Is Scotland leading the way on homelessness?
Scotland has been hailed internationally for leading the way in homelessness legislation. With the historic ending of priority need in 2012 all people in Scotland who are found unintentionally homeless are entitled to settled accommodation if they have a local connection. Official statistics show homelessness applications falling year on year, in contrast with other parts of the UK.
Yet the picture is perhaps not as rosy as it might seem.
While homeless people have a right to accommodation, in many parts of Scotland the accommodation just isn’t available. And with 180,000 people – nearly 8 per cent of the population – on council housing waiting lists, it’s not a problem that is going to go away quickly.
As a result, people are staying longer and longer in temporary accommodation. People we work with may be trapped in so-called “temporary” accommodation for well over a year. While some may be able to get temporary furnished flats, others find themselves in bed and breakfast with minimal support, no access to food storage or cooking facilities and even being required to be out of the place during the daytime.
It can be an isolating experience, and often has detrimental effects on people’s mental and physical wellbeing and chances of employment.
And it’s not just causing a backlog in temporary accommodation. While official numbers show the number of people presenting to councils as homeless, data collected in Glasgow suggest that most people using third sector homeless services are not approaching the council for help. And of those that do, the majority still cannot get accommodation that night.
The next year or so will be an interesting political roller coaster for Scotland – a general election, shortly followed by the 2016 Scottish parliamentary election, and with all to play for with the devolution of further powers. In the midst of it we must ensure that the lack of available housing doesn’t undermine the progress we’ve made on tackling homelessness.
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