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Beth Reid @crisisscotland Policy Manager (Scotland)

What we learnt at SNP conference

Over the past month, the Crisis policy team have been to Liberal Democrat, Labour, Conservative and SNP conferences, meeting politicians, going to fringe events and listening to debates. We have been blogging about our experiences at each.

SNP conference this year was a busy and buoyant affair, the largest the Scottish National Party has hosted, following the quadrupling of its membership over the past year.

Social justice and fairness were themes running throughout.  Housing also featured strongly from the beginning, with Nicola Sturgeon announcing on the opening day major investment into affordable housing, if SNP are re-elected to Holyrood next year.

This pledge of 50,000 new affordable homes over five years, reportedly including 35,000 new social homes, goes far to meet the ambitious target set out in a recent report by Shelter Scotland, CIH and the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, and it has received a warm welcome from the housing and homelessness sector in Scotland.

Homelessness featured less on the agenda, apart from a couple of fringe events focusing on the issue. Perhaps that’s to be expected, given the official statistics suggest that homelessness applications are falling.  But our experience shows there is still much more to be done to tackle homelessness in Scotland, and certainly no room for complacency, with significant cuts to benefits still to come into full force for many on low incomes or who need help with housing costs.

Still, perhaps inevitably after the past 13 months, there was also much discussion of what it’s not currently possible to do in Scotland.  Frustration with both the nature of the devolution settlement, and the harshness of austerity being played out through the benefits system, was a theme throughout the conference.

In particular, focus on the limitations of the social security powers being devolved, combines with uncertainty about the financial implications – not just of using the powers to develop a distinctly Scottish framework, but also of the administrative costs of adjusting a Britain-wide system run by the DWP to meet the requirements of the Scottish Government and could lead to a sense of stasis.

As the Scottish parliamentary election nears, attention needs to shift focus to what we can do with the powers, rather than rue what we can’t do.  Balancing creativity, ambition and realism, we have an opportunity like no other in the run up to the 2016 election to address homelessness in Scotland.  The SNP, along with all the other parties in Scotland, must seize this opportunity with both hands.