Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group

– in the Scottish Parliament on 6th December 2017.

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Photo of Ruth Maguire Ruth Maguire Scottish National Party

4. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the work of the homelessness and rough sleeping action group. (S5O-01557)

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

I am pleased to say that the homelessness and rough sleeping action group, which was set up in October, has moved quickly to recommend actions to minimise rough sleeping this winter. Last week, the First Minister announced that the Scottish Government has accepted all those recommendations, and we are moving rapidly to implementation backed by a total funding package of £328,000, including £262,000 from the Scottish Government.

Those actions will increase emergency accommodation and outreach provision for people who are at risk of rough sleeping and will be crucial in supporting and protecting people this winter. The action group has also started work to identify what needs to be done to achieve long-term, sustainable solutions to end rough sleeping for good and to transform temporary accommodation. I thank the action group for its work to date, and I look forward to receiving its future recommendations.

Photo of Ruth Maguire Ruth Maguire Scottish National Party

I warmly welcome that answer, and I particularly welcome the additional funding. Does the minister agree, however, that the long-term focus of the action group needs to be—as it is—on sustainable solutions that prevent people from sleeping rough in the first place? Will he confirm that its focus is now on looking at the practical and systems changes that are required to end rough sleeping for good?

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

I completely agree with Ms Maguire. We asked the action group to move quickly to identify actions that can make a real, direct difference for people who are at risk of sleeping rough this winter. We know that some of the actions that are needed to help people right now, at the point of crisis, such as expanding winter care shelter provisions, are not the right answers for the long term. That does not mean that they are not the right thing to do here and now for those who are at immediate risk of rough sleeping, but they are just the start of the work that is required to meet our shared ambitions.

The action group has begun work on the longer-term challenges that we set it—of ending rough sleeping for good, of transforming the use of temporary accommodation and of moving towards ending homelessness. The Government is committed to tackling and preventing homelessness, and we look forward to the forthcoming recommendations on the longer-term actions that are needed.

Photo of Adam Tomkins Adam Tomkins Conservative

I am glad that the minister is talking about the longer term as well as immediate actions. According to Homeless Action Scotland, one of the main reasons for rough sleeping in Glasgow is relationship breakdown or family breakdown. What action is the Scottish Government taking to mitigate the impact of that problem?

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

Relationship breakdown is one aspect of homelessness, but what are causing much more grief out there at this moment in time are Tory austerity and social security cuts. Members do not need to take my word for it. The National Audit Office assessment was scathing of the UK Government, saying that the number of homeless families in the UK has risen by more than 60 per cent and that that is likely to have been driven by the UK Government’s welfare reforms.

The National Audit Office accuses the Tory Government of having a “light touch” approach to tackling the problem. We, in Scotland, have taken a different approach. We are investing in trying to resolve those difficulties, whereas the Tories are actually adding to the woes and creating even more difficulties for the most vulnerable people in our society. They should hang their heads in shame.

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

I will bring the debate back to the recommendations that have just been published. I welcome them and note that they have a focus on reducing rough sleeping this winter. I note that wellbeing is mentioned under “Other considerations”. Will the minister advise us how health fits in? I refer specifically to the health needs of women who are sleeping rough, including access to medicines and, indeed, sanitary products.

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

I am always happy to engage with Ms Smith on those issues. I know that she takes a great interest in them.

One of the recommendations that the action group has made and that the Government has accepted is that personal budgets should be made available to deal with people’s individual needs. I was horrified to read, the other week, the press reports of a woman being forced to use leaves because she had no access to sanitary products. I hope that it will be possible to use personal budgets in that regard over this winter.

As we move forward, the action group will consider in more depth how personal budgets can be used for a number of things including sanitary products and other hygiene products. I hope that the money that has been allocated will go a long way in trying to resolve some of the horrific situations that have been reported of late.