Gavin Yates: It’s time for investment in ending homelessness - not brutal cuts
Homeless Action Scotland CEO Gavin Yates on the impending cuts to homeless services in Glasgow.
Recent statistics showing that homelessness in Scotland is still on the rise are another reminder of the extent of the problem that faces those of us committed to ending this stain on Scottish society.
Various factors have driven these rises. Certainly, issues around the rise of in-work poverty, the benefits system, and a lack of affordable housing stock have made what was always a difficult proposition to solve more tricky.
The Scottish Government’s Ending Homelessness strategy - backed by a £50m fund - has driven some new thinking about tackling homelessness and has largely been well received. New money, a renewed commitment from local government and a civic society demanding more action, has at least pointed the ship in a better direction.
The move towards policies such as rapid rehousing and versions of the Housing First model - where people can go from homelessness to a full tenancy without going through temporary accommodation first - are very much welcome. However, like any other area of public service reform, it is not without cost and needs long-term sustained investment.
In Glasgow, the city’s Integration Joint Board - the body responsible for Health and Social Care in Glasgow - recently decided to cut £2.6m from homeless provision, starting this October. The argument that a move from the traditional ‘homelessness bed’ model to a Housing First arrangement is better for the individuals concerned is initially compelling. But, and it’s a big ‘but,’ does Glasgow have the capacity available to deliver immediately?
From the Scottish Government annual statistics on homelessness across the country, we learned that Glasgow City Council had turned away homeless people from accessing temporary accommodation on 3,365 occasions over the last 12 months. Indeed, Glasgow alone was responsible for 95% of all cases across Scotland of people being denied their right to accommodation at their point of greatest need. This is not just immoral but it is also unlawful.
It is clear that this cut of £2.6m is too fast, too soon and too brutal.
The situation is absolutely clear, Glasgow faces a huge challenge in effectively supporting its homeless people. There is also the spectre of a drugs crisis in the city where drug deaths are climbing and benzodiazepines, drugs such as Valium and Diazepam, are being sold for as little as 30p a tablet.
There is evidence from other countries that moving to a rapid rehousing approach will save money, not only for local councils but also for the NHS, for the police and for the wider criminal justice system. It is the perfect example of what Dr Campbell Christie said almost a decade ago about early intervention and prevention and its transformative effective on public service delivery.
However, as evidence has shown, these savings cannot be realised in the short-term. The only way to do this is to transfer cash from the NHS and the police and prisons system after the change has been effective. This can happen, but it won’t happen overnight.
In the meantime, the much-needed investment needs to continue with local authorities like Glasgow continuing or increasing their investment.
I recognise that local authority finances are stretched, I was a Councillor and saw millions reduced from budgets. But if Glasgow, Scotland’s largest local authority, thinks it’s okay to cut provision for our most vulnerable people, what message does this send to other hard-pressed councils?
The joint board in Glasgow should see the recent statistics as an opportunity to change its mind. The decision to cut could be reversed or, at the very least, be put on hold for 12 months to allow time for some reflection.
The Scottish Government will be allocating funds to local authorities very soon to drive change to end homelessness in our country. It would be utterly perverse if the authority that got the biggest slice of that pie was the same one that made the biggest cut.
- Gavin Yates is the CEO of Homeless Action Scotland, the country’s membership organisation for those committed to ending homelessness