How Scotland can shape its response to Covid-19, to end homelessness

Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive

The new Social Renewal Advisory Board report, published today, opens with a metaphor.  
“We may all be in the same storm”, it says. “but we are all in different boats… and even then, too many of us are with no boat at all.”  

Established by Aileen Campbell and Shirley Anne Somerville, the Cabinet Secretaries for Communities and Local Government and Social Security and Older people, the Board was formed with the future in mind.  

I had the privilege of co-chairing not only the Housing Policy Circle – a sub-group of the Social Renewal Advisory Board – but also the Editorial Sub-group which oversaw the drafting of the report. Stakeholders from the third sector, think-tanks, universities and local government were all brought together with the aim of harnessing calls to ‘build back better’ following the pandemic.  

The Board’s recommendations (available here) are based in bringing about change that addresses the causes and impacts of poverty and inequality. They are based in steering our response to Covid, to build the society we want to see. 

From March 2020 onwards, our lives seemed to get turned upside down. Thousands saw their livelihoods put at risk. Businesses, transport systems, schools – all of them were disrupted. 

But while the pandemic has been hard for everyone, not everyone has had the same experience. We are all in different boats, and some have no boat at all.  

For those at risk of homelessness, especially those at risk of rough sleeping, this couldn’t be more true.  

The pandemic has reduced the income of millions, meaning many people are struggling to meet housing costs. As the effects of this new lockdown take hold, it’s clear that we must act now if we are to prevent a rise in all forms of homelessness.  

Now is the time to be ambitious and set out our vision around how we can build a fairer Scotland for all.  We need a consensus across civil society on the actions that will prevent widening inequalities, tackle poverty and empower all members of our communities to participate. Everyone has the right to a safe, secure home, and we can all play a part in making homelessness a thing of the past.  

So how can Scotland shape its response to the pandemic to help end homelessness? 
The Board recommends strengthening the national plan for ending homelessness and extending its lifetime, beyond 2023, for a further five years, while also going further in prevention, so someone can get the help they need before they face the prospect of losing their home. That means giving full consideration to implementing the proposals of the Prevention Review Group on a legal duty to prevent homelessness. 

The report recommends incorporating the Right to Adequate Housing into Scottish law, and the Board said it is essential that Scottish Government commits to meeting international standards. But committing to the standards as articulated in the Right to Adequate Housing should be considered a floor, not a ceiling, and should not limit our aspirations. Scotland has introduced world leading legislation on homelessness before, and recommendations developed by the Prevention Review Group offer a unique opportunity for us to put in place a truly pioneering legal framework for preventing homelessness. 

Clearly, these are big ambitions. They are not short term solutions, and they will take time to achieve.  

But while recovering from the pandemic will not be easy, it is vital that we use the energy, determination and resources at our disposal to stop more people experiencing the indignity of losing their home. 

We know what causes homelessness and we know its cost to the whole of society. Together we can end it.  

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