Blog: Three priorities for tackling homelessness in Scotland
In the current political crisis-ridden, post-‘welfare reform’ context and given impressive changes to homelessness legislation elsewhere in the UK, Scotland’s claim to be a world-leader on homelessness may be weakening. Beth Watts identifies three areas where Scotland can raise its game.
Shelter Scotland’s ‘Far From Fixed’ conference last week provided a welcome opportunity to reflect on the next steps that should lie ahead for policy-makers, service providers and other stakeholders in Scotland’s homelessness sector. In preparation, we were asked to consider how to ensure that homelessness is a political and public policy priority, an exceedingly timely question given the multiple political crises unfolding in Scotland, the wider UK and globally.
Several themes emerged from the day. First, that homelessness is a ‘system outcome’, that is, in large part the predictable and avoidable consequence of how our housing market, labour market and (crucially) welfare system work (see for instance our series of Homelessness Monitor reports). Tony Cain (ALACHO) made this point in the closing panel session, arguing that a ‘paradigm shift’ across these areas is required if we want to make a real difference on homelessness. Second, the importance of challenging the stigma associated with homelessness, and of those who have experienced homelessness directly always having a role in designing responses to it were themes that loomed large across the day. Sonya and Suzanne, both having recently experienced homelessness, opened the day making these points, which were echoed by David Duke (Street Soccer/The Change Centre) in the final session. Third, Rosemary Brotchie (Shelter Scotland) made the case for addressing the issue with the sense of urgency it deserves, for strong leadership (both from Scottish Government and key stakeholders) and for the development of a national homelessness strategy.
My own contribution focused on the importance of understanding the causes, individual impacts and social costs of homelessness, and how we can intervene effectively to prevent and resolve it. Of course, gaps remain in this evidence. Furthermore, what can sometimes feel like relentless reforms to social security and housing entitlements and cuts to local authority budgets are taking us ceaselessly in the wrong direction by eroding the safety net that has historically protected many people from homelessness.
Nevertheless, it is possible to gain a foothold. Research evidence and a look at the successes and failures of existing policy responses point to some clear messages about ‘what works’ (and what doesn’t) in tackling homelessness. Shouting those messages loudly is surely one key ingredient in not only ensuring that homelessness is a political and policy priority, but in instilling positivity about our capacity to make a difference. These are my three top priorities:
Homelessness has been a long-standing public policy priority in Scotland, for the Scottish Government and a wide coalition of stakeholders concerned to (in the words of Shelter Scotland’s campaign) ‘fix it’. But any claim Scotland once had to being a world-leader on homelessness is slipping away in the current crisis-ridden, post-‘welfare reform’ context and (more positively) given decisive and impressive changes to homelessness law and policy elsewhere in the UK, particularly in Wales. We can raise our game, and we can do so by being uncompromisingly outward looking, learning lessons from other countries’ policy responses and stubbornly pursuing demonstrably effective approaches that we know can make a real difference.
For a synthesis of that research see chapter 9 of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s report UK poverty: Causes, costs and solutions.