Homelessness etc (Scotland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:56 pm on 5th March 2003.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour 3:56 pm, 5th March 2003

I am grateful for the opportunity to demonstrate the clear blue water that exists between the Executive and the Conservative party. The Conservatives never offered to lift Glasgow's housing debt. That is why the transfer is such a radical move for Scottish housing.

The bill is the final component of a significant package of rights and resources for homeless people in Scotland. In commending the bill to the Parliament, it is proper that I recognise that we have reached this point due to the efforts of many people and many organisations. I would like to pay tribute to those organisations and thank them for their work. If members will bear with me, I will name each organisation in turn: the Big Issue in Scotland Limited; the Scottish Council for Single Homeless; the University of Glasgow network; the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities; Shelter Scotland; the University of Glasgow; Greater Glasgow NHS Board; the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations; Communities Scotland; and the Association of Directors of Social Work. I also thank the officials from my department, who have worked so hard and so effectively. I pay personal tribute to Lindsay Manson and her team.

We should be proud of how far we have come since 1997. At that point, it was beginning to be recognised that homelessness was about more than simply housing. However, we had little information about the full extent of the problem and no strategic approach was in place to tackle it. No one can deny that things have moved on significantly since then. The Executive has funded a network of accommodation and support services to meet the complex needs of rough sleepers—we continue to provide funding to maintain those services. We have also moved forward on a range of other fronts, not least of which is the collection of appropriate statistics. Perhaps most important, local authorities are now required to develop and deliver homelessness strategies that are based on local assessments, which are to be regulated by Communities Scotland. Now at last we have a strategic framework in place, which is vital if we are to address the complex problems in a co-ordinated way.

Just as the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 raised the minimum rights for homeless people so that all were entitled to at least temporary accommodation and advice and assistance, the bill progresses further the rights of people who find themselves homeless. The three hurdles over which applicants had to jump have been changed. Priority need is extended, with a commitment that it should be phased out over the next decade. A local authority can choose, at its discretion, to investigate intentionality in cases that it thinks warrant that, but its responsibility for an intentionally homeless person is increased. Local connection will be suspended for all applicants across Scotland and the emphasis will be put on sustainable choices instead of limited and unsustainable options.

Those changes will not be rushed or undertaken lightly and they will happen with full consultation over the coming months and years. If the changes are to succeed, partnership working with local authorities and other landlords will be essential. However, the changes will enable a shift of emphasis away from the barriers between a homeless person and a home and towards facilitating solutions.

Inevitably, consultation and scrutiny of the legislative proposals highlighted areas of concern and areas where improvements could be made. I pay tribute to the work that the Social Justice Committee put into the bill. The committee's report emphasised two areas: resources to support the bill and the general housing supply, and the need to balance rights and responsibilities.

On the latter point, we lodged stage 2 amendments making it clear that the small minority of people who have a proven history of anti-social behaviour will not have an automatic right to access a short Scottish secure tenancy with support. Instead, they will be able to access only non-tenancy accommodation as a matter of course. The bill as amended strikes a proper balance between the rights of homeless applicants to access housing and the responsibilities that go with a public sector tenancy.

No one underestimates the fact that a significant commitment of resources will be required. We are making record funding available. Over the period of the spending review, £127 million is specifically allocated to prevent and tackle homelessness. Separate funding for the supply of social housing has also been made available with an average of £350 million a year over the next three years through the Communities Scotland development programme and through support to enable local authorities to transfer their houses to the not-for-profit social rented sector, which will lever in extra investment. That is a significant amount of money—17 per cent up on the current year—which will enable us to address the priorities of improving and replacing existing stock while meeting the needs of homeless people and others who have been squeezed out of housing markets.

I hope we will be able to look back with pride at the work of the Parliament and the commitment that it has given to considering some of the most significant and challenging social issues of our time. We cannot easily wipe away every social ill, but our determination—in partnership with local authorities, key service providers and the voluntary organisations that represent the interests of homeless people—has allowed us to tackle the fundamental causes of homelessness, to recognise and address the complexities of the issue, to engage all those who are required to be part of the solution and to put in place at last the necessary resources to tackle the problem. The bill has allowed the Executive to put Scotland at the front of the queue as one of the leading European nations in tackling homelessness.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Homelessness etc. (Scotland) Bill be passed.