Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan 2020 - equality evidence and engagement

Summary focusing on homelessness evidence and reflecting the impact of COVID-19, to inform discussions of the Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group.

In 2018 the Scottish Government and COSLA published the Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan which set out the shared direction towards ending homelessness. This action plan was informed by recommendations received from the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG). The plan sets out our vision for transformational change and comprises a wide range of policy actions focusing on tackling homelessness through achieving the following: a person-centred approach, prevention of homelessness, prioritising settled housing for all, responding quickly when homelessness happens and joining up planning and resources.

The action plan’s delivery is overseen by the Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group.

On 1 June 2020 the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning announced the reconvening of the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG) with the aim of reviewing our current approach, in the light of actions taken to tackle homelessness during the current pandemic. This paper is the result of an initial piece of scoping work through an equality lens, focusing on homelessness evidence and reflecting the impact of COVID-19, to inform HARSAG’s discussions.

HARSAG submitted their report containing 104 recommendations to the Scottish Government in July 2020. Building on these recommendations and the 2018 Action Plan, we published our updated Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan on 8 October 2020.

This paper is not an equality impact assessment. The evidence it summarises, and our continued work with partners, provides a basis for the development of equality impact assessments which will be taken forward as the policies outlined in the 2020 action plan are developed and implemented.

Who the action plan will affect

Homelessness is primarily caused by poverty. Poverty is experienced differently by people of different ages, ethnicities, family roles and sex.  We know that the risks, causes and paths into homelessness are different for different groups and we need to understand these differences to respond to homelessness effectively. This includes, but is not limited to, people with one or more of the protected characteristics. Detail on this is provided in Section 2:

  • evidence about homelessness and protected characteristics
  • evidence about the impact of COVID-19 and protected characteristics
  • feedback from key stakeholders

This equality summary should be considered alongside the following:

What might prevent the desired outcomes being achieved

The updated Ending Homelessness Together Action Plan (2020) will demonstrate the renewed national and local government determination to end homelessness. Our ambition remains that everyone has a home that meets their needs and homelessness is ended and that people affected by homelessness have access to the housing and support they need.

COVID-19 impacts on employment, housebuilding, tenancy take-up, health and wellbeing and other factors could all challenge our ability to meet this vision. We are also aware that for some groups with protected characteristics, the impacts of the pandemic are more significant, placing them at higher risk of homelessness, poverty and other negative outcomes.

The economic impact of labour market effects paper (Scottish Government 2020) concludes that the following groups will be hardest hit by the current public health situation: low earners, women, younger people, minority ethnic people, disabled people, those living in deprived areas and lone parents. The report also notes that many of these groups overlap, for example the vast majority of lone parents are women and younger people. Women, disabled people and those of many minority ethnicities are all more likely to be low earners (page 6-7).

The most recent homelessness statistics were published in August 2020 (delayed from June due to COVID-19). The data cover the period from 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020 meaning any changes in trends in homeless data as result of coronavirus will be minimal over this reporting period. In 2019/20 31,333 households were assessed as homeless, a 4% increase on 2018/19. This figure includes 35,654 adults and 17,711 children and the main reasons for making an application were ‘asked to leave’ and ‘household disputes.

We acknowledge we need to know more about the homelessness experiences of people with protected characteristics so that we are able to provide the right support, improve their experiences and tackle homelessness effectively. We have committed to working with local authorities and other partners to review and improve the data we collect about homelessness, including protected characteristics. Not all people experiencing homelessness make applications to their local authorities and we need to improve our understanding of households in this situation too.

A person-centred approach is absolutely key to be able to understand people’s different paths into and out of homelessness and put in place the systemic changes that are needed.

Crucial to this is to develop a more in-depth understanding of women’s experiences of homelessness and stakeholders have made us aware of their concerns about the lack of gendered analysis in the 2018 Action Plan. We have listened to these concerns and added a number of gender-focused actions to our plan.

We need to ensure that we fully consider the differential impact of our proposed policies and actions on all protected characteristics (and the intersectionality of protected characteristics), before they are developed and before decisions are taken about implementation.  

As noted above, this equality paper was initially drafted to support HARSAG consider the potential equality impacts of its recommendations. HARSAG members also consulted with equality organisations in finalising their recommendations. Further information about this is provided in the table below.  

