Adam Lang: Homelessness in Scotland is far from fixed

The claim 'Scotland leads the world in tackling homelessness' has been a source of pride over the last 15 years in Scotland, but it has always needed to be earned rather than simply asserted.

Shelter wants to raise awareness that in Scotland homelessness can still happen to anyone. Picture: John Devlin

Back in 2002, the landmark Homelessness Task Force report brought about a new standard and ambition for homelessness law in Scotland, resulting in the 2012 commitment to give all unintentionally homeless people the right to a settled home.

However, despite the 2012 commitment coming into force, homelessness in Scotland is still a significant problem.

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Shelter Scotland thinks it’s time for renewed leadership on this issue. A new national commitment and our current ‘Homelessness: Far From Fixed’ campaign hopes to achieve just that.

We want to raise awareness that in Scotland homelessness can still happen to anyone, that people become homeless most often through chance, not choice, and that we still have a long way to go to end homelessness.

Our campaign is calling for a new National Homelessness Strategy in Scotland to go hand in hand with the delivery of more genuinely affordable homes and homes available for social rent.

The need for a new homelessness strategy is also the theme of our forthcoming annual homelessness conference. To be held on Wednesday in Edinburgh, it will hear from individuals with direct experience of homelessness, policy experts, leading academics and front line practitioners working on homelessness from across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Shelter Scotland is concerned that the downward trend in official homelessness assessments in recent years has started to plateau and could start to rise again. Plans brought forward in recent weeks by the UK Government to exclude 18-21-year-olds from receiving housing benefit at a time when rough-sleeping would seem to be rising in our cities and towns will only compound this problem.

Housing benefit is a vital lifeline for many young people who don’t have the option of living with their parents. Removing this safety net is a shameful attack on some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

Last month we published new analysis of official local authority statistics from across Scotland that showed how homeless families with children are now spending longer in temporary accommodation - an average of just over 20 weeks.

Along with the human cost of extended stays in temporary accommodation - prolonged stays can impact on children’s health and education in particular - there is the significant financial cost. In 2013 Audit Scotland estimated that temporary accommodation costs Scottish local authorities around £27 million a year extra than if they provided permanent homes.

A refreshed homelessness action plan would set fresh horizons for services and help deliver on other priorities such as improving social justice, bridging the attainment gaps in our schools and focusing public spending on prevention work. Most of all, it would allow that claim – that Scotland leads the world on homelessness – to be backed by evidence of real progress and real change.

We need to put a home for everyone at the heart of plans for a fairer and more progressive Scotland where everyone has an equal chance to flourish.

Adam Lang is head of communications and policy at Shelter Scotland