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Time to ensure that life at the hard end does not get worse

Two sets of statistics released by the Scottish government this week make for worrying reading, and question whether life for those at the very hard end of poverty in Scotland is getting worse.

The latest annual homelessness statistics reveal a 13% year on year increase in the number of children living in temporary homeless accommodation – a number that as of the 31st of March 2016 stands at 5,224. While the statistics reveal a welcome 4% decrease in the overall number of homelessness applications in Scotland between 14/15 and 15/16, things do not look so good for those at the very hardest end of homelessness in this country.

Additional context to these figures was provided through the latest statistical release on poverty and inequality in Scotland in 14/15. This revealed that, after housing costs were taken into account, 220,000 children were living in relative poverty – 22 per cent of all children in Scotland. Comparing poverty before and after housing costs reveals that 60,000 children were pushed into poverty as a result of the burden of their household’s housing costs.

Scotland has some of the strongest homelessness rights in the world – a major cross-party achievement. However, this must be complemented by a housing system which provides everyone with a safe, warm and affordable home and homelessness services which are well-prepared to react when people’s lives are plunged into crisis.

To begin to face up to this challenge, welcome commitments on the supply of affordable housing must materialise into on the ground delivery of more affordable homes. Shelter Scotland estimate that Scotland needs to build at least 12,000 affordable homes per year for the next five years to meet current need and projected demand. Crucially these homes must be in the right areas and with rents that do not tip low income households into poverty. Linked to this is the need for any changes to Scotland’s planning system, currently under review, must act to enhance the delivery of good quality, affordable housing.

It also time to re-focus efforts on tackling homelessness, particularly given the reported increase in the proportion of homeless applicants with at least one support need – up from 34% in 2012-13 to 43% in 2015-16. There is a clear need for a comprehensive new Homelessness strategy which commits to protecting and enhancing the funding of homelessness services in the face of welfare reform and increasingly squeezed local authority budgets.

Hopefully these latest statistics kick-start the new Scottish government’s ambition on issues of fairness and social justice, with a renewed focus on tackling the root causes of homelessness and poverty. There must be a drive to provide security and stability for people through both the provision of affordable housing and by having well-resourced and person-centred homelessness services capable of responding quickly at times of crisis, helping people get back on their feet.

Much of the groundwork on this has been done through high level commitments – what matters now is on the ground delivery.