Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Hume reveals heartbreaking homelessness statistics

I've long said that I want a Government to decide that it's going to sort out housing. During my years working for Willie Rennie as his caseworker, by far the biggest tragedy I could see unfolding before me was housing. Every week we'd have around 5 new families wanting, no, needing to be rehoused.

Maybe their family had grown or two families had amalgamated meaning a current property was too small. Maybe they'd had to take a private let, sacrificing their priority on the local authority list, but paying out more than they could afford in rent. Maybe a relationship had ended or they'd been put out by family. Maybe illness had meant that their current home was impossible for them. I remember returning once from holiday to the awful news that one person who'd been waiting for a long time to be rehoused had actually died.

The problem is, of course, that the supply of social housing has never recovered from Margaret Thatcher's "right to buy" policy. Forcing local authorities to sell houses at knock down prices and not letting them build any more has had horrendous consequences for people needing affordable housing today. There simply is not enough to go round.

In Scotland, the Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition between 1999 and 2007 passed legislation aimed at ending homelessness by 2012.  Figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats in the Scottish Parliament show that we are still some way from meeting that target.

It's horrifying to think that a minimum of 2000 families are living in temporary accommodation. This might, if they're lucky, be a flat, usually in the sort of area nobody would choose. However, they could be moved out of this to another part of their local authority area at any time. Imagine, for example, being made homeless in Dunfermline in the south west of Fife. You could be put in temporary accommodation in St Andrew's, a good hour away. How do you get your kids to school? How do you get to work if you do shifts at unsocial hours if you don't have a car? And you could be moved to another part of this pretty big kingdom at any time.

And that accommodation, like I said, might not be a flat. It might be bed and breakfast, in which case as a family you'd be expected to leave during the day. Where do you go? It might be a homeless hostel, where you have to share with strangers.  Can you imagine how horrendously difficult it would be to live in those circumstances? Most people reading this will wake up in a warm house, with a washing machine to hand to clean their clothes and cooking facilities they can use when they feel like eating and space to rest and relax. There will doubtless be enough room for people to escape from each other when they've had a row. Imagine your whole life, your whole family in one room with possessions that you can carry. How would that affect a child?

Have a read of Shelter's article on what it's like to be homeless and you'll get an idea. The horror of the reality is being experienced now by far too many people and particularly children.

The Liberal Democrats' housing spokesman at Holyrood, Jim Hume, has today released the findings of his Freedom of Information requests to local authorities about the number of children and families in temporary housing. Glasgow, Aberdeenshire and South Lanarkshire aren't included, so this is a minimum figure. Basically we have 2073 families in temporary accommodation and this is at 1st October. 1271 had been there for more than 3 months and 779 for more than 6 months. By anyone's standards, that's just wrong.

Housing affects so much else, your health, your ability to work, your sense of security and it's vital that someone has the political will to sort it out. This is too important an issue for the SNP just to blame the coalition government for cuts or say that independence would sort everything out.  They have £30 billion, the entire Scottish budget, to spend as they please. If they want to, they can build more houses with the powers they currently have rather than halve the budget and forget their pledge to build 6000 new houses every year. If they want to.

We need to have not just an intelligent debate, but actual action now to make sure that everyone in need has a roof over their head and a long term strategy in place to make sure it stays that way.  It's not just about building new houses, it's about making better use of those we have. Ewan Hoyle has some ideas over at Lib Dem Voice about elderly people in larger houses sharing with younger people, maybe students, who help out with jobs around the place in a mutually convenient and non exploitative way.

It's not just homelessness we have to deal with, though, it's poor quality social housing with damp, condensation, leaky doors and windows and with appallingly bad energy efficiency so that they're difficult to keep warm. Something has to be done about them, too, and fast. There's no point in investing in education if kids haven't got somewhere warm to do their homework or they lie freezing in their beds at night.

I'll give the final word to Jim Hume:

“Thousands of families with children are facing a hard Christmas in temporary accommodation. We can only imagine how hard this is, especially for the 779 families that have been without a permanent home for over 6 months.
 “January marks the beginning of the year in which Scotland’s homelessness commitment is due to be met. “The SNP Government must ensure that it’s fully committed to ending 2012 with every homeless person having access to a permanent home. “A good start will be looking again at its planned 50% cut to the affordable housing budget and Alex Neil needs to face up to his government’s U-turn on the 6000 new socially rented houses each year
 “We also need to see a more innovative approach to tackling homelessness across Scotland. “We cannot afford to leave so many families out in the cold this Christmas.” 


