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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 January 2006, 10:49 GMT
Seeking solutions to homelessness
Last month Communities Minister Malcolm Chisholm told the BBC Scotland news website of his long-standing commitment to tackling homelessness.

Here, Archie Stoddart, director of housing charity Shelter Scotland, gives his assessment of the challenges faced in finding a way forward.


Archie Stodart/Pic:Shelter Scotland-Ian Jacobs
Mr Stoddart stresses everyone's right to have a home/Pic:Shelter-Ian Jacobs

Every year in Scotland thousands of homeless people turn to their local authority to help them find a home.

Each year, Shelter Scotland helps thousands of people find and keep a home. We also campaign for decent housing for all.

Homelessness and bad housing are not problems we can hide from - and in Scotland the Scottish Executive's target to end homelessness by 2012 is an important focus.

In the dying embers of last year, Malcolm Chisholm, Communities Minister, made moves towards that deadline with a landmark statement to the Scottish Parliament on how to achieve the 2012 target that all homeless people should have the right to a home.

The statement was the Scottish Executive's next step to making Scotland's internationally acclaimed homelessness legislation a reality.

Amongst other things, the statement saw the Scottish Executive give local authorities discretion on how best to end homelessness in Scotland.

The new terms will mean someone's right to permanent accommodation will be determined by the severity of his or her situation

Put simply, the keystone to the statement was that local authorities will have to phase out what is called the 'priority need' test in stages.

This test determines who is in 'priority need' and has the right to permanent accommodation.

Generally families with children fall into this category - historically the majority of single people do not.

The new terms will mean someone's right to permanent accommodation will be determined by the severity of his or her situation.

It's not about saying single people should have more rights than families, but about saying they have the same rights. It's about saying we all have the right to a home.

As a national charity campaigning to end homelessness, we think the Scottish Executive's target for 2012 is a positive goal - and we welcome Malcolm Chisholm's interim objective that local authorities should be half way to reaching the target by 2009.

Woman in B&B
There have been moves to limit the use of B&B accommodation

But we need to talk about the issues that will make the 2012 target a reality.

We need to talk about how to ensure that everyone has the right to a home.

Missing the target cannot be an option - otherwise we put at risk Scotland's chance to end a long-standing inequality in law between families with children and those without.

One critical issue is 'affordable homes'. The Scottish Executive is investing in affordable homes in Scotland but we need more.

We are urging the Scottish Executive to look towards the next big review of spending priorities.

The 2007 spending review must commit more money to increase the supply of affordable homes for rent by 50% - that translates to just under 3,000 more affordable homes a year than the Scottish Executive is currently proposing.

But as well as building new stock, we need to keep the council and housing association houses we already have. We need to review the Right to Buy scheme in Scotland.

Local needs

Over 400,000 rented houses have been bought in Scotland since the scheme was introduced a quarter of a century ago.

As we face a crisis in the supply of affordable homes, the Right to Buy scheme must be reviewed to allow councils and housing associations to respond to their local housing needs.

But it's not just the obvious solutions, we need to be thinking of innovative ways to tackle Scotland's housing problems.

For example, Shelter has been pushing to bring empty homes back into use.

Around 22,300 private sector homes in Scotland have been empty for more than six months.

Rural homes/Pic: Freefoto
Pressure on housing affects urban and rural areas

In England, councils have the power to compulsorily lease empty private properties.

The executive has committed to issuing stronger guidance to local authorities to bring empty homes back into use but we need to see that translated into action.

Making sure that all homeless people have the right to a home is an achievable, albeit bold, target.

There are challenges along the way but we need to work together to identify problems, think up solutions and ensure money is spent wisely.

Scotland is well on the way to achieving the 2012 target.

Local authorities are to be congratulated for the progress they have already made.

But there are issues around housing supply and finances that we need to address to make the legislation a reality.

Not just for the sake of those thousands of homeless people who knock on our door each year asking for help but also for all those people in communities up and down the country who can't get access to good, quality housing.




SEE ALSO:
Minister makes homeless priority
21 Dec 05 |  Scotland
Chisholm sets out homeless target
21 Dec 05 |  Scotland
Homeless children numbers on rise
12 Dec 05 |  Scotland
Warning issued on housing target
05 Dec 05 |  Scotland
Council housing stock sale halted
15 Nov 05 |  Scotland
Homeless figures 'are a disgrace'
01 Nov 05 |  Scotland
Homeless laws 'fail communities'
12 Sep 05 |  Scotland


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