The proportion of people suffering from the worst forms of homelessness in Scotland is about half as high as in England, campaigners have claimed.
Almost one in 100 households in England (0.94%) were experiencing what the charity Crisis called “forms of core homelessness” – such as sleeping on the streets, sofa surfing, or staying in either unsuitable temporary accommodation like B&Bs or living in garages or industrial premises
That rate compares to 0.66% of households in Wales and 0.57% in Scotland, Crisis said.
The charity put this down in part to Scottish ministers having the “right political will” to tackle the problem.
And the Crisis chief executive, Jon Sparkes, said if plans north of the border to strength the law in terms of preventing homelessness were implemented, then Scotland could become a “world leader”.
His comments came after research for Crisis found that since 2012 England has had consistently higher rates of “core homelessness” than both Scotland and Wales – with rates growing faster in England over that time.
Scotland, meanwhile, became the first part of the UK to publish a plan to end homelessness, with the Scottish Government and local authority organisation Cosla joining forces on this.
The action plan that was produced led to a move towards rapidly rehousing people into settled accommodation, Crisis said.
It added that this, together with a greater supply of affordable housing in Scotland and a change in the law to remove “priority need” by the end of 2012, so that all those without somewhere to stay are entitled to accommodation, had helped reduce rates of rough sleeping.
Mr Sparkes said: “This research shows that with the right political will and by working together we can make huge strides in tackling homelessness.
“But, while the Scottish Government has made significant progress in recent years, it is vital we maintain momentum and push on with our efforts to stop more people being forced into homelessness.”
He continued: “The emergency response to the pandemic from national and local government, as well as homelessness services, saw thousands of people moved off the streets and given safe, self-contained accommodation. There is no doubt that action saved lives.
“But, with the economic impact of the pandemic yet to take effect, it is critical that we act now to protect against a rise in homelessness.
“Crisis was delighted to see the First Minister announce plans to strengthen the law around prevention in Scotland, as well as to consult on plans for new prevention duties.
“These proposals, if implemented, could stop thousands more from experiencing the trauma and indignity of losing their home, while making Scotland a world-leader in its journey to ending homelessness altogether.”
Dr Beth Watts, of Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University, the lead author of the latest homeless monitor report, said it found “encouraging evidence that the radical and rapid response to tackling homelessness during the pandemic has prevented many people from experiencing it in the first place”.
But she also said it was “worrying to see how many councils fear a rise in homelessness as some of these measures are lifted”.
She added: “As we look ahead, we must take this opportunity to build on the positive work that is already happening in Scotland. The focus on rapid rehousing to move people quickly out of temporary accommodation and the intentions to strengthen the prevention legislation will build on the ambitions to end homelessness for good.”
Scottish Housing and Social Justice Secretary, Shona Robison, said: “During the last 12 months there has been remarkable progress towards our goal of ending homelessness.
“We have demonstrated that, with the right approach and funding, local authorities and their third sector partners have the means to end rough sleeping in Scotland.
“That said, we know there is still much more to do, and we are building on our progress by following the policies outlined in our Ending Homelessness Together action plan.
“These include placing greater emphasis on preventing homelessness, making greater use of rapid rehousing, and ending the use of night shelters and dormitory style provision.
“We are also doing all we can to support tenants who are struggling as a result of the pandemic, with total housing support at almost £39 million. This includes a new £10 million fund allowing councils to provide grants to those at risk of homelessness so they can reduce or pay off rent arrears.”
A spokeswoman for the UK Government’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, said: “Tackling homelessness is a priority for the Government and as part of that we are spending an unprecedented £750 million this year as part of our commitment to end rough sleeping during this Parliament.
“We have made huge progress to bring rough sleepers off the streets during the pandemic and helped over 37,000 people into safe and secure accommodation, including 26,000 who have already moved into longer-term accommodation.”