It’s not often that we celebrate at Shelter Scotland, indeed the past few months have been pretty bleak for our clients and service users and the housing crisis has never felt more real. But yesterday we saw a real commitment for action on homelessness from the Scottish Government, one that we welcome and are keen to celebrate after a year of tireless campaigning for change.
The Scottish Government’s 2017/18 Programme for Government was being promoted as bold and ambitious. For a country which has become a bit numb to political hyperbole, the policy community raised some eyebrows and wondered if expectations could be met. But as Nicola Sturgeon unveiled plans for 16 Bills and a range of initiatives and funding streams, it quickly became apparent that much of what we have been calling for in our Far From Fixed campaign over the past 12 months has been heard.
The Scottish Government announced that it will:
- set a clear national objective to eradicate rough sleeping, recognising that it requires more than just the provision of housing and that every individual will have their own unique needs and challenges
- establish a homelessness and rough sleeping action group to lead change in this area and identify the actions, services and legislative changes required to end rough sleeping and transform the use of temporary accommodation
- create an ‘Ending Homelessness Together’ Fund of £50 million over a five-year period to support anti-homelessness initiatives and pilot solutions to drive faster change
- invest an additional £20 million in alcohol and drug services
Our Far From Fixed campaign has been calling for leadership and action on homelessness, for joined up working and innovative thinking to help some of the most vulnerable in our society. We have been campaigning on streets up and down the country, gathering support, engaging with politicians of all colours and working with those who have experienced homelessness. And these commitments, on the face of it, acknowledge the problem, the urgent need for action and the requirement to fund mechanisms for change. For us, the really positive thing is to see homelessness right up there at the top of the national agenda and we look forward to working with government and partners to deliver on these commitments.
In addition to homelessness, the Scottish Government also shored up its commitment to bringing empty homes back into use, noting that the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership, which Shelter Scotland hosts, has helped to bring 2,400 long-term empty homes back into use so far since its inception. The Programme for Government document has committed to a doubling of resources for empty homes work in Scotland and we look forward to working with the Scottish Government to continue to deliver in this important area of housing policy.
We are also pleased to see further details on a Warm Homes Bill which will introduce a statutory target for fuel poverty reduction. Hidden in the depths of the programme is also confirmation that the Scottish Government will bring forward a Planning Bill this session and explore the options for a land value tax. These initiatives must complement efforts to deliver the affordable homes Scotland needs, with any drives for efficiency in the planning system not made at the expense of developer contributions to affordable housing.
Beyond housing, the remit of the programme is huge and the challenge will be delivering this in 12 months, but at Shelter Scotland we are also delighted to see:
- the removal of the public sector pay cap
- rolling out of the social security powers
- criminal justice reforms including raising the age of criminal responsibility for children
- plans to tackle obesity and public health initiatives
- early years education and childcare provision
- and the so called ‘Turing Bill’ that will issue an automatic pardon to those wrongly convicted of same-sex sexual activity under outdated criminal laws and remove any associated criminal records
To name but a few of the many positive commitments.
So there is a lot to digest. And as ever, the proof is in the pudding. Commitments are just the start, the next step is to ensure that rhetoric and commitments deliver real change for the people who so desperately need it. Shelter Scotland will continue to campaign, engage and work with our service users, partners and government to ensure that no one faces homelessness or bad housing on their own and we will continue to hold to account all those who have a role to play.
But importantly, homelessness is on the First Minister’s agenda and the national agenda in a way that it simply wasn’t a year ago which is something to welcome.