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2012 - the year of the right to permanent accommodation in Scotland?

July 26th 2012


In 2003, the Scottish Parliament, like its counterpart at Westminster, set the then Executive the ambitious target of ending rough sleeping by 2012. It would do this by offering all who live in Scotland the right to permanent accommodation. Now, with less than six months to go before the self-imposed deadline, can the Scottish Government meet the vision of the Homelessness (Scotland) 2003 Act?

Because it aimed to provide everyone who is homeless with the right to a home by 2012, Scotland became recognised as having one of the most progressive pieces of homelessness legislation in Western Europe, according to Shelter. However, whilst progress had been positive, some barriers remain, Maureen Watt, Convenor of the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee at the Scottish Parliament, said earlier this year.

The MSP cited Westminster cuts as a possible hindrance: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìAnother potential barrier is, of course, the likely negative impact of the provisions of the UK Government's Welfare Reform Bill. The main point of concern for the majority of the committee was the impact of the specific provisions related to under-occupancy, which could affect local authority applications and policies. A general reduction in benefits could lead to increased arrears and evictions.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

In February this year, the number of homeless people in Scotland was at its lowest for a decade. A worry is that Scotland could claim to have effectively eradicated homelessness by next year, yet the picture on the street might tell a different story. Graeme Brown, Shelter Scotland Director, recently said: "This success should not blind us to the scale of Scotland's ongoing housing crisis. Nearly 50,000 people still presented as homeless in the last 12 months, so this progress needs to be a catalyst for even greater change."

The Scottish target is similar to that of the Greater London Assembly, though its aim of eradicating homelessness in London is tied to hosting the 2012 Olympic games. It is thought that investment in housing before the games as well as legacy sites, such as the athletes?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ village, will contribute to meeting the target.

Perhaps in Scotland, 2012 is an unfair deadline, considering the country?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s main sporting event, the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, takes place two years later. In April, Hammersmith & Fulham council admitted that it was in talks, along with Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea, to relocate 500 families on benefits to the Midlands. Council chiefs admit that it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s unlikely that it would result in a large-scale exodus; however, there is a worry that such a precedent could see ?¢‚ǨÀútariff-trading?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ introduced in Scotland.

There appears to be no sign of defeat from the government, with Minister Keith Brown dismissing a potential delay: "It is a very challenging target in difficult economic times but we are, despite that, committed to supporting local authorities to achieve it." Local authorities are just as positive. A spokesman for South Lanarkshire Council stated that they are on course to see all unintentionally homeless households in Scotland will have a right to settled accommodation: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìWe have been planning and working towards the implementation of 100 per cent priority need since 2005, whilst trying to minimise the impact on other groups of people who are seeking housing. As of June 2012, we make priority-need decisions on 95 per cent of homeless and potentially homeless applicants, and we intend to eliminate the priority-need test entirely from 1 October 2012.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

Inverclyde Council abolished the priority need test on 1 April 2012, well ahead of the target date. Local authorities and government seem to be working well together to meet the 31 December 31 deadline, and all parties believe they are on course to achieve it. It is undoubtedly an important step in the eradication of homelessness, but will governments and local authorities in the UK have the appetite to then provide mandatory accommodation for those who voluntarily make themselves homeless?




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