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Cumbernauld's MSP: "Any decent society should do what it can to tackle and end youth homelessness"

Written by Scott Campbell.
Published at 22:21 GMT on Thursday, May 30th, 2013.

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CUMBERNAULD and Kilsyth MSP Jamie Hepburn spoke during a debate on how to prevent homelessness amongst Scotland’s young people. 

The town’s SNP MSP spoke during the ‘Having and keeping a home: steps to preventing homelessness among young people’, which was business raised by the Equal Opportunities Committee at the Scottish Parliament. 

The debate took place on Tuesday (28th May) at a full meeting of the Scottish Parliament, to which Jamie Hepburn, SNP MSP for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth contributed.

“I thank the Equal Opportunities Committee for the debate,” Mr Hepburn stated off his speech with.

“Any decent society should do what it can to tackle and end youth homelessness, and should give every young person the best chance in life. Obviously, that includes providing roofs over their heads. I thank the Equal Opportunities Committee for the work that it has done in assessing the problem.

“Elaine Murray said that homelessness has preoccupied Parliament from its very early days. That was well exemplified by Stewart Stevenson’s detailed recollection of his first day in Parliament.

“Our homelessness legislation is widely regarded as being among the most progressive in Europe, and it is clear that progress has been made. Dick Lyle set out the most recent figures, which show a reduction in homelessness applications and in assessments of people as being homeless or threatened with homelessness. From October to December 2012, 96 per cent of applicants who were assessed as homeless were accorded priority, which is an increase of 5 per cent on the same period in 2011.

“I am sure that all members welcome such progress. However, we should always be willing to make further systematic improvements, so I very much welcome the committee’s inquiry and report. The committee set out the principal causes of homelessness, which include family breakdown; a young person can be forced out of their home if there is on-going conflict with family members. The attitudes of parents or carers can put a young person at risk, and can force them out of their home for their own safety. There are also financial pressures on families, which will be exacerbated by the Westminster welfare reforms that many members have mentioned.

“The minister accepted the committee’s point that prevention is key to tackling the problem and to reducing the incidence of youth homelessness. The committee made key suggestions in that regard; it suggests that mediation can play an important role, and it talked about respite and education as being part of the prevention strategy.

“It is interesting that, in evidence, Janeine Barrett of North Ayrshire Council—which is the lead authority for the Ayrshire and south housing options hub—said that staff systematically and vigorously try to track down the parents by phone on the day when a young person presents as homeless, and that the approach is successful in most cases. That demonstrates that mediation can work. The point was accepted by Keith Brown, who was Minister for Housing and Transport at the time, and in her response to the committee’s report, Margaret Burgess said:

“The Housing Options approach has embraced mediation in many parts of Scotland”.

“The issue is clearly important to the Scottish Government.

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“I was interested to hear that respite features as an important issue in the recommendations of the supported accommodation implementation group, which issued its final report at the end of November.

“I am also well aware of the work that is being taken forward in our education sector to try to equip young people with the necessary financial literacy skills, which will stand them in good stead in the context of housing, and more generally throughout their lives.

“Like Linda Fabiani, I am a member of the Welfare Reform Committee. From the evidence that our committee gathered—it is often mentioned in Parliament, and several members have mentioned it today—it is clear that the Westminster welfare reforms undermine the good work in Scotland on tackling homelessness, and threaten to exacerbate the problem. Some 105,000 people in Scotland are likely to be hit by the pernicious bedroom tax, for example, although only about 20,000 socially rented properties will become available for rent in the next year. I am sure that other members are, as I am, already being contacted by constituents who are in arrears as a consequence of the bedroom tax. The problem that people have been talking about for some time is starting to emerge.

“It was interesting to see in paragraph 87 of the committee report the concerns that have been expressed about the time lag in paying community care grants. It was suggested that the problem can be “insurmountable.” The committee saw evidence of how that can impact negatively on a young person’s prospects of maintaining a roof over his or her head. I was therefore delighted to see that the Scottish welfare fund, which is the successor to community care grants, gives longer lead-in times—eight weeks rather than the six weeks under the Department for Work and Pensions current social fund—for people making applications to local authorities before they take up a tenancy. I hope that the reforms will make the situation better.

“James Dornan mentioned the danger that is posed by the under-25s losing their housing benefits. I very much agree. Concern has also been expressed by Crisis about the changes to the shared-accommodation rate for people aged up to 35 years, which will affect 7,500 claimants in Scotland. It states:

“As a result of the changes, the vast majority of single people under 35-years-old in receipt of housing benefit can only afford a room in shared accommodation in the private rented sector.

“In many areas of the country this type of shared accommodation simply doesn’t exist or there is not enough available.”

“We are therefore again seeing the dangers that are posed by Westminster welfare reforms, which are working against how homelessness is tackled in Scotland.

“I very much commend the committee’s report, and I look forward to hearing what the minister has to say.” 

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