Iris Walker said...

Great article Caron. The tragedy is we have another 4 years of blustering from the SNP about their housing policies; 4 years of wasted opportunity and heartache for people on the waiting lists. I thought the Scottish Government championed preventative spending - obviously not! As you rightly say this has a knock-on effect on health, relationships, education - and everyday life!

cynicalHighlander said...

Homeless households increase by 13%

The coalition is not only presiding over a dramatic rise in the number of homeless people but is also overseeing a rise in the use of B&Bs to house them. Up to September, the country saw numbers of people placed in such accommodation rising by 30% to 9,240 compared with the same period last year.

All the fault of the SNP according to the LibDems whose two short plank leader blames the Scottish government for having its budget cut because they would not crawl to the coalitions wishes.

If your leader got of his horse and challenged his party leader to tackle the creators of this financial tsunami at source the homelessness could be reduced in a very short space of time.

Max Keiser & me & the UK’s 950% Debt to GDP Level

the claim that the UK’s private debt to GDP ratio is 950%, and the finance sector alone has a debt ratio of 600% of GDP.


tris said...

Homelessness or the lack of cheap housing, is all about this idiotic English/American obsession with owning your own house.

Scotland was never like that till that soft-in-the-head woman Thatcher decided to sell off all the stock. What madness.

Selling off gas and electricity (and in England water) was bad enough. Selling off the railways and the buses leaves us with government subsidies to pay massive salaries and bonuses and dividends and no competition because in the end all the transport is owned by a few companies. And the service is even worse than it was before.

But selling off houses! The madness knows no bounds.

The SNP is building council houses and has banned their sale. The coalition government in England is selling off council houses at ever bigger discounts, taking them out of availability.

Building houses costs money, and since the SNP won in 2007 we have less and less money... Why?

The Brown government, or rather Brown himself was SO angry that Labour had lost its grip on Scottish politics just as he was about to be pm, that he made every effort to make the Scottish government poorer and poorer.

And of course everyone in London wants the SNP to make a mess of everything so that they can hang on to their (or rather our) oil wealth.

They do their best, but for cheap political ends everyone is against them, and us.

Anonymous said...

So here is the rub for you lot.

You say that the Scottish Parliament has the powers to sort this out. So why, if you are so passionate about this, did you not fix it in the 8 years you were in power at Holyrood?

You can choose between:
a) actually we don't think this is a priority when we are in charge and just like to use it as a political football when we are in opposition
b) 8 years is not long enough to sort it out, which means any criticism of the SNP government id premature at best
c) on second thoughts, devolution of policy reponsibility matters not a jot until we have the fiscal powers to back it up

Whatever your answer, your position is not sustainable and this is proved by your own failure to address this when you had the chance.

Time to try something different I think.

Indy said...

The fact that the Lib Dems did nothing to bring about the end of right to buy when they were in power tells us everything we need to know about where social housing came on their list of priorities. And now you have the nerve to attack the SNP on housing while making no reference whatsoever to the massive cut to the Scottish Government's capital budget by a ToryLib Dem coalition. And it's also noticeable that you do wonder why there has been an increase in homelessness. Could it possibly be anything to do with the economic policies which are being pursued by the same coalition government? The much vaunted "economic rescue mission." What a joke.

Oh and Caron - wait till you start to see the full impact of the Coalition Welfare reforms. That will make things even worse. Might even make you realise what kind of government the Lib Dems are actually a part of.

tris said...

"On New Year's Day, almost 70,000 children in England will wake up in temporary accommodation, without the security of a home, according to the homelessness charity Shelter.

Every two minutes in Britain someone loses their home, and Shelter says it can take one small setback such as illness or job loss to push families into a spiral of debt and despair.

The charity predicts that as more families find their finances squeezed by high living costs and rising unemployment, many more will be pushed over the edge to homelessness in the first few months of 2012."

Guardian, today. The SNP aren't in charge there. The Liberals are.


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