Inside Housing
Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick

A new state-of-the-nation report, led by Heriot-Watt University, shows that councils believe progress on tackling homelessness is at serious risk from UK welfare reform, pressures on local supply and a failure to prioritise prevention.

The Homelessness Monitor: Scotland 2019 carried out on behalf of Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), is the third report on the impacts on homelessness resulting from the recent economic and policy developments.

It is the most comprehensive homelessness study of its kind. For the first time in Scotland, the Monitor includes a bespoke survey of Scottish local authorities. A total of 29 of the 32 Scottish councils responded and this evidence was supplemented with in-depth interviews with key respondents in the statutory and voluntary sectors as well as a review of the latest evidence, research and statistics on homelessness in Scotland.

The research found that whilst rough sleeping and homelessness have remained relatively stable over the past three years, high numbers of people are remaining stuck in temporary accommodation, including bed and breakfast, revealing blockages in the system that are restricting people’s ability to build a better life and move on from homelessness

It also identifies a number of challenges relating to welfare reforms, and in particular Universal Credit which is intended to help prevent people being swept into poverty. Three-quarters of Scottish Councils surveyed said that homelessness in their area will rise as a result of the full roll out of Universal Credit, and many respondents reported difficulties in accessing council and housing association tenancies to assist their homeless clients.

Concerns were also raised about the supply and allocation of social housing as well as the support provided by health and social care partners. The research found that while many local authorities welcome the leading and progressive intention of the Scottish Government and CoSLA’s new proposals on homelessness, some concerns remain about the long-term housing investments needed to make them a reality, compounded by the challenges posed by the benefits freeze and other Westminster welfare policies.

Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick, Director of the Institute for Social Policy,  Housing and Equalities Research (I-SPHERE) at Heriot-Watt University, said: “The downward trend in homelessness in Scotland has now stalled, and there are far too many people spending far too long in a temporary accommodation system that is not ‘fit for purpose’ in many parts of Scotland. The Scottish Government’s commitment to move forward with the ‘rapid rehousing’ of all homeless people, together with provision of wraparound support for those with complex needs, was widely welcomed by the local authorities we surveyed. But implementation challenges remain, particularly in more rural and high pressure housing market areas.”

Crisis and JRF welcome the renewed focus on ending homelessness from the Scottish Government, but warned that, as identified in the report, several challenges remain in relation to wider prevention measures. These include sufficient investment in welfare, accessible health provision and reforms to housing policy.

Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis, said: “Scotland has long led the way in providing effective solutions to support more people out of homelessness, but there is no question that social and economic pressures are having an impact, with the previous downward trend in people experiencing the worst forms of homelessness now at a halt. 

“The Scottish Government has taken significant action, committing to ending homelessness as a top political priority and producing its Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan. However, the views expressed in this report are a timely reminder that for Government’s Action Plan to succeed, wider policy change is needed; including a cross government approach to preventing homelessness and ensuring housing policy is fit for purpose. Furthermore, Scottish Government can play a key role in making the case to Westminster government for much needed investment in Universal Credit.”

Jim McCormick, Associate Director of JRF said: “As a compassionate country, we share responsibility for ensuring everyone can access a safe and decent home. Low pay, the benefits freeze and a lack of housing options are locking people in poverty, forcing families into temporary accommodation and leaving some facing destitution. This cannot be right.

“Cross government action is needed to make the ambition of finding permanent accommodation quickly a reality for everyone. The UK Government should end the benefits freeze early and end the five week wait for Universal Credit payment. Solving homelessness is rightly seen as a priority in Scotland - but we now need to see concerted action to loosen the grip of poverty which still forces many people into homelessness.”