Ewan Aitken has high hopes for the Scottish Government’s programme to tackle homelessness and help care-experienced youngsters.
The news last week of my old school, Woodmill High in Dunfermline, going up in flames was a sad moment for many – though it was heartening to learn that my Cyrenians Community Cook Club colleagues had used the food from our Fareshare depot to feed the firemen and women and other emergency staff.
In this week’s Plan for Government, the First Minister announced more money for new schools, of which Woodmill will be one. Given we are watching our democracy go up in flames with the madness which is known as Brexit, some good news was welcome.
The same Plan for Government had excellent news for those who are in care – the young people for whom the state is now their “corporate parent”. Care-experienced young people will receive a whole range of new support and, in many cases, age limits will be removed. A statutory presumption of siblings staying together will also be put in place.
As a member of the Independent Review of Care, led so outstandingly by Fiona Duncan, these signs of a culture change about what is expected of our care system bode well for when the review’s report is launched.
We can have all the policies we like, it is the culture in which policies are enacted which determines their effectiveness. In the case of the care system, a culture of care, love and compassion, made real through person-centred support without stigma, must be the founding and first principles.
On the subject of stigma, the plan also references the impact of the increased numbers of Prison Visitor Centres on the lives of one of the most stigmatised of groups – families with a member in prison. I am pleased to see there is a connection being made between the 20-year-low in conviction rates, and the support offered to families by the centres.
We know if those in prison are visited by their families, in whatever form those families take, they are up to six times less likely to reoffend. Cyrenians’ contribution to this work is through running the Prison Visitor Centre in HMP Addiewell, something we are privileged and proud to do. This is real, effective, preventative work and we need to do much more prevention work if we are to achieve our ambition for a socially just and inclusive nation where everyone can flourish.
The Plan for Government also continues the work to end homelessness, something which is at the core of Cyrenians. We’ve spent 50 years challenging the causes and consequences of homelessness and the announcements – including developing “no wrong door approach” legislation about reducing the time someone can be put in unsuitable accommodation, and many others – are very welcome.
Cyrenians leads the Edinburgh Housing 1st Consortium. This is a partnership involving at least ten charities supporting, thus far, 46 people, including 13 who were sleeping rough, into a home of their own. Our ambition is to support more than five times that number in the next two years through Housing 1st.
There was much more announced in parliament, including support for people in poverty and the provision of access to food with dignity for them. I’ll be in the same parliament building this week to mark 20 years of Cyrenians’ work through its Fareshare programme. We distribute ten tons of surplus supermarket food every week to more than 130 charities, feeding 20,000 vulnerable and excluded people a week. When we get to Parliament we’ll have fed more than one million people in the last 20 years.
We may feel that democracy is in flames in Westminster, and its impact on us all could well be devastating. It is not just our economy, but our very soul as a nation which is threated by this madness.
But there is still much going on which is good and lives are being transformed as a result which, despite all the madness, does still make me hopeful.
Ewan Aitken is chief executive of Cyrenians Scotland.