Ewan Aitken, Chief Executive,Cyrenians
As part of Challenge Poverty Week 2023, Cyrenians supports the call for a Scotland where we all have safe, secure and sustainable homes. Ewan Aitken, Chief Executive of Cyrenians, explains why urgent action is needed to respond to the housing crisis.
Homelessness in Scotland has gone up by 10% in the past year. Over 15,000 households now live in temporary accommodation and thousands more are sleeping rough.
The government says it’s led by three key priorities – equality, a fair economy, and effective public services. Living up to these goals and addressing poverty across our nation means taking urgent steps, right now.
To create a Scotland where everyone can have safe, secure, and sustainable homes, we need to see the Scottish Government make several urgent commitments.
Invest now in affordable homes and social housing
More people are staying in temporary accommodation than ever before, and the length of time they stay continues to grow – for one in three families, it’s now over a year. While the Government’s work to prevent rough sleeping by offering temporary housing has been broadly successful, there just isn’t anywhere for people to move on to after that.
Scotland’s supply of affordable homes and social housing is woefully inadequate – and dwindling rather than growing. If that doesn’t change, we’ll only see the number of people in the limbo of temporary accommodation continue to grow.
Housing is the most important thing we can do in the immediate term to tackle the spiralling levels of homelessness in Scotland.
That means following through on the targets the Government already set, which it has repeatedly failed to meet. We need to see large-scale investment across the country, and particularly in areas like Edinburgh which are under the most pressure, to build up social housing.
The Government must be willing to invest, not just in building new housing, but in repurposing unused housing stock. Land use legislation also needs fixing to make it easier and more affordable to build the homes we need.
Concrete policy prioritising housing and homelessness
The appointment of a Minister and a separate portfolio for Housing is an encouraging sign that this government is prioritising the homelessness emergency – as it should, given that last week’s statistics showed almost 1 in 100 Scots faced homelessness last year.
The Scottish Government announced its intention to introduce a new Housing Bill last year, which, amongst other things would improve tenants’ protections and introduce obligations on public services to help prevent homelessness before it happens. We’re still waiting on that Bill – and when it comes, it needs to offer a realistic pathway to achieve its goals. Housing and homelessness need to be front and centre in the Scottish Government’s priorities for the coming year.
...we need bold action to address poverty – one of the biggest primary and secondary causes of homelessness.
People must also be supported to keep the homes they have. Emergency measures the government took in response to both Covid and the cost-of-living crisis – like eviction moratoriums and rent freezes – have had an immediate impact, reducing the number of people becoming homeless from private lets. Strengthening tenants’ rights, reducing predatory renting practises and safeguarding the right to a home will mean less pressure on new housing applications.
Stop homelessness before it starts
Part of the prevention work being discussed by the Government is the idea of new duties on public services, such as schools, prisons, or hospitals, to “ask and act” if someone may be at risk of homelessness. That means public services would be expected to ask people about their housing situation and direct them towards help, if required and in good time.
Cyrenians and Crisis recently presented a report from a cross-sector working group we co-chaired, which breaks down how that prevention approach can be effectively developed.
Crucially, living up to the Government’s ambitions for homelessness prevention means not just funding housing, but freeing up funding for all public services to make sure nobody’s falling through the cracks.
And, of course, we need bold action to address poverty – one of the biggest primary and secondary causes of homelessness.
Together, with the will and the work, we can tackle the homelessness crisis, build a fairer Scotland, and support those most in need. Now’s the time we need to see that urgent change.