Kim Fellows (KF) talks with Kevin Stewart (KS) Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning about his ambitions for tackling homelessness in Scotland.
KF: Could you please give us your impression of the current plans that are in place for tackling homelessness in Scotland?
KS: I think now is an interesting time in Scotland with the independent Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group [HARSAG] developing 70 recommendations, along with the local government and committee here in Scottish Parliament who also made recommendations about how we tackle homelessness. That work had led to Scottish Government accepting in principle all 70 of the HARSAG recommendations. In co-operation with COSLA, we published in November 2018 an Action Plan on how we tackle homelessness in Scotland. Stakeholders have welcomed that plan across the board, including partners in local government.
KF: I think it would be helpful for our readers to hear what you think are the key actions that need to be put into place in Scotland, particularly over the next six to twelve months?
KS: The are some key developments happening at the moment. Scottish Government had asked local authorities to come up with Rapid Rehousing Plans. All 32 local authorities submitted their plans at the end of 2018. Currently, Scottish Government are considering and analysing those responses. We will continue to work with councils and give advice to those local authorities whose plans require further development. This is new for everyone and so all partners will be required to work with and learn from one another as we make progress. That we hope will help local authorities share practice and determine what needs to change in the way that we are working at the moment. Beyond those plans, Scottish Government has funded a Housing First programme and rapid rehousing plans too.
£23.5 million has been allocated for Housing First and rapid rehousing across Scotland, with £6.5 million for pilots which have already begun in Dundee, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Stirling. That pilot work is going to be extremely important in moving forwards to tackle this complex policy delivery challenge. Of course, partners are doing all of this work against a background of welfare cuts coming from the UK government, and social security changes e.g. universal credit, and those cuts are having a real impact on some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Scottish Government will continue to engage with UK government about some of the recommendations for changes that have been made to the UK government. Our goal is to try and make changes to welfare reforms that may also be to the advantage to the other UK administrations. These mitigations would, I believe, be really helpful in terms of moving homeless policy forward.
KF. It would be good to hear your experience of what you’ve seen in terms of good practice happening in Scotland right now.
KS: I have had the opportunity to travel around Scotland and see exactly what is happening. We have touched upon the homelessness frontline service changes that are required, but beyond that I think one of the most important things is to provide the right housing for people across the whole country. Over the course of this Parliament, Scottish Government have committed over £3billion to deliver 50,000 affordable homes of that, 35,000 of those houses for social rent. This is the biggest housing programme since devolution twenty years ago so, in order to realise our ambition, this is a key element. That housing programme should really help by ensuring that Scotland provides people with the safe, warm affordable homes that they need, across the country. Scottish Government are doing all of this with our partners, we would not be able to deliver on this ambition without local government, whether it be on housing or in terms of tackling homelessness. This complex policy requires colleagues in local government and also other stakeholders including housing associations, and of course in terms of the housing programmes itself, the construction industry too. I believe together we are working co-operatively to achieve the aims that we all want to see achieved. I’m very grateful to those professionals in local government who, in some cases, have gone above and beyond in terms of that delivery. So, we are seeing some great places being built, seeing some great new communities, and we must ensure that everybody has the opportunity to benefit from all of that hard work.
KF: Finally, is there anything else you want to say to our readers?
KS: I think the most important theme in all this activity is one of collaboration. We are not going to be able to end rough sleeping, improve temporary accommodation, and end homelessness for good, unless we have the ultimate amount of co-operation. Thus far, that has happened. Scotland needs everyone to think about how we can change and improve how we do things. At this moment in time we’ve got a consultation ongoing about intentionality and I would encourage all of your readers to take part in that consultation, and further consultations taking place as legislation and guidance are developed. I hope that together we can ensure that everyone has a roof over their head.
KF: Thank you very much.