ANAS Sarwar has called on the Scottish Government to end the “scandal” of child homelessness after analysis by Scottish Labour suggested that it had soared by nearly 40 per cent to a record high in just four years.
The MSP and candidate for the Scottish Labour leadership decried how thousands of children were still living in temporary accommodation for months on end.
The new analysis by his leadership campaign showed that 7,280 children were living in temporary accommodation as of March 31 2020. This, it said, was the highest figure since records began in 2002 and a rise of 39% from 5,223 in March 2016.
The analysis showed that, on average, families with children spent around eight months or 242 days in temporary accommodation compared to some six months or 184 days for all household types.
Over the four-year comparison period, there was a sharp rise in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Falkirk and Dundee, although there was also progress in reducing numbers in other areas such as Labour-run Inverclyde and North Ayrshire.
Mr Sarwar declared: “We need the next five years to be focused on Covid recovery. At a time when home has become a place for school, work and rest, we must commit to ending housing inequality.”
He pointed out that with the ban on evictions due to be lifted in just eight weeks and household debt on the rise during the pandemic, then many more families across Scotland would face the very real threat of losing their homes.
“Thousands of children languishing in temporary accommodation for months on end was shameful in normal times but the idea of families squashed into rooms together during lockdown should spur us all into action,” insisted the Glasgow MSP.
He added: “That’s why we should commit to capping the length of time children can spend in temporary accommodation to three months, switch the hardship loan scheme to grants, build 60,000 new homes over the next five years, and deliver a fair funding deal for councils that ends the cycle of SNP cuts so that they can tackle the homelessness crisis.”
Kevin Stewart, the Scottish Government’s Housing Minister responded by saying that temporary accommodation could offer an important emergency safety net for anyone who found themselves homeless, stressing it should be a purely temporary measure.
“That’s why we announced in May that we would be extending the unsuitable accommodation order to all homeless households, a year ahead of when we originally planned to,” he explained.
Mr Stewart went on: “As the pandemic continues and variant strains of the virus are now moving throughout Scotland the threat to public health is considerable; this is why we are extending the temporary exceptions until the end of June to allow stays in emergency temporary accommodation in response to Covif-19.
“This ensures that the health of those in such accommodation is prioritised and we are keeping them safe.”
He stressed how children in Scotland had been protected by the unsuitable accommodation order since it came into effect in 2014, limiting their stay there.
“We have allocated £37.5 million to prioritise settled accommodation and reduce use of temporary accommodation for all households including those with children.
“Funding for more affordable housing is at the heart of the Scottish Budget, contributing to our net-zero ambitions while helping to ensure everyone has a home that meets their needs.”
The minister pointed out how the Government had already delivered nearly 97,000 affordable homes since 2007 and was determined to build on that achievement.
Mr Stewart added: “We recognise the importance of delivering more affordable homes and that’s why in November we increased the interim funding for the Affordable Housing Supply Programme in 2021-22 from £300m to £500m.”