Historic opportunity to end homelessness in Scotland for good

Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive

Twelve months ago, in June 2018, I was working closely with colleagues from the Scottish Government’s Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group to finalise our report on ending homelessness in Scotland. We had worked intensively from October 2017 to answer 4 questions:

  • How to reduce rough sleeping in the winter of 2017
  • How to end rough sleeping
  • How to transform the use of temporary accommodation
  • How to end homelessness in Scotland

The submission of our final report was an exciting moment, and hearing the Minister Kevin Stewart say that the Scottish Government had accepted our recommendations left us with a sense of hope, optimism and momentum for Scotland taking a ground breaking step towards ending the injustice of homelessness.

When, in November 2018, the Scottish Government and COSLA published its high level plan, ‘Ending Homelessness Together’ then we were very satisfied that the hard work was on its way to translate into real change – Scotland was once again setting out a pioneering approach to ending homelessness.

One year on

So, where are we a year after the submission of our recommendations, and just 7 months from the publication of the Scottish Government and COSLA plan?

In a sentence, there is some really great progress and commitment being demonstrated through the publication of consultation around some important national and local building blocks for ending homelessness; but there also some fundamental root causes of homelessness that haven’t moved, and we’re waiting with baited breath to see if great plans convert into great actions.

The big building blocks

There is an ambitious plan for building social housing, and this is on target to deliver 35,000 social rented homes by 2021, and the work is ongoing to plan for post-2021;

  • Consultation is ongoing for abolishing the concept of ‘local connection’ and for changing the way ‘intentionality’ is considered – though personally I keenly await future consultation on abolishing this out-moded concept and replacing it with the idea of ‘deliberate manipulation’.
  • Views are also being sought on legally-enforceable standards for temporary accommodation, and for limiting the time people spend in unsuitable temporary accommodation like Bed & Breakfast accommodation or unsuitable hostels to seven days.
  • An options appraisal has been published for an information system to support frontline workers and to effectively measure and monitor levels of rough sleeping.
  • Every local authority has developed a plan to move from the current system based on special homelessness accommodation to a system based on rapidly moving people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness into mainstream accommodation and housing. This includes the use of the Housing First approach, for people with more complex needs such as addiction or mental health issues in addition to the lack of a home. This will ensure we are also linking planning of housing provision to current and anticipated numbers of people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness.
  • The Scottish Government has committed to bringing forward legislation on homelessness prevention, going beyond the recent prevention duties introduced in Wales and England to ensuring that all public bodies and associated bodies have a legal responsibility to work together to prevent homelessness when individuals and families are at risk of homelessness. When brought forward this will have a major impact on stopping homelessness before it starts.

All of this, along with the many other points in the Ending Homelessness Together Plan, amounts to a huge step forward in our ambition to end homelessness – and when compared to almost any other country is a radical, rights-based approach that will set Scotland apart.

The challenges

So, what is not yet moving? Well, these are primarily the items that are beyond the remit of the Scottish Government. The benefits cap is still in place, the freeze on Local Housing Allowance is still in place, and there continue to be some areas of Universal Credit functionality that are not enabling housing stability.

Also, the rules around support for migrant homeless people have not changed. We need to continue to put pressure on these areas to ensure they actually help end homelessness across Great Britain, including Scotland.

Aside from those issues, I am now hoping for two things.

Firstly, that the Scottish Government, local authorities and all other bodies involved take every opportunity to move as quickly as possible to implement the changes that will end homelessness in Scotland.

Secondly, that when things become difficult, when there are different views about the way forward or the practical or financial implications, we all pull together and recognise the opportunity we have. It is crucial that we do not dilute the spirit and detail of the HARSAG recommendations and the ‘Ending Homelessness Together’ plan.

I hope that every step of the way, we choose the brave, difficult but ultimately human approach of working together to end homelessness in full and for good.

Chairing the Scottish Government’s Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group was an absolute privilege for me. But way more important than that was the hugely impressive way that Aileen Campbell MSP, Kevin Stewart MSP, government officials, members of the HARSAG, the 425 people with lived experience we consulted with, the hundreds of frontline workers and professionals from across the homelessness and housing sectors, all worked together to deliver the plan.

We owe it to every person or family who may find themselves homeless or at risk of homelessness to deliver on the plan we built together.


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