A recent Impact Report published by housing and homelessness charity Shelter Scotland has highlighted the extent of Scotland’s “housing crisis”, emphasising in particular the disproportionate numbers of young people and private renters seeking their help. The report focuses on the period from April 2016 to March 2017, during which time it states that over 21,000 individuals in Scotland made use of Shelter’s services, and their online Get Advice pages received over 825,000 unique visits. Clients most commonly sought help with keeping their homes due to issues of affordability, linked by Shelter representatives to broader economic and political issues.
46% of those seeking help from Shelter were aged 16 to 34, in spite of this demographic accounting for only around 25% of people in Scotland. 50% were aged between 35 and 64, with only 4% aged 65 or over. While the charity acknowledges that some of the overrepresentation of young people may be due to the nature of services offered, they emphasise that the majority of client cases came from their national helpline, which is equally available to people of all ages. Similarly, 46% of cases involved private renters, despite the private rented sector accounting for only 14% of Scottish housing. 44% of clients were categorised as seeking help with “keeping their home”, 29% with “finding a home”, and 24% with “improving their home”, though the report also emphasises that there are often overlaps between these three general categories.
The three most commonly recurring problems were “struggling to pay or afford housing costs” (15%), “housing conditions” (12%), and “landlord issues” (10%), with affordability issues found to be key across private renters, social sector renters, and homeowners alike.
Commenting on the report, Deputy Director Alison Watson stated that over the past year the charity had been “busier than ever helping people with bad housing and homelessness”, identifying the main factors driving people to seek help as “the terrible shortage of truly affordable homes, harsh welfare reforms, stagnant wages and the high cost of keeping a roof over their head.”
She added: “The statistics speak for themselves - on average, a household in Scotland becomes homeless every 19 minutes. We are seeing more reports of rough sleepers dying on our city streets. Unknown numbers are sofa surfing with friends and families as they don’t have, or cannot afford, a home of their own. Our teams were contacted by more than 1,000 households who were already homeless.
“Behind those statistics are people, families, individuals – people on low incomes, people with complex needs, people in crisis - some of the most vulnerable people on [sic] our society.”
At the same time, the report also highlights the progress that Shelter Scotland has made and continues to make. As well as working directly with individuals and families, they also aim to evoke significant social and political change, working to influence housing and homelessness policy at local and national government levels. In 2016/17 alone, the charity published 19 policy papers and 25 responses to Scottish Government consultations, and held 26 campaign days in Scottish towns and cities.
Some of this campaigning has led to concrete, large-scale developments, with their Manifesto for Homes for example provoking the Scottish Government to commit to building 50,000 affordable new homes by 2021. Shelter has also directly addressed issues affecting the private rented sector specifically, with their Make Renting Right campaign helping to bring about the passing of a new Private Tenancies Act in Scotland. This Act, due to come into effect in late 2017, includes such key measures as limiting the circumstances in which tenants can be asked to leave and enabling local authorities to implement rent caps in cases of excessive increases. This is designed to bring about greater security for private renters, and, according to Shelter Scotland Director Graeme Brown, “will deliver a fundamental rebalancing of rights for the growing number of individuals and families who call the private rented sector home.”
However, Brown also acknowledges that Shelter’s work is far from over: “We think we’re good at what we do, but we are not complacent and we know there is still some way to go. We encounter this every day in the demand for our services, which we sometimes struggle to meet…We will continue to invest in our pioneering digital advice work so that we can reach more people, and we will carry on pushing for and campaigning on our solutions to Scotland’s housing crisis.
“We will continue our work until there is a home for everyone in Scotland.”