Section 1 — Amendment of section 25 of the 1987 Act

Homelessness etc (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:32 pm on 5th March 2003.

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Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party 2:32 pm, 5th March 2003

Group 1 is on criteria for priority need. Amendment 7 stands in a group on its own.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

The purpose of amendment 7 is to broaden the definition of a young person and to replace the upper age limit of 20 with 24. Almost 40 per cent of homelessness applications come from people aged between 16 and 24, despite that age group making up less than 15 per cent of the adult population of Scotland. Those people are much more likely to become homeless than people in other age groups are.

Under-25s are already treated differently by the law, as demonstrated by the single-room rent, which limits the amount of housing benefit that is payable. Mainstream benefits such as income support also discriminate against under-25s. That group is therefore more vulnerable to financial hardship.

Many young people aged between 21 and 24 continue to be very vulnerable, and amendment 7 proposes that care leavers or those who are vulnerable for the reasons covered by the bill should be regarded as being in priority need. That should not be restricted to young people aged between 18 and 20.

I move amendment 7.

Photo of Des McNulty Des McNulty Labour

I am pleased to see that Linda Fabiani is here today to move the amendment—a similar amendment was not moved during stage 2.

In taking forward the homelessness task force's recommendations on groups of people considered to be vulnerable and in moving from the code of guidance to proposed legislation, we needed to examine closely the appropriate legal definitions. Inevitably, some flexibility is lost in doing that—that is part of the difference between legislation and guidance.

We identified 20 as the appropriate upper age for young people to ensure consistency with the Homeless Persons (Priority Need) (Scotland) Order 1997, which covered young people who were formerly looked after by local authorities. The primary purpose behind the way in which the bill was drafted was to consolidate that order into primary legislation. Increasing the age limit for such formerly looked-after young people and extending it to other potentially vulnerable young people up to the age of 24 would move us well beyond the task force's recommendation.

We also want to keep the bill in line with the Executive's commitment that the first phase of the expansion of priority need should be cost-neutral to local authorities. As far as possible, the bill should not to be associated with the development of new policies with a much broader application. We need to ensure that the expansion of priority need is manageable. We must ensure that we consult fully on any move only after we have considered all the implications and costs as well as which other categories of people might be affected.

That is not to say that I do not understand the concern to include other potentially vulnerable young people. We all want to see assistance targeted on those who need it most. I emphasise that, within the framework of the bill, local authorities can continue to find someone vulnerable under the provision on "other special reason". The code of guidance will be updated during the course of this year and, as part of that process, I am sure that further consideration will be given to what the provision on "other special reason" might cover.

I urge members to resist amendment 7. Agreeing to the amendment would undermine the commitment that was given throughout the development of the bill that the first-phase expansion of priority need should be cost-neutral. Amendment 7 would add an uncosted burden on local authorities and would pre-empt proper consultation on which categories of people might be considered in the context of the next phase of expansion.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

I remind members that the Scottish Council for Single Homeless estimates that 42 per cent of rough sleepers initiative clients are under 25. Young people are much less likely to be in paid work and their wages are lower, so they are very much disadvantaged within a housing system that is dominated by home ownership. Within the under-25 age group, problems can potentially arise when there is disruption to education, training and employment. There is also the potential for damage to health due to varying social factors. Such problems can create serious long-term exclusion with a lifetime of costs for both the individual and society.

I am not convinced that a code of guidance would take care of the matter. We should show a real commitment to our young people by ensuring that those who are in what is obviously a vulnerable age group receive the protection of the law. That protection should be enshrined in the legislation. I press amendment 7.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

The question is, that amendment 7 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

The result of the division is: For 19, Against 62, Abstentions 0.

Amendment 7 disagreed to.