The homeless statistics are a matter of shame for SNP - Jackie Baillie

When it comes to New Zealand politicians there are none so famous as Labour’s Jacinda Ardern.

But long before Jacindamania there was Norman Kirk, the energetic Labour Prime Minister of New Zealand in the 1970s who enacted several progressive reforms.

Kirk had a reputation as a formidable debater and once famously gave some basic rules which should guide all politicians. He said: "There are four things that matter to people: they have to have somewhere to live, they have to have food to eat, they have to have clothing to wear, and they have to have something to hope for."

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It is surely a fundamental requirement of any society which wishes to be regarded as a good one that everyone must have a place to call “home”.

Figures out this week show that a shocking 39,006 homelessness applications were made in Scotland the past year, a stark increase of 3,247 compared to 2021-22.

This is the highest number of applications since records began. Levels of child homelessness in Scotland have hit an all-time high.

The number of people living in temporary accommodation has also skyrocketed, and the number of children in temporary accommodation increased by a damning nine per cent in only one year.

This isn’t just shocking, it is despairing. The last Labour run Scottish Government made huge efforts to reduce homelessness – we reformed the system to reduce the revolving door experienced by homeless people and came close to ending rough sleeping in our cities and towns.

It wasn’t just a case of providing hostel spaces. We wanted to understand the underlying reasons for homelessness in order to prevent it from happening.

We did street counts, we sought out rough sleepers under railway bridges and down embankments. We increased accommodation and support and we set up a Homelessness Task Force to bring together people across Scotland so that we would make the right interventions.

Housing supply is important but we also recognised homelessness is not just the problem of having a roof over your head. It’s the support you need to sustain your tenancy that is equally important.

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For people with financial worries, mental health problems, addictions, or for those who had left institutions without any plan for housing, we provided support – it was a holistic approach that required everyone to work together using every tool in the tool box.

All of that work has been undone by a lack of focus from the SNP. Anyone with a pair of eyes can see that rough sleeping on our streets has gone up. You have people in Glasgow turned away from hostels because there's no space for them. The figures out this week are grim beyond belief.

Like Norman Kirk I think having a roof over your head is one of the most basic fundamentals. That’s why as a Minister I worked hard to put in place homelessness legislation that was considered to be some of the best in the world.

But the Scottish Government need to do so much more. Social housing lists are ten times the length of the provision. Too many people are living in poor housing conditions; there is simply not enough social housing and the housing market is overheated.

We are, dishearteningly, a long way from fulfilling the basic human right to adequate housing.

When government focuses on the issues that matter to people you get results.

But if government have their eye off the ball, with Ministers more concerned about independence than anything else, then these homeless figures are the human consequences. It’s time for change.



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