– in the Scottish Parliament on 11th December 2019.
5. To ask the Scottish Government how it is supporting veterans, including those who are homeless, to find accommodation. (S5O-03895)
The member will be aware that I provided the third annual update to Parliament last week, when I set out the actions that we are taking across ministerial portfolios, including housing and homelessness, to improve service delivery for veterans. For example, we have committed to working with key stakeholders to develop a pathway to prevent veterans’ homelessness in 2020; we have published guidance for social landlords on meeting veterans’ needs; we continue to offer priority access for veterans to the open market shared equity scheme; and, through the affordable housing supply programme, we awarded £350,000 to East Lothian Council to deliver six homes for disabled veterans.
Is the minister aware that recent reports estimate that up to 1,136 properties owned by the Ministry of Defence currently sit empty in Scotland, which is a significant rise from 690 properties in 2013? Does he agree that it is time for the United Kingdom Government to open those properties to those who have served their country with dignity and courage and that it must take action to match the Scottish National Party’s ambition to end homelessness for veterans, starting today?
It might interest the member to know that I wrote to the UK Government just over a year ago to raise a number of housing and homelessness-related issues. I suggested a face-to-face discussion of the issues, specifically including whether the military had any housing in Scotland that it expected to be declared surplus to requirements at some point in the future. Unfortunately, no such sit-down has taken place. No doubt that has been due, in part at least, to the high turnover of UK defence ministers. For example, there have been three secretaries of state since I took on this role 18 months ago, and who knows whether there is a fourth waiting in the wings.
I hope that the situation will correct itself in short order following tomorrow’s election, because it is an important issue. In the meantime, I strongly urge the next UK Government to match our ambition around veterans’ housing and homelessness and open up appropriate empty MOD properties.
I am sure that the minister will agree with me that housing support pathways for veterans, as a major part of their transition, need to be as accessible as possible, and that a variety of housing options need to be available to families upon leaving the forces. Will the minister detail what actions have been taken to encourage discussions on housing options with armed forces personnel, with such discussions taking place long before they leave service, to ensure their smooth transition into civilian life?
The member makes an interesting point, but I will correct him slightly: it is about not just families but individual veterans. Sometimes the biggest issues relate to early service leavers, who are often young, single men.
With regard to the points that the member makes about facilitating transition, I hope that he will bear with me. We will announce our response to the whole transition package at the end of next month.