Blog: Unanimous support for a new homelessness strategy secured at Scotland’s Housing Hustings
By James Battye, policy officer with Shelter Scotland
Candidates from Scotland’s main political parties came together at the #HousingHustings16 last week to debate the future of housing and homelessness in Scotland, ahead of the Scottish parliamentary election on May the 5th.
The event was jointly organised by Shelter Scotland, CIH Scotland, SFHA and RICS Scotland.
How would candidates respond to Shelter Scotland’s Manifesto for Homes, and the housing sector’s call for government to deliver at least 12,000 affordable homes per year?
The latest homelessness statistics, released on the same day as the hustings event, confirm that for the third year running, the number of children in temporary accommodation has increased. That figure now stands at 4,876. So it was unsurprising that early questioning focussed in on the crucial issue of the funding of homelessness services. What assurances could panellists give that the funding of homelessness services will be protected in the face of local government budget cuts and welfare reform?
Worryingly, direct assurances that these vital services would be protected or enhanced were few and far between. As outlined in our Manifesto for Homes, Shelter Scotland believes that a comprehensive new strategy on homelessness – including looking at how these vital services are funded – should be a matter of priority for the next Scottish government.
The hustings chair – Pennie Taylor – pressed candidates on whether they would support such a national homelessness strategy? Encouragingly, the answer to this question was a resounding yes from all panellists. This is a significant commitment and one that we look forward to holding our elected representatives to in the new parliament.
Questions on the night also focussed on housing supply – in particular the need for affordable housing. The most striking thing about the tone of this debate was the sheer level of consensus among the panellists: there is a clear sense that all political parties in Scotland are strongly committed to increasing the supply of affordable housing, in particular social housing.
It would seem that our long-standing calls to radically increase the supply of affordable homes – based on strong evidence on housing need – have finally been heard loud and clear.
Much of this part of the debate focussed on exactly how this affordable housing should be delivered. How do we ensure we have an adequate supply of appropriate land? Exactly where should this housing be built? And what kind of housing do we need to deliver? These are all big questions that the next Scottish government and the housing sector will need to address, as the delivery of affordable housing steps up a gear. A very welcome challenge and discussion indeed.
As we edge closer to the 5th of May it remains to be seen how these commitments will translate into party policy. But for now it seems as though the next government – irrespective of party colour – will be committed to a significant increase in the delivery of affordable housing, and supportive of the development of a new homelessness strategy in Scotland. These are significant, and very positive developments.
Questions remain, however, over how services for Scotland’s most vulnerable will be funded at times of intense strain on public finances and people’s housing situations. And whether the next government will ensure that Scotland’s record on homelessness translates beyond vital legislative commitments, to on the ground help and support for people who find themselves homeless.