Homelessness cannot be allowed to go on like this - David Alexander

21st Dec 2023
David J Alexander

In his latest column for The Scotsman, David Alexander discusses the urgent need for homelessness in Scotland to be addressed.

Christmas is the time of year when people think of home, they think of families, and they think of children. It is a time to reflect on the year past and also to consider the year ahead. At around the same time last December, I reflected on the number of homeless in Scotland and said that we must act to prevent another Christmas occurring with so many people on our streets, in temporary housing, and provide children with a permanent home.

Tragically, the situation has worsened over the last year and more people will be spending Christmas without a permanent home over their heads. With three councils in Scotland declaring an emergency – Argyll and Bute, Edinburgh, and Glasgow – the situation is worsening rather than improving and this cannot be allowed to continue.

My firm works closely with councils to try and find accommodation for those who find themselves homeless, but demand is far outstripping supply, and everyone involved feels that we are losing the battle to find people homes.

The latest Scottish statistics covering 2022-23 showed that 39,006 applications for homelessness assistance were received which was an increase of 3,247 (9 per cent) on the previous year. There were 32,242 households assessed as homeless or threatened with homelessness which is an increase of 2,903 (10 per cent) on the previous year.

There were 15,039 households in temporary accommodation which is 6 per cent higher than 2022 and is 27 per cent higher than pre-pandemic figures. The number of children in temporary accommodation has increased to 9,595 in March 2023 from 8,805 in March 2022 (9 per cent) compared to 7,355 pre-pandemic.

The bulk of these homeless cases are occurring in the social housing sector with just 13 per cent happening in the private rented sector.

Another Christmas will pass with housing shortages worsening rather than improving. Having 53,111 adults and children assessed as homeless or threatened with homelessness cannot be right as we near the end of the first quarter of the 21st century.

This cannot go on and the solution is to seek as broad a consensus as possible on how to resolve these issues. Given the enormous number of people now on the social housing waiting list in Scotland we need to develop answers which will work for decades to come rather than a matter of months or years.

This is a problem which has been growing for decades so there will be no instant solution, no quick fix to resolve this issue. The truth is that in December 1993 (when the Scottish government data begins) social housing accounted for 37.5 per cent of all homes in Scotland. By March 2020 this had fallen to 23.0 per cent of all homes. That is 214,000 fewer social housing homes over a time when the Scottish population has increased by 353,000.

Without a substantial increase in the number of social houses in Scotland this situation will continue and any other action than a major housebuilding plan will simply be tinkering at the edges of this serious problem.

The housing sector is united on such a major issue, but is essential for everyone involved whether in the social housing sector, the private rented sector, housebuilders, housing associations, local councils, and central government to work together to ensure that this situation can be resolved so that we can provide homes for people where they are most needed.

Nobody wants to see anyone living on the streets at Christmas or any other time of the year. Nobody wants people placed in temporary accommodation hundreds of miles from their families and friends with young children living in cramped hotel rooms. A solution to these issues requires long term planning, coordination, communication, and a desire to produce solutions rather than arguments about the virtues of one form of housing over another.

We need sufficient housing of good quality in places where people want to live and which are appropriate to the needs of the individual, couples, and families who are placed in these properties. We need policies which look beyond the short term political parliamentary timeframe and to plan for enough homes to be provided over the next two decades so that Scots have a home to be proud of and somewhere to happily celebrate Christmas in the future.