Today the latest statistics confirm that the downward trend in both homeless applications, and people assessed as homeless, that we’ve seen since the introduction of housing options in Scotland, is continuing.

Between 1 October and 31 December 2015 there were 7,615 homeless applications, a decrease of 5% year on year, and the number of people assessed as homeless fell to 6,526, a year on year decrease of 7%.

As Shelter Scotland has shown previously, however, these statistics don’t give us the full picture of what is happening for those who experience homelessness in Scotland. In fact, the total number of people approaching their local council for help with housing options or homelessness has remained fairly stable since 2009-10 – when the housing options approach first began to be promoted across Scotland.

We also need to scrutinise the use of temporary accommodation in Scotland: 4,876 children were living in temporary accommodation on 31 December 2015 (an alarming 13% rise on 31 December 2014) and a third of homeless households spent over six months there in 2014-15.

So, even though the number of official homelessness applications is falling due to the implementation of homelessness prevention and the housing options approach, the underlying causes of homelessness haven’t gone away, and are perhaps growing.

We also know through our helpline and advice services that welfare reform, alongside low wage and insecure employment, are continuing to have a destabilising effect on many people’s housing situations. Housing benefit rates in the private sector which are increasingly out of step with market rents, and uncertainty over the roll out universal credit, both being key factors. And in April of this year deeply worrying statistics on the number of evictions orders granted in Scotland for the private rented and social rented sector showed a whopping 17% increase in eviction orders granted, up to 7,180.

While the Scottish government has played a key role in terms of much-needed mitigation of unfair policies, such as the bedroom tax, could the cumulative effects of other welfare reforms, and low paid and insecure employment be beginning to take their toll? And to what extent is the rise in the number of evictions down to evictions for rent arrears?

This increasing pressure on households paints a worrying picture at a time when local authorities in Scotland are facing significant pressure to make eye-watering cuts to their budgets, while continuing to deliver essential services. Many of these services – including, of course, homelessness assistance – are key lifelines for Scotland’s most vulnerable.

This is why in our Manifesto for Homes we’re calling on the next Scottish government to:

  1. Protect and enhance funding available for service that prevent and tackle homelessness.
  1. Produce a National Homelessness Strategy for Scotland that deliver better housing and support for the most vulnerable.
  1. Improve access to good quality temporary accommodation across Scotland.

Politicians from each of Scotland’s main political parties will debate the way forward for housing and homelessness at our housing hustings tonight (Tuesday 5 April) in Edinburgh.

Of course bold commitments on housing supply have a huge role to play in ensuring everyone has a safe and secure home they can afford, reducing reliance on expensive temporary accommodation. But we must also focus minds on the services and strategies employed by central and local government to tackle and prevent homelessness for people whose fragile housing situations eventually crack under strain.

Funding must ensure that these service provide an essential, person-centred, lifeline for people at a time of intense pressure, and services must be designed to provide an effective route out of homelessness.

If we get these priorities right, not only would Scotland have world-leading homelessness legislation, but it might also be able to lay claim to having world-leading pathways out of homelessness too.