support development. We therefore cautiously welcome the announcement of a Scottish Investment Bank, however will need to see the detail on how it can facilitate this provision.

“By providing a policy framework that supports housing delivery, the Scottish Government can reap the benefits of the significant economic contribution and job creation opportunities home building can offer.”

Daryl Mcintosh, strategic development manager for Scotland at letting agents body Propertymark, added: “We welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to increasing housing stock in Scotland; improving the quality and supply of affordable homes remains a key factor which impacts so many people across the country.

“In principle we support introducing energy efficiency standards for the private rented sector, however we caution the government to make sure it doesn’t take a one size fits all approach, as those with rural homes in particular may struggle to meet minimum standards.”

Elsewhere, the Social Security Bill will complete its passage through Parliament and the location of a new social security centre is expected to be revealed within weeks.

A new Climate Change Bill will also be introduced that will set even more ambitious targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and ensure that Scotland meets it obligations under the Paris Accord.

A Scottish National Investment Bank will be established to take a ‘new approach’ on capital investment.

Other measures within the Programme for Government – which confirmed 16 new pieces of legislation – include:

  • support for key business sectors including low carbon, screen, manufacturing and financial technology
  • extending free personal care to all those under 65 who need it, known as ‘Frank’s Law’
  • extending the presumption against short prison sentences to 12 months to break the cycle of offending and encourage the greater use of more effective community sentences
  • record investment in the NHS and a pledge to lift the public sector pay cap for NHS and other public sector workers
  • doubling the provision of free childcare
  • Improving public health with action on air quality, increased investment in active travel and measures to restrict the advertising of fatty and sugary food and drink
  • A discussion paper on the use of income tax in Scotland to support public services

Legislative programme 2017