Tackling homelessness in Scotland

Written by Adam Lang on 27 June 2017 in Comment

Head of Communications and Policy at Shelter Scotland Adam Lang on why Scotland needs a national homelessness strategy

Shelter Scotland recently submitted evidence to Holyrood’s Local Government Committee as part of their current enquiry into homelessness. At the heart of our response is our call for a new national homelessness strategy in Scotland.

However, this is not just us asking for a new strategy for the sake of it or ticking a box. It is what we genuinely believe will make the most difference to delivering a better response across our public services to tackling and preventing homelessness.


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As with all Shelter Scotland’s campaign asks, this is based on extensive research, robust evidence and the experiences of those people who come to us for help, those at the sharp end of Scotland’s housing crisis.

Our concern is that due to a current lack of strategic focus and drive at a national level on homelessness, local service innovations and best practice examples are not being rolled out across local authorities. And all too often cumbersome processes, management and bureaucracy are getting in the way of people getting the support they need and are legally entitled to.

Despite a strong legislative framework and major policy and practice improvements over the past decade, homelessness is still far too common. On average in Scotland a household becomes homeless every 20 minutes. And the number of people rough sleeping on our streets would seem to be rising.

Add that to the fact our legal team in Shelter Scotland spends much of its time enforcing people’s rights to accommodation – when the local authority has a clear legal duty to deliver this – a picture emerges that homelessness is sadly still far from fixed.

That’s why we are calling for a new homelessness strategy, to build on the work of the cross-party 2001 Homelessness Task Force. We are concerned that there is now a real danger of squandering the legacy of that task force which established the landmark 2012 commitment on homelessness, giving everyone the right to a settled home.

We believe that it is this kind of strategic, coordinated national focus on homelessness that is necessary to achieve the ambition of a fairer and more socially just Scotland. Without decisive action, we continue to endanger the lives of a growing number of people forced to sleep rough on the streets of our towns and cities and condemning many more individuals and families to a life in limbo, by forcing them to stay for increasing lengths of time in so-called temporary accommodation.

Temporary accommodation is an essential bedrock of our current approach to supporting people out of homelessness and into permanent settled homes. There are big challenges looming, however, for how this is funded and more immediately we want to see formal guidance for and improvements in standards of our temporary accommodation stock. Ultimately, however, we want to see people spending much less time in temporary accommodation, as our recent research in this area revealed that in 2015/16 a third of households spent over six months in temporary accommodation and 12 per cent spent over a year.

There is no denying that meaningfully and effectively tackling homelessness is a complex and interconnected issue. That’s why a refreshed vision and strategic framework for action is needed to pull together the many different policy and service elements that relate to this vital issue. In particular, given the current strain on public sector resources, it is critical that we work in a more joined-up way locally and nationally to deliver real improvements on the ground for those suffering the human tragedy of homelessness.

Our current housing system pushes too many people into homelessness and recent welfare reforms are compounding this problem further – driving more vulnerable people into poverty.

The ongoing roll out of Universal Credit, the benefit cap reduction and the capping of housing benefit for social sector rents to Local Housing Allowance (LHA) levels all directly threaten people’s ability to keep their tenancies and risk pushing more people into homelessness.

It is in this context that the need for a bolder, more coordinated and strategic response across local and national government to homelessness is growing more and more urgent. This type of response, aligned with a step change in the delivery of more genuinely affordable homes would perhaps allow us to once again say that Scotland leads the world on tackling homelessness.

Adam Lang is Head of Communications and Policy at Shelter Scotland

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