Article from Holyrood Magazine by our CEO: Poverty leaves a population on the brink

Picture of Article in Holyrood Magazine

Article from Holyrood Magazine by our CEO: Poverty leaves a population on the brink

There has been a growing consensus that the primary cause of homelessness is poverty. The most accurate indicator of becoming homeless at some point is being born poor.

The COVID 19 pandemic that has dominated public and political discourse for the last fortnight highlights the real gap between the haves and have nots. Whilst the primary focus has been medical and epidemiological with the specific implications for older or immune-compromised individuals to the fore – the effect on people living in poverty will be extreme unless steps are taken to support them.

Quite rightly, charities have highlighted issues for rough sleepers and those who rely on hostels and the implications for this ultra-vulnerable group. Government at all levels needs to respond with urgency.

However, the wider issue of poverty and lack of affordable housing could mean the biggest explosion in homelessness since the 1930s.

The peak for social housing in Scotland was 1970 and now we rely on the private sector to house the majority of renters.

If COVID 19 means that people cannot work then it is likely that many also cannot pay rent. Even if every council took the decision to waive rental payments, if every other social landlord could do similarly, would the private sector do likewise without strident government action?

The parlous state of our housing system and the levels of relative poverty leaves us on the brink of a homelessness crisis we are currently ill-prepared for.

When we emerge from the COVID pandemic, and I’m sure we will, it is imperative that our housing system is transformed to one with much greater resilience and crucially we make housing more affordable so no children are brought up with the levels of poverty we see too often today.

Gavin Yates, CEO of Homeless Action Scotland