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Benefit cap highlights need for renewed action on Homelessness

Between the fever-pitch media excitement in the run up to the US Presidential Election vote tomorrow and the ongoing fallout from the referendum on EU membership closer to home, you could be forgiven for not hearing much today about the roll-out of one of the most significant welfare reform policies in recent years.

From today, Monday 7th November, a reduction in the social security entitlement cap, which is the limit on the total income working age households can receive in certain welfare payments, has come into force across the whole of the UK. The overall social security cap has been reduced from £26,000 a year to £20,000 a year, except in London where the limit is set slightly higher at £23,000 a year. These changes are not ‘new news’, if you like, as they were announced under former Chancellor, George Osborne, in July of last year as part of the then Government’s initial £12bn programme of welfare reductions. But their impact is likely to be significant and deeply damaging for some of the most vulnerable people in Scotland.

The Chartered Institute for Housing in Scotland (CIH Scotland) recently published research which estimated that the new cap will hit 6,700 families across the social rented and private rented sectors and that the vast majority of those affected will be two and three-child families. CIH Scotland’s figures show that almost 20,000 children live in these households in Scotland.

There can be no denying that these ill-conceived changes to our UK-wide social security system and housing safety net will make it harder for people on already low incomes to stay on top of their rent. In turn, it is hard to see how this will not result in an increase in the number of families falling into arrears and being at risk of homelessness in Scotland.

At the same time these welfare changes will also drastically reduce funding which currently pays for most of the temporary accommodation that puts a roof over the heads of those who have already lost their homes. This is going to leave a significant shortfall in funding for this vital part of the housing safety net.

While Scotland does have some of the best homelessness legislation in the world, we still have thousands sleeping rough, thousands more in temporary accommodation waiting for a permanent home and untold numbers staying with friends and family – so the system isn’t coping as it is.
Rough sleeping is just the tip of the iceberg.

In the wake of these increasing pressures on our housing safety net, Shelter Scotland’s Homelessness: Far From Fixed campaign is calling for the Scottish Government to create a new national homelessness strategy to meet these increasing challenges to our system of support for households that become homeless. In recent years, progress in tackling homelessness would seem to have slowed. In the context of these significant welfare reform changes, there is no time for Scotland to take its eye off the ball on homelessness. That’s why our campaign is calling for:

• A safe and affordable home for everyone
• Ensuring help is available for everyone to keep or find a home
• A strong housing safety net to catch people if they do lose their home
• And, that no-one should ever have to sleep rough on Scotland’s streets

We have heard much talk about the political commitment to tackling homelessness, both north and south of the border. But it’s time to turn this good rhetoric into real action.

At Westminster, we support the calls from our colleagues in England for Minister’s to rethink the welfare cap policy and here in Scotland we urge the Scottish Government to support our Far From Fixed campaign and commit to a new, cross departmental National Homelessness Strategy. It is time to finally fix homelessness in Scotland.