Data and evidence gathering, involvement and consultation

Evidence gathered and strength/quality of evidence


Data gaps identified and action taken

Characteristic[1] - Age



Scottish Government homelessness statistics tell us that most homelessness applicants are between 25 and 49 years old. Around a quarter of applications are received from people under 25, which are more likely to be from female applicants.

Those assessed as repeat homeless are more likely to be between 35 and 49.

In terms of the risks of COVID-19:

  • Underlying health conditions, common among older people, alongside ageing immune systems results in a death rate that increases substantially with age.
  • A lack of capacity available in social care to meet the needs of older people should carers need to self-isolate due to COVID-19.
  • Isolation and loneliness amongst older people who are statistically less likely to use online communications and who make up a large percentage of those who live alone in Scotland. This will increase their risks of mortality and of having negative mental health outcomes significantly.
  • Increases in neglect, physical abuse, emotional abuse and/or sexual abuse towards children. High stress home environments will likely increase the likelihood of abuse and individuals or groups may use the pandemic as an opportunity for criminal or sexual exploitation of children.
  • Rise in unintended pregnancies along with greater demand for abortion services, particularly amongst the young and women over the age of 35.
  • Reported rise in youth homelessness due to current situation, family breakdown contributing to this
  • Young people need alternative accommodation options (not just attempts to help them stay in the family home) including options such as hosting, sharing and other community-based housing
  • Digital access and inclusion are key issues
  • Risk of eviction of households with children, people not able to pay rent
  • Risk of a cliff edge for older young people being pushed out of care to make room for younger young people
  • Lack of funding to support young people to ‘stay put’
  • Significant risk of more young people being out of work and reduced incomes

Care experienced people earn incomes which are 27% lower on average than their non-care experienced peers, have over one and a half times greater chance of experiencing financial difficulties, less than half the chance of having a degree, are nearly twice as likely to have no internet at home and have more than double the chance of experiencing homelessness, mainly before age 30.

Evidence of the lack of safety net for older Care Experienced young people who are facing crisis during the pandemic, and who cannot turn to family and friends for financial support and help with housing. Care Experienced people are particularly vulnerable during this public health crisis and are likely to be disproportionately impacted by the measures in place, with the potential to leave them isolated, anxious and destitute. Those experiencing poverty, insecure housing and homelessness have continued to experience significant challenge in accessing support and applying preventive measures during the COVID-19 pandemic. Young people are voicing concerns about housing security and in coping with continuing or new issues of homelessness.


Scottish Government homelessness statistics





Scottish Government homelessness statistics: Equalities breakdowns


Equality and fairer Scotland duty assessment of the health and social impacts of COVID-19 (Scottish Government)









Consultation with A Way Home Scotland Coalition











Independent Care Review










Consultation with Who Cares? Scotland


CELCIS – young people, especially those leaving care, may be more likely to be hidden from services and therefore from official records because they are sofa surfing or living in other informal, unstable circumstances.

Limited data on intersections between age and other protected characteristics. We are reviewing Scottish Government Homelessness Statistics collection to improve our understanding of the experiences and outcomes for people with protected characteristics and intersections between them.

The A Way Home Scotland Coalition is developing a youth homelessness prevention pathway and an equality impact assessment is being conducted as an integral part of this work.  

Characteristic - disability



In terms of the risks of COVID-19:

  • Increased vulnerability to ill-health or death arising from COVID-19 due to pre-existing health conditions difficulties implementing measures to reduce transmission, and due to possible postpone to treatments for pre-existing conditions.
  • Exacerbation of already poor physical and mental health due to loneliness and reductions in mental wellbeing experienced during isolation and restrictions in the ability to undertake physical activity.
  • Difficulties accessing food and other essential supplies due to shortages of food in shops, difficulties affording food and isolation.
  • Disruptions to social care arrangements due to care staff being redeployed to work on COVID-19, lack of personal protective equipment for carers, and family members being unable to provide unpaid care due to themselves being ill or isolating.

Issues disabled people are facing at the moment are not new but are being exacerbated by the current situation: isolation, mental health problems, inaccessible temporary accommodation, insufficient proportions of accessible housing.



Equality and fairer Scotland duty assessment of the health and social impacts of COVID-19 (Scottish Government)













Consultation with Disability Equality Scotland




Scottish Government homelessness statistics do not currently collect information about disability.


