Holyrood: Let's make this the parliament of prevention

Ashleigh Simpson, Head of Policy and Communications (Scotland)

New MSPs arrived in Holyrood for their inductions last week, before being sworn in and starting work in a new job unlike any other. 

The swearing-in ceremony saw a record number of new languages used, with debuts for Arabic, Orcadian and Welsh, among others. For MSPs, this is a new beginning. 

For Crisis too, a new job is just getting started. Before the election we called on every party to make preventing and ending homelessness a national priority, and with the start of the new session we have a massive opportunity to make a difference to people across Scotland. 

We can change the law, to prevent homelessness from happening in the first place. 

The problem is clear. Scotland has some of the best protections in the world for people experiencing homelessness, but in far too many cases emergency measures such as the use of temporary accommodation are treated as the default, rather than the lifeline they were intended to be. 

The figures speak for themselves – with around 8% of the Scottish population having been homeless at some point – and things aren’t getting any better. In fact this year saw the number of people trapped in temporary accommodation, often without proper cooking or laundry facilities, reach a record high. We know from our frontline work how damaging that experience can be for someone’s mental health and their personal relationships.  

But it doesn’t need to be that way. That’s why we want to prioritise prevention. 

So what does that mean? 

For a start, following the recommendations of the Prevention Review Group – a collection of experts from the homelessness sector, from local authorities and from academia – it means that action to prevent homelessness should start up to six months before someone faces the prospect of losing their home.

By changing the law, we can ensure all public bodies, such as health services, have a responsibility to ask about people’s housing situation and identify any issues at an early stage. They can then act and offer help if that person is in danger of losing their home in the next six months.

They would then work together with housing professionals to ensure that people get help early and do not lose their home unnecessarily. The proposals, if implemented, would ensure that no one leaves an institution, such as prison or hospital, without somewhere to sleep that night.

We know from working with people with lived experience of homelessness how important it is for them to have choice and control over their housing. That’s why we want services to work in partnership with people to find out what help they need, and make sure individuals have choice over where they live and in what type of home.

The best way to end homelessness is to prevent it from happening in the first place. And thanks to the determination and commitment of our supporters across Scotland, that message was reflected in party manifestos from across the political spectrum.

The SNP manifesto made it clear that ending homelessness is a national priority and that it begins with prevention. They committed to introducing legislation that ensures public bodies have a duty to prevent homelessness, building on the recommendations of the Prevention Review Group.

The Scottish Tories pledged to eradicate rough sleeping in Scotland by 2026, alongside a promise to accelerate the rollout of Housing First – an approach based in the idea that safe, secure housing is the foundation for everything else in someone’s life. Back in December, the party outlined how their plan to end rough sleeping could be achieved by “updating the law around homelessness prevention”.

The Scottish Greens too put strong support behind Housing First, while also promising to “End homelessness by updating the legislative framework”.

Meanwhile, Scottish Labour and the Scottish Lib Dems expressed their clear commitment to change the law and introduce new duties to prevent homelessness.

We need political parties to deliver on these promises and build a system where people can get the support they need, when they need it, and dramatically reduce the numbers of people who are forced to go through the indignity of homelessness.

Whether that will happen or not remains uncertain. But what is clear is that the next four years will be critical for Scotland. With the right political will, we can end homelessness in Scotland. To do that, we must make this the parliament of prevention.

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