Blog: New research shows emerging threats to Scotland’s progress on homelessness

Jon Sparkes
Jon Sparkes

The Scottish Government blazed a trail in tackling homelessness, but there is no room for complacency, writes Jon Sparkes, chief executive at Crisis.

(Yesterday) saw the publication of the Homelessness Monitor Scotland 2015, showing how homelessness is faring in Scotland. This blog looks at some of the key findings and lessons coming out of the research.

Commissioned by Crisis and funded by Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, it is written by some of the leading experts in housing and homelessness. It forms part of a series of publications which provide an independent, authoritative picture of homelessness within and across each of the countries of the UK, tracking the impact of major policy and economic developments on homelessness.

Since we published the first Homelessness Monitor Scotland in 2012, Scotland has met the goal of abolishing the priority need category of support for homeless people, meaning that Scotland has some of the most progressive homelessness legislation in the world. Every person who is homeless through no fault of their own now has the right to a settled home.

Yet despite the strength of the legal framework, homelessness in Scotland still remains a challenge.

While statutory homelessness applications have fallen, this research shows that the overall number of people coming to their council for homelessness assistance has changed very little over recent years. Around 54,000 people ask their local authority for help with homelessness every year, and 10-11,000 people are in temporary accommodation at any one time.

The report raises various warning signs for homelessness in Scotland going forward. It reveals how homeless people are being forced to spend more and more time in temporary housing due to a lack of affordable homes, rising demand and cuts to benefits. In the last year there has been a marked rise in local authority evictions as growing numbers of households struggle to pay their rent in the face of harsh cuts to social security.

The introduction of the prevention approach known as Housing Options offered a major opportunity to intervene at an earlier stage and tackle homelessness before people get into crisis. But the approach has not been without controversy, with concerns raised that some local authorities are ‘gate-keeping’ services, so that people can’t access their statutory rights. At the same time, evidence thus far suggests that the use of Housing Options is relatively ‘light touch’, often limited to information giving and signposting to other services rather than more intensive support which could prevent homelessness happening.

The Scottish Government has blazed a trail when it comes to tackling homelessness, but there’s no room for complacency.

More needs to be done to support young homeless people, who are at particular risk from welfare reforms and cuts, while the proportion of people who are homeless and have complex needs such as mental health problems and substance dependency appears to be growing.

Homelessness should be the barometer of a fairer Scotland. We’re calling for a new cross-departmental strategy to tackle homelessness and strengthen the role of prevention and early intervention, particularly for those affected by changes to the welfare system, and boost support for the hardest to help.

We also need action to ensure that by the end of the next Parliament, no one should live in unsuitable temporary accommodation, particularly B&Bs, for more than 14 days, and there should be greater investment in housing to ensure that these people can quickly move into suitable and affordable homes.

In the run-up to the Scottish Parliamentary elections in 2016, all political parties must continue to prioritise homelessness so that Scotland maintains its world-leading position and so that every person has a home of their own.



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