Blog: Ending homelessness together in the Scottish Parliament

Jon Sparkes

As the publication of the Scottish Government’s new Action Plan for Ending Homelessness Together was debated in the Scottish Parliament last week and received cross-party backing, Jon Sparkes, Crisis chief executive and chair of the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG), blogs about the significant progress that’s been made in the last 15 months.

Last week’s seminal debate at Holyrood and the publication of the Scottish Government Action Plan puts Scotland firmly at the forefront of committing to an end to homelessness. Among the many commitments in the Plan, there is now an agreement from the government to bring forward a legislative change to time limit stays in unsuitable emergency accommodation for all homeless people in the next parliamentary year, a legal change that Crisis in Scotland has been actively campaigning on.

This action plan is a blueprint to make real and lasting change across Scotland, not only in ending homelessness but in tackling poverty and inequality and improving joined-up working across government departments and public bodies.

Aileen Campbell MSP, cabinet secretary for communities and local government, opened the debate at Holyrood and commented on the remarkable pace of HARSAG to produce a set of concrete actions with 70 bold recommendations – driving the momentum and pace of change along with the local government and communities committee who conducted a year-long review into homelessness.

Ms Campbell also talked at length about the need for partnership working with the third sector and ensuring the voice of frontline workers and those with experience of homelessness continues to be heard as the detail of the plan is implemented.

There are elements within the plan that we at Crisis would like to see prioritised as they can have a big impact on improving the lives of more homeless people every day. In June this year we published a Plan to End Homelessness for Scotland, England and Wales. Informed by research, evidence and by listening to people with experience of working with or being homeless themselves, we produced 42 recommendations for the Scottish Government, many of which have actually been included in the Action Plan.

Through our Life in Limbo campaign, we have been campaigning to limit the use of unsuitable temporary accommodation, where people have no or little access to basic amenities such as cooking or laundry facilities. We want the law changed so that no one has to stay in these conditions for more than seven days. Our campaign calls for this amendment to be made in this parliamentary year.

Earlier this week, opposition spokespeople on housing, Graham Simpson, Pauline McNeill, Andy Wightman and Alex Cole-Hamilton joined together to support our campaign and we thank them for highlighting the inhumane conditions people are being forced to live in.

On Friday, we made real progress on making this change a reality as the minister for local government, housing and planning, Kevin Stewart accepted an amendment in Parliament from Scottish Conservative housing spokesman, Graham Simpson, which calls for the legal change to be made in the Programme for Government next September.

Throughout the debate, it was heartening to hear the cross-party support on making an end to homelessness a reality, including acceptance of Scottish Labour’s amendment, from Pauline McNeill, on additional resources for frontline workers and support for women experiencing homelessness.

There was, however, also clear concern across the benches on how long some elements may take to implement with several members relaying real-life stories from their own constituencies. This is why the Scottish Government must retain oversight of this issue and an annual report to Parliament is welcome, but we also need to ensure that the ambition and drive to make real progress is reflected across all services at every level and that councils receive the support they need to implement their rapid re-housing transition plans without delay.

Crisis strongly welcomes the Action Plan which has a vision to see homelessness ended and everyone with a home that meets their needs. It makes preventing homelessness a priority and puts homeless people at the heart of decision-making about solutions.

We also welcome the link to the Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework, ensuring that ending homelessness takes its rightful place as a top priority for a just and fair Scotland. The commitment to ensure work on future housing supply is informed by the pressures faced by homeless people in accessing appropriate homes is heartening as is the recognition of the need to focus on migrant homelessness so that we end homelessness for every person in Scotland.

We are also particularly pleased that the plan recognises the need to shift public perceptions to challenge misconceptions about homelessness.

Many of the 49 actions are high level and will require more work to flesh out the details and timings for taking work forward. This includes a timeline to implementing prevention duty as a legal backstop to stop anyone becoming homeless in the first place and embedding the ambition to end homelessness into policy agendas across national and local government, including poverty, health and social care, justice as well as mainstream housing policy.

All parties within the Scottish Parliament have now voted to implement the Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan and with it Scotland has made the biggest and boldest step of any government in Great Britain. Now the hard work really starts for every person working in every organisation linked to homelessness in making it a reality. The team at Crisis are ready to roll up our sleeves and play our part and we hope you are too.

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