We are in the grip of a housing crisis


Fiona King says a lack of affordable housing, a rise in social sector evictions and the impact of welfare cuts means Scotland is suffering a housing crisis

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17th August 2017 by TFN Guest 0 Comments

Working in the charity sector you can hear so many awful things you can start to feel numb toward them.  I’ve worked at Shelter Scotland for seven years and routinely trot out our key facts.  Such as the fact that every 19 minutes in Scotland a household becomes homeless, or that more than 6,000 children will wake up tomorrow without a safe, secure home.  

These are things I know to be true, but they no longer shock me.  But these figures should shock me, they should shock us all and give us all serious pause for thought.

It is a statistical reality that we are in the grip of a housing crisis. It’s impacting on all of us, whatever your housing situation - through house price increases, high rents, changing lending environments and waiting times for the allocation of decent social housing. 

But for those at the sharp end of this housing crisis it’s not an inconvenient truth, but a perilous reality. 

In the last year, there has been a 10% increase in the number of people who are forced to sleep rough the night before they approached a local authority for homelessness assistance.  The average life expectancy for someone living on the streets is 47. 

At Shelter Scotland, we analyse what’s happening and crunch the numbers to create the evidence-based policy that is front and centre of all of our campaigns. 

The rise in social sector evictions, the increase in children in temporary accommodation, the projected impact of welfare reform – all part of the policy rationale for our Homelessness: Far From Fixed campaign.   

The other essential element of this campaign is the experience and voice of our service users. The very people whose voices most need to be heard have helped us to shape everything we do.

Behind every statistic we use are real people; families, individuals, those on lower incomes, people with complex needs, people at the lowest point in their lives. 

It’s impacting on all of us, whatever your housing situation

Frankly, our current housing system is pushing too many people into homelessness. Recent welfare reforms are compounding this problem further – driving more people into poverty and putting more at risk of losing their home.

The ongoing roll out of Universal Credit, the benefit cap reduction and changes to the way housing benefit is calculated for social sector rents all directly threaten people’s ability to keep their homes. 

Despite strong laws and policy improvements in homelessness practice over the past decade, there is still a postcode lottery of homelessness service where the gap between what is written in law and what actually happens on the ground is still far too wide. 

At Shelter Scotland we helped more than 21,000 people last year and we have never been busier.

We can be proud that we were there so people did not face bad housing or homelessness alone but we have to stop and ask: why does our country, with some of the toughest housing legislation in the world, still need the services of the third sector to compel local authorities to obey the law?

To tackle this complex situation head-on and as a matter of urgency, we are campaigning for real leadership and action across local and national government. A first step, would be to see the Scottish Government working with all partnerships and service users to develop and implement a new National Homelessness Strategy. 

This, aligned with a step change in the delivery of more affordable homes, would perhaps allow us to say, once again, that Scotland leads the world on tackling homelessness.

Fiona King is campaigns & public affairs manager at Shelter Scotland