Learning from others: Kevin Stewart, Housing Minister
It is unacceptable that anyone in a country like Scotland should find themselves homeless and I believe everyone needs a safe place they can call home. Everybody found to be homeless in Scotland is entitled to settled housing, yet still too many people struggle to access the accommodation and the services they need.
That’s why the First Minister established the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group last autumn. In just 9 months they have produced 4 reports, covering 70 recommendations and I thank them for their dedicated work. We have accepted all the recommendations that we have control of. And in those areas where there are actions for others, we will urge them to act and match our commitments.
Before Parliament rose for the summer, I announced funding – from the £50 million Ending Homelessness Together Fund – to accelerate rapid rehousing and Housing First. This will mean that people living in temporary accommodation or at risk of homelessness are helped quickly into permanent homes.
Scotland already has some of the strongest rights for homeless people in the world, but we must continue to look at all options to make sure everybody has access to a home. That is why this week I visited Liverpool and Manchester to see the range of housing led services they are currently delivering and to hear about how they are gearing up to deliver housing pilots in both cities. There are similarities in those cities to the issues I see closer to home. I saw for myself how they were supporting those that needed it into settled accommodation. It was a great opportunity to meet those on the front line, both providing services as well as using them. Learning from this will be invaluable as local authorities across Scotland transition to rapid rehousing and Housing First.
We are tackling homelessness in the face of continued welfare cuts from the UK Government. With an annual £4 billion in benefits being cut from Scotland by the end of the decade, more people are being pushed into debt, rent arrears and crisis. We know these cuts are making life harder for many people, so we are spending £125 million this year to protect those on low incomes. This is something I discussed with Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Manchester and Steve Rotheram, the Metro Mayor of Liverpool. Both recognised the huge damage the UK Government’s cuts were doing on residents of their cities.
I also visited three Build to Rent projects in Liverpool. This included a converted city centre office space into residential apartments; a large regeneration mixed tenure suburban development and a transformational project redeveloping disused Victorian terraced houses. I was able to understand the benefits afforded to tenants that live in these developments. We are working closely with industry to support the growth of Build to Rent as a way to encourage economic growth and increase quality and choice for private rent tenants. At the end of last year, I announced a range of measures to boost investment in private housing. The Rental Income Guarantee Scheme – the first of its kind in the UK – will reduce some of the risk that investors see in the emerging Build-to-Rent market. This has potential to attract £0.5 billion of investment and support delivery of around 2,500 new, high quality private rented homes.
Housing Minister is a role that I relish, along with the challenges that come with it. Along with our commitment to support access into affordable homes and encourage growth in the market, I have a positive vision for the future and believe that we can end homelessness for good.