Need to also consider intersections between disability and other protected characteristics, both through the improvements to statistics and consulting with relevant groups (tbc). 









Specific gaps identified by Disability Equality Scotland:

1. Lack of information on availability of accessible homelessness accommodation per LA area – could run a pilot in an LA on improving the quality and availability of accessible housing

2. The number of homeless people with a disability or chronic health condition.

Characteristic - sex



In terms of homelessness applications, the split of main applicants has remained relatively stable for the past decade, with male main applicants accounting for a slightly higher proportion than female main applicants (except in younger age groups 16-17 years and 18-24 years).


The biggest difference between men’s and women’s homelessness is domestic abuse, with this being the main reason for women applying as homeless. More males than females slept rough before making homelessness application.

In terms of the risks of COVID-19:

  • Increased risk of infection for women as they make up the majority of people providing care, both paid and unpaid and are more likely to be key workers. This, coupled with a lack of necessary PPE, increases their risk of contracting COVID-19 significantly.
  • Increased risk of severe health conditions for women as they make up a larger percentage of the population with long-term health conditions.
  • Resource diversion and treatment suspension for non-COVID related health issues which particularly impacts on women with service needs around pregnancy and maternity. For procedures that require in-person medical attention, the strain on resources may lead to impaired health outcomes.
  • Lack of physical activity which will likely lead to novel and exacerbated physical and mental health issues is of particular concern to women as they tend to have higher levels of inactivity.
  • Increased caring responsibilities due to the closure of nurseries and schools will likely fall upon women (as they make up the majority of people providing care), who may need to juggle this responsibility alongside part or full-time employment. This issue is further compounded for lone parents, of whom 90% are women.
  • Increased levels of domestic abuse towards women and an inability for some to access the usual routes to support and safety. Self-isolation is likely to disrupt livelihoods and the ability to earn a living for many families, increasing stress and the potential to exacerbate conflicts and violence. It is possible that coercive control may also intensify if women are stuck inside a home with an abuser and without regular interaction with any other people. The requirement to self-isolate with partners and family member who are, or have previously been, violent and/or abusive will also likely create increased anxiety and may lead to negative mental health issues.
  • Increased instances of physiological and psychological effects caused by Substance Use Disorders (SUDs). Isolation will likely lead to increased substance use for some men and women. The adverse medical, psychiatric and functional consequences associated with SUDs, however, are often more severe in women.

Women and work - women are more likely to be working for low pay in retail, caring, catering, or cleaning jobs and how because of their employment status they are more vulnerable to economic shocks which will affect their employment and their ability to meet rents and other essential costs. This may in turn lead to the risk of homelessness.

Women are more likely to be hit financially by the pandemic because they are overrepresented as unpaid carers, in health and social care jobs (with higher risk of contracting COVID-19) and more likely to be employed in the ‘shut down’ sectors of retail, accommodation and food and drink services. In addition, the vast majority of lone parents are women and younger people.  Women, disabled people and those of many minority ethnicities are all more likely to be low earners

Women and housing

Women’s housing situations rest heavily on their unequal access to resources and safety, whether with respect to pathways into and out of homelessness, as the majority of renters in social housing, or as the minority of homeowners in Scotland.

UK-focused literature suggests that women’s housing situation is generally less good than that of men’s, that they are more likely to have housing affordability problems, and that their specific needs are neither well understood nor appropriately met.

Women’s experiences of housing are different from those of men. This includes women’s pathways into and out of homelessness, interactions with housing services, and access to affordable and adequate housing standards, including the private market. Within this, certain groups of women are more likely to experience housing instability, poor housing, homelessness or negative treatment by housing services, such as BME, disabled and refugee women, women who have been in the criminal justice system, LGBTI (particularly transgender) women, older and younger women, women who sell sex, lone parents and women with other caring responsibilities.

Social security

Women are also more likely to be reliant on social security to cover housing costs.

Since widespread austerity measures were first introduced in 2010, much of the housing safety net for women has therefore been removed. Cuts include a sharp reduction in overall government spending on housing, reductions in housing benefit rates and eligibility, including the highly controversial ‘bedroom tax’,19 and paring back of the size and status of the social housing sector.

Violence against women and girls

Referral rates

  • Referral rates for the majority of organisations decreased, significantly for some, in the initial 2-3 weeks of lockdown, but indications that referrals are increasing as lockdown progresses.
  • Likely to be an increase in reporting and referrals once lockdown restrictions begin to be relaxed.

