Urgent action needed on 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.
Back in 2003, when the Scottish Government passed a new Homelessness Act extending the duties of local authorities towards homeless people, we were seen as a beacon of good practice. Many of us felt that we were going to turn the tide and protect our people from this most appalling situation – finding yourself on the street with literally nowhere to go.
Yet today, when I walk from Haymarket station in Edinburgh to Waverley, I pass maybe 20 or more people huddled beneath blankets, many with little signs asking for help. When I look at the north-east, I see Aberdeen received 14% more homeless applications in the 12 months to March 2015 than in the previous year. I see Aberdeenshire was third highest in the table showing where in Scotland most people had slept rough the previous night – and Moray was fifth.
Being on the street is not the only form of homelessness, but it is the most visible. Behind that lies many more stories of sleeping on couches, moving from friend to friend, or staying in domestic situations you’d rather leave. All of them are tales of personal tragedy. And younger people are most often among those who find themselves homeless.
Where did it go wrong? How is it that our sound policy and best intentions have not ended the curse of homelessness?
The answer is simple. We have a housing crisis. We are not building enough homes. And too few are affordable and secure. Many more people are living in insecure and expensive rented accommodation – last year a quarter more people lived in temporary accommodation in Aberdeen than the year before.
Changing this bleak picture is not a quick task. We can’t simply build four times the number of houses from one year to the next – there isn’t that much spare capacity in the construction industry. But we must make a start, and we must give clear commitments about future years. Without those commitments, we won’t be training enough people or giving firms the confidence to plan for the future.
That is why the Scottish Green Party is calling for a radical change of pace in tackling the housing crisis. We want to see 12,000 new social rented homes each year, because the greatest need is for secure homes at rents people can afford. About 20,000 homes are needed each year to cope with population growth. On top of that, if each home lasts on average 100 years, we need another 25,000 each year just to replace existing homes. For comparison, we are building 17,000 now.
And we must ensure we don’t just build more homes, but take a holistic approach – one that tackles low pay and precarious employment, one that provides appropriate social care and mental health support, and one that turns our failing welfare system into social security system worthy of the name.
That step change takes time. But we must set a clear direction, and plan to accomplish this huge task. There’s no point having fine intentions and failing to commit to action. That would be a betrayal of all those who find themselves faced with homelessness. For the sake of all our people, let’s not let them down.