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Here’s a pledge we made earlier

October 06 2011
Political rivals question the SNP’s commitment to ending homelessness


In these cash-strapped times it makes more sense than ever to re-use and recycle. But homeless campaigners and rival politicians alike are questioning the Scottish National Party’s commitment to end homelessness after it emerged they had ‘recycled’ a housing pledge.

Last month, the SNP announced a £500,000 package, which they claimed would be key to helping it meet its target to eradicate homelessness by 2012. The money would be ploughed into training local authority staff, it claimed, to guide people threatened with homelessness through all the housing options available.

But to many it sounded all too familiar. And now the Scottish Government is facing criticism as it emerges that the £500,000 figure was first pledged to launch the Scottish Housing Options programme back in June 2010.

Alex Johnstone MSP, Conservative spokesman for housing, claimed it was time for the SNP to put its words into action. He said: “Although any money for preventing homelessness is to be welcomed, the fact is that this is not new money.

“It was actually first announced in 2010, and the fact that the Scottish Government is re-announcing money from a year ago, makes me question their commitment to making a real difference in outcomes for homeless and vulnerable people.”

“The bottom line is that the Scottish Government needs to stop talking about ‘best practice’ and actually start helping people, and this means delivering their pledges on the supply of affordable housing.”

Michael McMahon MSP, Scottish Labour’s shadow minister for local government also approached the SNP’s £500,000 pledge with caution.

“The reality is that the SNP have slashed the housing and regeneration budget for this year by 35 per cent in real terms,” he said. It will take a miracle for them to meet the 2012 target on eradicating unintentional homelessness.”

Gavin Corbett, head of policy for the housing charity Shelter, emphasised the importance of ensuring more homes were made available.

Last year the Government made the £500, 000 available to trial a “housing options” approach to homelessness, which involves council staff looking closely at all the possibilities open to someone at risk of homelessness, he explained. But in practice this means that there is a real danger that people do not make a homeless application when they need to.

“Housing options interviews only really work if there are actual “options” available,” Corbett added. “That means reversing massive cuts in funding for new council and housing association homes. And putting in place a genuine drive to improve the quality of private tenancies.”

The SNP staunchly defended its commitment to addressing housing issues. A spokesman said: “On June 15, 2010 the Scottish Government/Convention of Scottish Local Authorities 2012 Steering Group held a joint seminar on homelessness prevention. The Scottish Housing Options was launched then - the funding programme providing £500,000 of ‘enabling funding’ over a 14- month period. In August this year that funding was confirmed.”

“We have an important homelessness target - by the end of December 2012 all unintentionally homeless households will have the right to settled accommodation.

“We believe these hubs will help us reach this aim. Their main priority is to focus on the prevention of homelessness through a combination of sharing best practice, joint training and commissioning joint research.”

Last month Director of Shelter, Graeme Brown, warned proposed 50 Per cent cuts to affordable housing investment meant the SNP’s manifesto pledge was doomed to failure.

It claimed the cuts were a “devastating blow” to those waiting for a home of their own and undermined the nation’s commitment to homeless people.