Homelessness etc (Scotland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:06 pm on 5th March 2003.

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Photo of Lyndsay McIntosh Lyndsay McIntosh Conservative 4:06 pm, 5th March 2003

Not on that issue. I want to make progress. I will get to Jackie Baillie in a minute.

We do not want to be party to an empty promise in which the Executive has failed to make an identified funding commitment. That would not be true blue.

The legislative changes proposed in the bill will result in increased demand for social housing. Some local authorities will have neither the stock nor the funds to cope with that demand. The extension of priority need and the fact that from 31 December 2012 the definition will include everyone who is classed as homeless are bound to result in more households applying to local authorities for accommodation.

The accompanying suspension of the local connection criteria—which will remove the ability of a local authority to refer an applicant to another authority to which the applicant has a connection—is bound to result in an influx of applicants to certain areas that may outstrip the supply of social housing that is available there. That was pointed out in evidence to the Social Justice Committee, when concerns were expressed about the amount of available housing in our less populated areas and in rural areas particularly. Highland Council said that the quality of life in the Highlands can be attractive to many, but that just one or two families can deplete the council's housing stock. Major cities fear an unsustainable increase in the number of people applying for social housing, especially youngsters who might now go to the cities to seek fame or fortune. Local authorities need extra funding from the Executive to provide the solutions that the bill promises. I accept that the Executive has that in mind.

The bill has been welcomed by organisations and individuals who work with and for homeless people in our society and whom we hold in high regard. Homelessness is a major problem in Scotland. In 2001-02, 46,500 households applied to local authorities as homeless, which represents a rise of 13 per cent on the figure when Labour took power in 1997. The real figure is estimated to be higher. Many more people who sleep rough do not appear in the official statistics. For them, establishing a tenancy would be like the answer to a prayer.

Labour promised to remove the need for anyone to sleep rough by 2003, but its policies have led to many youngsters going through the system on a revolving-door basis and moving from one form of temporary accommodation to another. Placing homeless people in temporary accommodation must be a temporary solution. Most people aspire to have their own home as a sanctuary.

The number of households that live in temporary accommodation has risen by almost 25 per cent since 1997 under Labour. Even more shocking are the figures on households—especially those with children—that live in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. The number of households in such accommodation has risen by a staggering 99 per cent since 1997 and the number of households with dependent children in such accommodation has risen by almost 45 per cent in the past year.

I was moved by what Jackie Baillie said at stage 2 about her amendment 35 on temporary accommodation, which prohibited the use of bed-and-breakfast accommodation for families with dependent children, except in emergencies. The key word is "emergency". Such accommodation is a last resort. Murray Tosh said it all in his remarks.

People need support if they are to make a smooth transition from homelessness to tenancy. Short-term support, help with furniture—because we are material girls and boys, after all—and long-term advice are required if we are to end the misery of homelessness. We must ensure that access to health advice, money advice and other community support is in place. I regret that the minister did not accept the argument behind my amendment 5 as a first step towards ensuring that support is available for the most vulnerable in our society. That would have been a big step forward.