Welfare cuts threaten progress on tackling homelessness in Scotland, says research

A major independent study led by Heriot-Watt University and published by homelessness charity Crisis says that UK government welfare cuts may lead to increased homelessness in Scotland.

The Homelessness Monitor

The Homelessness Monitor, produced in partnership with the University of York, examines the impact of the economic downturn and policy developments on homelessness in each of the countries of the UK.

In Scotland, recorded homelessness is falling, bucking the UK trend which has seen a dramatic rise. Statutory homelessness applications in Scotland have dropped by 19% over the past year, from 55,663 in 2010/11 to 45,322 in 2011/12.

This decline in statutory homelessness is associated with the recent introduction of more pro-active prevention policies by Scottish local authorities, though changes in recording practices in some areas have also contributed.

Differences between Scotland and the rest of the UK

Since devolution Scotland has opted to strengthen its statutory safety net for people facing homelessness beyond anything contemplated elsewhere in the UK. From the end of 2012, all unintentionally homeless people in Scotland will be entitled to settled housing.

Another of the most striking differences between Scotland and elsewhere in the UK is that more single people are accepted as homeless by local authorities. They make up 59% of the total. In England, in contrast, single people account for only around one quarter of all homelessness acceptances - because most single people do not fit the stricter criteria rules south of the border.

A decline in homelessness in Scotland

Both rough sleeping and repeat statutory homelessness appear to have declined in Scotland in recent years, probably because of the expansion in the rehousing rights of single homeless people in particular. However, anecdotal evidence does indicate a recent rise in rough sleeping in Glasgow specifically.

But progress in tackling homelessness in Scotland could be under threat, according to the report. Underlying housing pressures in Scotland remain a very real worry, as trends in hidden homelessness show a more mixed picture with a recent increase in sharing households. Both national surveys and advice service data also suggest that acute housing need is on the rise in Scotland.

And the report says that ambitious plans to build 30,000 new €˜affordable €™ homes over six years, two-thirds for social rent, €˜will be challenging €™ given the marked fall in the level of €˜starts €™ on new social sector housing in 2011.

The impact of welfare cuts

The report also raises homelessness warnings about the UK Government €™s changes and cuts to welfare particularly the new €˜bedroom tax €™ within Housing Benefit for working age social tenants, estimated to impact on around 90,000 social tenants in Scotland.

The extension of the 'Shared Accommodation Rate' of Local Housing Allowance to 25-34 year olds living in the private rented sector, is also causing widespread anxiety, as is the impact on vulnerable homeless people of increased conditionality and more stringent sanctions within out-of-work benefits.

Lead researcher Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick, of the University's School of the Built Environment, said, "Encouraging recent trends, strongly associated with targeted policy measures north of the border, could be in jeopardy.

Encouraging recent trends, strongly associated with targeted policy measures north of the border, could be in jeopardy.

Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick, School of the Built Environment, Heriot-Watt University

"It remains to be seen whether such gains can be maintained in the face of the prolonged recession, radical welfare cutbacks, and a tightening supply of affordable housing for those on low and modest incomes.

Leslie Morphy, Chief Executive of Crisis said: "The report is clear that Scotland, as elsewhere in the UK, is likely to face intensifying homelessness pressures over the next few years. The Coalition is sweeping away the welfare safety nets - particularly housing benefit - that have traditionally saved people from the horrors of homelessness.

"Young people are already bearing a disproportionate burden of the cuts and economic downturn, yet the government seems set to increase the pressure by abolishing housing benefit for under-25s.

"Scotland has led the UK in tackling homelessness by widening its statutory safety net but to maintain this progress the Scottish Government and councils will need to ensure that homelessness and housing remains a clear policy and spending priority next year and going forward. And the Coalition Government needs to rethink its welfare cuts otherwise homelessness may soar -a disaster for those directly affected, and bad for us all."