Housing

The number of children living in temporary accommodation in Scotland surges by almost a fifth

Figures showing more households are becoming stuck in makeshift homes and spending longer in them should act as a wake up call, homelessness campaigners say.

child in temporary accommodation

Housing secretary Shona Robison said the continued rise in the number of people living in temporary accommodation is "deeply concerning" amid calls for prevention. Image: Luis Arias / Unsplash

The number of children becoming trapped in temporary accommodation in Scotland has surged by 17 per cent in just a year, official figures show.

More than 8,600 children were stuck in makeshift homes between March 2021 and 2022 as part of almost 14,000 households living in temporary accommodation, also up four per cent in the last year. The time households spend in temporary accommodation also increased for the fifth straight year, up to 207 days on average.

The rises come as the Scottish government has increased efforts to tackle rough sleeping following the Covid-19 pandemic. Overall rough sleeping was down to its lowest point in two decades, the figures show, with 2,129 households reporting rough sleeping during the previous three months and 1,304 the night before applying to local councils for support.

But Matt Downie, chief executive of Crisis, said the figures are a “wake up call” and called for greater efforts to prevent families falling into homelessness in the first place, especially as households are facing the financial pressures of the cost of living crisis.

“Scotland made huge progress in tackling rough sleeping during the pandemic,” said Downie.  “But the fact that more people are spending longer periods of time trapped in temporary accommodation is completely unacceptable.  

“The best way to end homelessness is to prevent it from happening in the first place. By offering people support earlier, and by widening responsibility for preventing homelessness, we can start to reduce the numbers of people in temporary accommodation and make sure everyone has a safe and secure place to call home.” 

Statisticians noted the impact of Covid continues to hang over efforts to tackle homelessness in Scotland.

Overall, the number of households facing homelessnes increased by 3 per cent in the year, up to 28,882 households.

But it was the number of households living in temporary accommodation that was described as a “concern” by charity Homeless Network Scotland.

Interim chief statistician Ally McAlpine said there were high levels of backlogs due to the increased use of temporary accommodation to help people facing homelessness during the pandemic.

This has been exacerbated by a shortage of construction workers and building materials as well as rising costs in renovating empty properties for people to move into, he added.

In the meantime that has left households trapped in makeshift homes for more than a year in some local authorities.

In Midlothian households spent 524 days in temporary accommodation and that was an 87-day reduction on the previous year. Edinburgh saw the largest increase with 449 days spent in short-term housing, up 85 days on average compared to 2020/21.

Shona Robison, Scottish housing secretary, echoed Crisis’s call for a focus on prevention as the statistics also showed the proportion of people becoming homeless following the end of a private rented tenancy was almost back to pre-pandemic levels.

She described the rise in households living in temporary accommodation as “deeply concerning”.

Robison said she has met with housing conveners and set up an expert group, chaired by Shelter Scotland and the Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers, to work on plans to reduce the number of people living in temporary accommodation.

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The cabinet minister said councils would also receive £23.5million for homelessness prevention and response measures this year alongside £8m to reduce the use of temporary accommodation by moving people into settled homes as quickly as possible.

“These statistics remind us why our commitment to prevent and end homelessness is so important, and show us that we still have work to do,” said Robison.

“While it is encouraging that rough sleeping is at its lowest level in 20 years and repeat homelessness is at a ten-year low, I am deeply concerned at the increase in the number of children in temporary accommodation. This is especially disappointing as 20 local authorities are managing to reduce the use of temporary accommodation.”

The Scottish government announced £50m would be spent on tackling homelessness across the current parliament as part of the Ending Homelessness Together action plan. 

Part of those efforts involves switching to a rapid rehousing strategy for all homeless households. That means all local authorities must have a plan in place to move people into settled housing as quickly as possible and reduce time spent in temporary accommodation to a minimum. Meanwhile Housing First is the first response for more vulnerable households.

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