Support for victims

  • The mental health impact of lockdown is a significant concern.
  • Digital exclusion was reported as a barrier to engaging with some clients
  • Across the board there were continued reports of clients contacting domestic abuse services for general support, particularly around gas and electricity, housing and food access.

Risk and safety planning

  • Many services reported that, although perpetrator tactics did not change significantly, the impact and risk of domestic abuse has been magnified by lockdown.
  • The service-generated risks of safely contacting victims who reside with/are being monitored by an abusive partner was a major challenge for many organisations.
  • Throughout the initial phase of lockdown, innovative options for safety planning were fairly limited.
  • During lockdown, services reported it was more difficult for victims to separate from an abusive partner.
  • There are some specific challenges related to lockdown for Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) women

Criminal Justice

  • Services consistently communicated a number of concerns related to the impact of amended criminal justice procedures on women’s risk of domestic abuse.
  • Some services communicated concerns that the “business as usual” message was not being transmitted effectively to victims.

Perpetrator tactics

  • There were some instances in which perpetrators of domestic abuse used abusive behaviours that were apparently specific to lockdown.


  • Services report that, in some cases, children have experienced domestic abuse more severely during lockdown.
  • Children’s support services reported challenges experienced around engaging with and supporting children remotely.

Child contact

  • Services reported a range of abusive behaviours apparently specific to lockdown related to conflict over chid contact.
  • Services reported some ambiguity in the available guidance and legal advice relating to conflict over child contact during lockdown.

Prostitution and Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

  • Organisations reported a significant economic impact of lockdown for women in prostitution/CSE. Services had concerns that women were entering/re-entering prostitution and CSE as a result of these economic challenges.
  • Services reported concerns that, due to the decrease in people in public, women in prostitution were resorting to higher-risk practices
  • A number of services report that the stigma associated with working during lockdown prevented women in prostitution from safety planning as effectively as usual.

Experience of support services/organisations

  • Overall, services had limited operational capacity during the initial phase of lockdown.
  • As lockdown progressed, many services explored creative ways of engaging with clients.
  • Some domestic abuse support staff reported experiencing vicarious trauma.

Women are entering into the sex industry as they are worried about no money to pay mortgage once mortgage holidays end – this includes women who are furloughed and women who have lost jobs. They are at risk of entering industry to keep their homes and a totally different group who may not previously have been considered “at risk”.

Services need an understanding of the gender differences in homelessness so that they can provide services, responses and accommodation in accordance with this.

  • More investment in single sex safe semi-supported accommodation projects who can help young women prepare for their tenancy.
  • Need to invest in specialist services which are trauma informed and understand the need for gendered analysis and gendered approach to homelessness
  • Recognition that childhood sexual abuse often comes well before domestic abuse

Lack of space available in refuge, which is exacerbated by reduced movement in terms of social housing allocations due to COVID-19. This means that women can end up staying longer than needed in refuge and other women are unable to access this safe and supportive environment.

Scottish Government homelessness statistics: Equalities breakdowns

Scottish Government Homelessness Statistics


Scottish Government homelessness statistics: Equalities breakdowns


Equality and fairer Scotland duty assessment of the health and social impacts of COVID-19 (Scottish Government)































Engender Briefing: Women and COVID-19




Economic Impact of Coronavirus Led Labour Market Effects on Individuals and Households (Scottish Government)





Gender, housing and homelessness: A literature review (Engender 2019)






A Woman’s Place: gender, housing and homelessness in Scotland (Engender 2019)







A Woman’s Place: gender, housing and homelessness in Scotland (Engender 2019)







Domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women and girls (VAWG) during COVID-19 lockdown, for the period 30/3/20 – 22/05/20

(Scottish Government June 2020)


















































Consultation with Women’s Support Project







Consultation with SAY Women









Consultation with Scottish Women’s Aid

Some academics and gender experts are of the view that more women are likely to be in vulnerable unstable housing situations but not in contact with services, meaning they can be hidden from official records. This is a gap in our understanding although we are engaging with relevant stakeholders to explore further. 



