Homelessness is far from fixed in Scotland

Written by Graeme Brown, Shelter Scotland on 7 September 2016 in Comment

Shelter Scotland director Graeme Brown calls for more national leadership to end homelessness

Scotland leads the world in tackling homelessness. That claim has been a source of pride over the last 15 years, but it has always needed to be earned rather than simply asserted.

Back in 2002 the landmark Homelessness Task Force report certainly set new standards in breadth and ambition.

A lot has been achieved since then, most significantly the reform to homelessness law in Scotland – the 2012 commitment to give all homeless people similar rights: the right to a settled home.

However, despite the 2012 commitment coming into force, homelessness in Scotland is still far from fixed. And Shelter Scotland is determined to do something about it.

Our new ‘Homelessness: Far From Fixed’ campaign shows that homelessness can happen to anyone, that people become homeless through chance not choice and that we still have a long way to go to end homelessness in Scotland.


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Our campaign is calling or renewed national leadership on homelessness and a new National Homelessness Strategy for Scotland.

It’s a disgrace and a badge of shame that despite being one of the richest nations in the world, nearly 30,000 households became homeless last year in Scotland and more than 65,000 households approached their local authority for help with housing.

It’s shameful that each year there are thousands of people sleeping rough on our streets and a great many more hidden homeless people sofa-surfing with friends or living in unsuitable accommodation.

It is simply unacceptable that tomorrow morning more than 5,000 children in Scotland will wake up without a permanent home of their own.

We think the time for good rhetoric and resting on our laurels is over. We need to face up to the reality that despite good progress in recent years, we are still failing far too many people in our society - particularly the most vulnerable - on their basic human right to a home.

It is time for bold action and the Scottish people agree with us. Research carried out for us by YouGov shows that 75 per cent of people in Scotland think homelessness is a problem today and 54 per cent agree that the Scottish Government could do more to tackle it.

The current state of homelessness in Scotland proves that even the best legal framework – the 2012 commitment - is only as good as the way it provides people with the help they need.

But across the country services are uneven. 10,000 people are in temporary accommodation: so on the ground, having the right to a home is not the same as getting a home.

Meanwhile, 150,000 households on council house waiting lists show the wider strain on the system.

We still deal with desperate people who have been turned away from local authority services without even an attempt to make a homelessness assessment.

It is Shelter Scotland’s view that local and national government have taken their eye off the ball on homelessness.

That’s why it is time to re-forge a commitment to tackling homelessness, building on the gains of the last 15 years but also recognising the areas where progress has been much patchier.

Scotland also needs to recognise the changing shape of welfare, the shifts in population and the evolving institutional and policy landscape.

So a re-commitment is not just for housing campaigners and housing practitioners. It is for political leaders at all levels, political parties, members of the public and users of housing services.

A refreshed homelessness plan would set new horizons for homelessness services and help deliver on other top-ranking national priorities such as improving social justice, bridging the attainment gaps in schools and focusing public spending on prevention work.

Most of all, it would allow that claim – that Scotland leads the world on homelessness – to be backed by evidence of real progress and real change.

The 2012 homeless commitment was the product of a new infant parliament eager to show the world that new forms of institution could make a difference.

As Scotland’s parliament grows into a more mature phase, there is no better focus than homelessness to show why that matters.

It is only by being bold and actually living up to our ambition of being a progressive and socially just nation that we can finally start to fix homelessness for good in Scotland.

Graeme Brown is the director of Shelter Scotland

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