Homelessness (Children)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 3rd November 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat

1. To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on reports that nearly 5,000 children will be homeless or in temporary accommodation at Christmas. (S4T-01151)

Photo of Margaret Burgess Margaret Burgess Scottish National Party

Homelessness has been falling in Scotland—applications are down by 20 per cent since 2012—with further falls in the latest statistics. Much of that is down to the focus on the prevention of homelessness, which is a priority for the Scottish Government and its partners.

The numbers of children in temporary accommodation have also fallen since 2007. Although we do not want to see any families in temporary accommodation, our actions and strong legal rights for homeless households mean that families are placed in good quality temporary accommodation while suitable settled accommodation is found.

To help address the situation—against a challenging financial background—we are doing everything that we can to help increase housing supply. That is backed by more than £1.7 billion of investment in the lifetime of this Parliament.

We are on track to exceed our 30,000 affordable homes target. The target is not the height but the starting point of our ambition for Scotland’s housing. We are not only increasing new supply, but working to protect existing supply through ending the right to buy, which will protect our housing stock by preventing the sale of up to 15,500 houses over a 10-year period.

The First Minister announced last month that, if re-elected, our target as a Government will be to build at least 50,000 new affordable homes in the next parliamentary session.

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat

A child in temporary accommodation loses on average 55 days of schooling. Among many other issues, they suffer anxiety and distress; speech problems can also occur. It sets them back at an early stage. Does the minister not think that part of the problem is because the Government has switched from its manifesto commitment to build 30,000 homes for rent—not, as the minister stated, affordable homes—and now insists that a third of those homes have to be bought with a mortgage instead? That does not help those 5,000 homeless children, does it?

Photo of Margaret Burgess Margaret Burgess Scottish National Party

The vast majority of temporary accommodation used is well managed, good quality, furnished social housing stock. We know that most local authorities use their own stock for temporary accommodation. It is not different from that used by other households.

This Government has made a commitment to provide 30,000 affordable homes. We are delivering on that commitment and we have said that that commitment is not the height of our ambition: we will increase that number if elected to be the next Government.

Despite all the financial restrictions and difficulties that the Government has faced, we have built more houses for social rent than any Administration since the devolved Parliament was set up. We are outperforming the rest of the United Kingdom. We know that we have to do more; our ambition is to do more. That is what we are doing.

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat

I hate to disagree with the minister, but her own Government figures on new-build starts in the social sector show that 3,842 houses were built in the past year, whereas in 2006-07, when another Administration was in power, the figure was more than 5,500. The minister’s words are not correlating with the Government’s figures. The minister also needs to explain why there are—

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick None

Mr Hume, please let us have a question.

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat

There are 626 more children homeless this year compared with last year. The difference between 30,000 homes for rent and 20,000 homes for rent is clear to us: it is 5,000 children in temporary accommodation at Christmas. Have any of the families in temporary accommodation told the minister that they are in a position to get a mortgage and buy one of their own homes?

Photo of Margaret Burgess Margaret Burgess Scottish National Party

Let us get the statistics correct. This Government has built more houses for social rent than any other Government. I will just give him the figures. In its seven-year term, the previous Administration, which his party was part of, built 28,988 houses for social rent. This Government has built 38,859 houses for social rent. If affordable homes help some people to get on to the housing ladder, that releases a home for social rent to people who might be in temporary accommodation. The previous Administration built 9,027 affordable homes, whereas this Administration has built 15,327. We are building more homes. I have said already that we need to and will build more, but at least we are delivering and doing more than any previous Administration.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

Does the minister accept the verdict of Shelter Scotland, the Chartered Institute of Housing and the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations that Scotland is facing a housing crisis? Does she accept that?

Photo of Margaret Burgess Margaret Burgess Scottish National Party

I have said on more than one occasion in the chamber that we are facing challenges in housing. We are rising to those challenges and have done so with a target of 30,000 homes. We completed that ambitious target, which was based on what Shelter and other organisations were telling us at the time, but they have now told us that that target is not sufficient. We have indicated that we are increasing our target to 50,000 homes, which will be the baseline for the next Parliament. We are listening to what is being said. We know that we need to build more houses and we will get on and do that.

Photo of Christian Allard Christian Allard Scottish National Party

I will go back to the question, which was on temporary accommodation. The issue is not only the numbers, but the quality of that accommodation. Can the minister provide an overview of the quality of housing that is used for families in temporary accommodation?

Photo of Margaret Burgess Margaret Burgess Scottish National Party

As I said in a previous response, the housing that is used for temporary accommodation is from local authorities’ own housing stock and is the same as the other housing stock that they rent out. The accommodation is generally furnished, with furnishings being replaced on a regular basis. The accommodation has to be within a family’s local authority area and it has to be suitable for accessing the schools and services that the family needs. The temporary accommodation must be as close as possible to what a family would get if they were in settled accommodation. The temporary accommodation is good-quality local authority accommodation. It is right that the member raises the point that it is not about second-rate accommodation; the accommodation is of a good standard, and it is right that it should be.