Labour and SNP’s Question Time clash over homelessness ’emergency’

Housing availability is seen as a major problem in Dumbarton and Vale of Leven. Pictures by Bill Heaney

By Bill Heaney

New figures released this week confirm that, for the first time in a decade, homelessness in Scotland is rising, according to Labour leader Richard Leonard.

As a result, two days ago Shelter Scotland declared that Scotland faces a housing emergency.

And their statement underscored the fact that homelessness is as much about families being left without a roof over their heads and not just sofa surfing and sleeping rough in the streets.

Shelter issued a statement saying the Holyrood Budget “should be seen as an opportunity for the Scottish Government to ensure councils are properly resourced to deal with this unacceptable rise in homelessness.”

Mr Leonard asked Nicola Sturgeon: “Does the First Minister in all conscience really believe that a £319 million cut to local government is properly resourcing Scotland’s councils?”

Ms Sturgeon replied: “On the important issue of homelessness, I agree with Shelter’s sentiments. For context, the long-term trend shows a significant decrease in the number of homelessness applications—the slight rise this year follows an eight-year decline in homelessness applications.

Richard Leonard and Nicola Sturgeon clashed on homelessness.

“All the evidence suggests that that is largely down to welfare changes, which Richard Leonard and I oppose, although we differ on whether the Parliament should be responsible for the welfare system.

“It is also important to note that the figures pre-date the establishment of the ending homelessness together action plan, published in November, which has 70 different recommendations and was backed by organisations such as Shelter Scotland and Crisis, which were represented on the task force that produced the recommendations.

“We have committed to a £50 million ending homelessness together fund and committed £23.5 million from that fund to support a transformation around rapid rehousing.

“This is an issue of the utmost seriousness, which the Government takes extremely seriously, as will be reflected in our budget and in the other work that we are doing with organisations such as Shelter Scotland.”

Mr Leonard was not content with the FM’s answer.

He said: “The First Minister refers to a fund that is worth £50 million over five years, compared with a budget that cuts council funding by more than six times that in one year alone—as it stands, the budget that we will vote on this afternoon will cut council funding by £319 million.

“We are talking about cuts to social work and housing and homelessness support services, as well as cuts in the number of staff to deliver them. As a result, people in need, including children in need, are falling through the cracks. In the 12 months up to September, 2017, 833 households cited a lack of support from health, housing and social work services as the reason for their homelessness.

“On the rise in homelessness in the past year after an eight-year decline, everybody, including the United Nations special rapporteur on poverty, knows that that is largely down to changes in welfare that I opposed but do not have the ability to influence because we do not have the power in this Parliament.

“Notwithstanding that, we are taking action to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping, through the work that we did through the task force and the recommendations that came from it, and through the ending homelessness together fund. We will continue to work with organisations to deliver improvements.”

“Richard Leonard talks about the budget. I repeat again that, in the draft budget, we are delivering a real-terms increase to councils. We have been prepared to listen to parties that say that that does not go far enough and we have simply made the point that if other parties want us to increase the money to local government, they have to come forward and tell us where that money should come from. Labour has failed to do so; the Green Party is the only party that has made constructive proposals.

“Perhaps the most significant item in the budget relating to homelessness and housing, which Richard Leonard did not mention, is the £826 million that the Government is investing to deliver new affordable housing. Fundamentally, building more houses is a key part of how we tackle homelessness. Previous Labour Administrations were not all that successful at that, but this Government has been determined to prioritise it and we will continue to do exactly that.”

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