Leader comment: Level of homelessness in Scotland is a scandal

Homeless people on Princes Street. Picture: Greg MacVean
Homeless people on Princes Street. Picture: Greg MacVean
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There are no easy solutions to a massive problem which sees 38 children a day made homeless.

But the bleak reality is that for too many families, homelessness is either a devastating reality or an ever-present threat.

New statistics compiled by the charity Shelter, show that 14,075 children were in Scottish households assessed as being homeless in 2017-18. If further illustration is required to drive home quite how substantial the problem of homelessness is, that figure equates to six or even children in every school, the length and breadth of the country.

Recognition of the unacceptability of this situation is far from enough to effect the sort of change that might solve what seems to us to be something of a crisis. Before the financial crash of 2008, when credit was cheap and freely available, house prices had been increasing so rapidly that growing numbers borrowed beyond their means in order to get a foot on the property ladder. The dizzying prospect of massive profits encouraged many to take our second and third mortgages; buy-to-let mortgages were all the rage among ambition homeowners eager to squeeze a little more out of a healthy property market.

That credit boom may have ended – catastrophically for some – but its legacy is the distortion of house prices that means many will never have the opportunity to own their own home. Add to the equation a rental market that gives landlords the upper hand and maintaining a roof over one’s head becomes a risky business.

Homelessness can affect people across society, even those who might appear reasonably affluent. The loss of a job can quickly change an individual’s circumstances, with many working Scots just a missing pay cheque or two away from destitution.

But what can be done to address the problem of homelessness? We accept there are no easy answers. A very positive move would be substantial – by which we mean far over and above current planned levels – government investment in the building of new homes, not just for first-time buyers but for families. The current level of homelessness is a national scandal which will take more than sympathetic words from politicians to solve.