Let’s invest to protect the most vulnerable from homelessness
In the run up to the Scottish election on 5 May 2016 Crisis has invited representatives of the main parties to blog about the key issues in addressing homelessness in Scotland and what needs to be done in the next Parliament.
The news that, for the third year running, the number of homeless children living in temporary accommodation has increased is frustratingly disappointing but not unfortunately, surprising. It is yet another grim reminder that we show no sign of emerging from this current housing crisis. It also illuminates that, as with all crises, it is the vulnerable who suffer most, in this case the young, but too often those with mental health conditions or drug and alcohol dependency issues. Those most at risk include people recently released from prison or with complex needs and victims of domestic abuse.
The scale of the problem is challenging. Tens of thousands of Scots are homeless, 150,000 families are on local authority waiting lists, and there is every indication that rough sleeping is also on the increase. How can this be? Scottish Government Ministers continue to boast of our world leading homelessness legislation, but those on the front-line tell a different story, one where progress has stalled.
Politics is not just about fine words, it is about practical actions and in particular, the allocation of resources. The housing budget has unfortunately been one of the biggest losers in recent years and if the underlying problem is at least in part to do with housing supply then we need to set targets that meet assessed need. According to housing experts here in Scotland, that means building 60,000 affordable homes over the next five years.
Alongside supply side measures, we need a new comprehensive strategy detailing how central government, local authorities, housing associations and the third sector would work together to reduce homelessness in Scotland. A decent home has to be at the heart of our efforts to tackle poverty and ill health, yet at the moment, housing is not round the table as we try to integrate health and social services. Even at a local level, public agencies often do not coordinate the support they provide. A small amount of funding to the voluntary organisations so good at supporting people who become homeless or those in danger of doing so, would prevent crises developing.
There are some specific policy changes we should be examining. The Housing Options approach for example, has been successful up to a point, but we now need to look at whether it is truly assessing need and whether it is being applied with enough rigour. We will still need temporary accommodation but it should be good quality not the unsuitable and inadequate, damp, draughty, poorly furnished flats that no one else will take. And we need to reduce the length of time people stay in temporary accommodation, giving everyone the security of a permanent home.
Perhaps most important of all however, if we are to make a real difference to homelessness in Scotland, if we are to close the gap between rhetoric and reality, we need to stop the cuts and use the new tax powers coming to the Scottish Parliament. The choice is between £500m of cuts to our local authorities or Labour’s pledge to invest in the services that prevent homelessness in the first place. I choose investment.