Almost 16,000 children found themselves homeless last year and a household lost their home every 17 minutes, new figures from the Scottish Government have shown.
Annual homeless statistics released yesterday show an overall increase of homelessness of four per cent, with 11,665 households in temporary accommodation on March 31 2020, just a week after Covid-19 had put the country into lockdown.
The number is the highest on record and a rise of six per cent compared with 2018/19 and includes 7,280 children, a seven per cent increase and again the highest on record.
Figures also show Edinburgh City Council were, for the third year in a row, the worst offenders for placing pregnant women and children in unsuitable accommodation and breaching legislation regulating temporary accommodation.
In total, the council broke the rules 375 times out of 500, equating to 75 per cent of the breaches.
The average stay in temporary accommodation was 184 days, more than six months but couples with children spent an average of 263 days, or nearly 9 months in a mix of B&Bs, hostels and social housing.
Shelter Scotland said the figures showed the homelessness system was failing prior to the pandemic, while the Scottish Conservatives said the figures should be a “wake-up call” for the Scottish Government.
Assistant director for communications and advocacy at Shelter Scotland, Gordon MacRae said the situation has deteriorated since the beginning of the pandemic.
He said: “These figures show that Scotland’s homelessness system was failing people even before the pandemic hit.
“We had rising homelessness and record numbers of people in temporary accommodation before the lockdown. Local authorities were already struggling to cope with the level of housing need. And since then the situation has gotten a lot worse.
“Now is the time for Ministers to uphold their promises to homeless people. Government and local authorities must urgently step up and significantly increase the supply of suitable accommodation.”
“Otherwise a short-term success could become a long-term crisis, with more and more people trapped in unsuitable temporary accommodation, or forced back on to the streets.”
He added: “It’s unacceptable that so many people in Edinburgh are being denied their legal right to suitable accommodation. What this means is that families with children are being forced to stay in damp, dangerous or otherwise unsuitable temporary accommodation.
“We know budgets are under pressure, but homeless people must not be made to pay the price.”
Alexander Stewart MSP, the Scottish Tories’ housing spokesman, said: “The SNP Government have fully been in charge of the housing brief for over 13 years now, yet we still see a significant rise in homelessness over the last year.
“We are seeing thousands of children affected, with thousands more left trapped in temporary accommodation for over six months on end, which is an appalling situation.
“All too often when it comes to homelessness issues, the SNP are keen to blame the UK Government. It is time they took full responsibility and came up with effective strategies that properly tackle this serious issue.“
Scottish Labour communities and equalities spokesperson Pauline McNeill said the statistics showed that “housing is in crisis in Scotland”.
She said: “These statistics, which only take the situation pre-lockdown into account, demonstrate Scotland’s longstanding and chronic housing crisis.
“There is simply no reason why anyone in Scotland should be homeless. Time after time, the SNP government has failed to take the bold action required on rent controls and evictions.
“This is the third annual increase in homelessness in Scotland. It is all to clear that the SNP government has failed to tackle the root causes of homelessness.”
The Scottish Government’s housing minister Kevin Stewart said £1.5m had been spent on supporting those who found themselves homeless since the start of the pandemic.
He said: “Today’s figures are a reminder about why we are committed to ending homelessness and rough sleeping. They do not reflect the progress made to dramatically reduce the numbers of people sleeping rough during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our priority is now to prevent anyone from ending up back on the streets or in unsuitable temporary accommodation.”
Edinburgh City Council’s housing, homelessness and fair work convener Kate Campbell said it is a "huge priority” for the council to reduce breaches.
She said: “We are absolutely committed to tackling homelessness in Edinburgh and during the pandemic we’ve put lots of additional accommodation and support in place, almost ending rough sleeping in the process. We’ve successfully moved families out of B&Bs and we’re determined to continue this progress.
“It’s a huge priority to reduce breaches and we’re focused on increasing the number of flats available for use as temporary accommodation. This is helping to drive down the use of unsuitable temporary accommodation and we’ve recorded a significant drop in breaches over the last year. This is down by almost a quarter.
“We’re making good progress but there is always more to be done. There simply aren’t enough homes available in Edinburgh and that’s something which is a unique challenge for our city. So we’re investing in building new homes and have record numbers of completed and approved homes alongside record investment in new and existing homes reported in our annual performance report last week.
“Alongside this, the number of people sleeping rough the night before presenting to us and repeat homelessness presentations have fallen. All of this means that our work to make it as easy as possible for people to access the support they need is working, and that when we can help someone out of homelessness we are also breaking the cycle for good, keeping them in stable, safe homes for the long-term.”