Fears for Scotland’s future success in tackling homelessness

youth-homeless-bannerScotland’s ambitions to tackle homelessness are under threat according to a new report published today by national homelessness charity Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

The report shows 28,615 homelessness assessments by councils last year – a fall of 5 per cent on the previous year. However, taking into account use of Housing Options services, the overall level of homelessness demand remains steady at around 54,000 presentations, while the number of households in temporary accommodation remains in the range of 10-11,000 at any one time.

The findings are from state-of-the nation report The Homelessness Monitor: Scotland 2015 – an independent study commissioned by Crisis and funded by Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation tracking the impact of economic and policy developments on homelessness in Scotland.

The report reveals how homeless people are being forced to spend more and more time in temporary housing due to pressure on the supply of affordable homes, rising demand and cuts to benefits.

The introduction of the prevention approach known as ‘Housing Options’ created a major opportunity to intervene at an earlier stage and tackle homelessness before people get into crisis, but caused controversy. The report raises concerns that some councils were using Housing Options to deny people their statutory rights, limiting assistance to just signposting to other services.

Glasgow continues to face exceptional challenges from the unusually high numbers of people with complex needs sleeping rough in the city combined with a shortage of temporary accommodation for single men.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: “The Scottish Government has blazed a trail when it comes to tackling homelessness, but there’s no room for complacency.

“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. More needs to be done to support young homeless people, who are at particular risk from welfare 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.

“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.”

Julia Unwin, chief executive of JRF, said: “Getting to grips with the housing crisis is key to driving down homelessness, so Scotland’s commitment to building much needed, genuinely affordable homes of all tenures is extremely welcome. However, building new homes takes time. JRF supports the UK government’s long-term aim of a higher pay economy with lower need for welfare, but reducing benefits before new homes are built and higher wages have the chance to plug the gap will leave many low-income households struggling to make ends meet.”

Lead author, Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick, said: “There is a lot to praise in Scotland when it comes to tackling homelessness. The Scottish Government’s renewed focus on homelessness and health, alongside improved protection and entitlements for young care leavers and the Scottish Welfare Fund are all very positive recent developments.

“But the threat posed by welfare cuts and benefit sanctions – especially for young people – is very real, and risks undoing much of this progress.”

Key findings:

  • Rough sleeping is experienced by almost 5,000 adults in Scotland each year, with about 660 sleeping rough on a typical night – the vast majority of them men.
  • Local councils across Scotland have reported that homeless people are spending significantly longer periods in temporary accommodation
  • There is currently substantial anxiety in Scotland about the implications of welfare reform for meeting the costs of temporary accommodation
  • There was a marked upturn in local authority evictions in 2014/15, reflecting the rise in rent arrears at least in part due to welfare reform
  • The lower rate of housing benefit for under 35s (Shared Accommodation Rate) continues to cause significant problems in limiting the access of younger single people to the private rented sector. The announcement in the recent Comprehensive Spending Review that the Shared Accommodation Rate will be extended to those living in the social rented sector is a very major concern in Scotland where single people under 35 make up a very large proportion of those accepted as homeless. The research also references a ‘cultural antipathy’ on the part of some local authorities to the use of both the private rented sector in general, and shared accommodation in particular
  • Benefit sanctions are a core concern for the homelessness sector in Scotland, affecting people’s ability to avoid or move on from homelessness, as well as the financial viability of some accommodation projects.
  • @crisis_uk

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