We plan to more fully explore intersections between sex and other protected characteristics, through:

  • consulting with organisations supporting women experiencing homelessness;
  • consulting with organisations with gender expertise;
  • consulting with organisations who support (e.g.) ethnic minority women, disabled women experiencing poverty and therefore at risk of homelessness
  • a review of, and improvements to, Scottish Government Homelessness Statistics

Characteristic - gender reassignment

In terms of the risks of COVID-19:

  • Lack of access to gender-affirming health care potentially deemed non-essential potentially leading to negative mental health outcomes for those intending to use it. Gender identity services were already facing significant barriers to access. Waiting lists for most services exceeded 2 years for an initial appointment, with anywhere up to a further 2-3 years for substantive treatment. In common with many other services, non-emergency appointments and surgeries related to gender identity care have been suspended.
  • Lack of hormone prescriptions, some of which require administration by a practice nurse, may not be readily available. This can lead to anxiety and unwanted side-effects of hormonal changes and could potentially contribute to unsafe self-injection or use of unverified drugs.
  • Abuse from unsupportive families or partners who some trans people may be required to spend time with due to the ‘lockdown’. This could contribute to increased stress or distress, and increased risk of abuse or exacerbation of existing abuse, with less likelihood that others will identify the abuse or be able to intervene.
  • Increased levels of mental health problems including depression, anxiety and self-harm, which are already prevalent amongst the trans community. In the current crisis situation, these problems are likely to be exacerbated by all of the issues outlined above, as well as the general stress of the crisis. At the same time, many NHS and third-sector mental health services have less capacity to offer support.

Equality and fairer Scotland duty assessment of the health and social impacts of COVID-19 (Scottish Government)


Scottish Government homelessness statistics do not currently include gender reassignment.



Need to also consider intersections between gender reassignment and other protected characteristics.


We will engage with relevant stakeholders to improve our understanding and knowledge, and start to fill evidence gaps.

Characteristic - sexual orientation



Stonewall has reported that for some LGBT people, the risks of homelessness, insecure employment, restricted access to healthcare and other inequalities will deepen as a result of the health crisis. LGBT young people are disproportionately represented in the young homeless population. As many as 24% of young homeless people are LGBT, and 77% state that their LGBT identity was a causal factor in becoming homeless, with 69% of homeless LGBT young people having experienced violence, abuse or rejection from the family home. The current lockdown can exacerbate this situation.

Equality and fairer Scotland duty assessment of the health and social impacts of COVID-19 (Scottish Government)


Scottish Government homelessness statistics are not currently collected on sexual orientation.


Need to also consider intersections between sexual orientation and other protected characteristics which we will do through engagement with LGBT Youth Scotland and other organisations supporting LGBT people.

Characteristic - race



Over the last decade the proportion of homelessness applications from main applicants of White Scottish ethnicity has reduced from 85% in 2002/03 to 75% in 2019/20.

In terms of the impact of COVID-19:

  • Higher prevalence of poverty in some minority ethnic groups which may increase risk of food insecurity.  It will be important that food projects recognise different dietary requirements and access issues for diverse communities.
  • Higher likelihood of multi-generational families which may have positive impacts in terms of mental health but increase risk of infection.  There may be a need for further advice on self-isolation or shielding in these circumstances.
  • Higher rates of underlying illness especially diabetes and cardio-vascular disease, which may mean there are higher numbers in shielded groups and may indicate a need for some specialised advice and support.
  • Inability to communicate adequately because of language, stigma, prejudice or other cultural differences in health and social care settings are likely to lead to negative outcomes.  This is particularly the case while people are attending primary care settings unaccompanied.
  • Considerations around the housing context for ethnic minorities especially around relationships between tenants and landlords.
  • Attainment issues which may arise both for those ethnicities with tradition of high attainment (in terms of anxiety and sense of loss) and those who tend to be more disadvantaged (in terms of staying motivated, access to resources and remaining on track).
  • Increases in racially motivated hate crime. Monitoring of hate crime data will be needed to ensure that any spikes in racially aggravated hate crime due to COVID-19 are dealt with.
  • Support for minority groups. Ethnic minorities were more likely to say that they didn’t have support in times of crisis.  While ethnic minorities are unable to access traditional community spaces (including religious buildings) due to COVID-19 there may be an even greater need to ensure that routes are open for people to provide and receive culturally appropriate practical and social support.
  • There appears to be no joined up co-ordinated approach around the identification and support of BAME/Refugee/Migrant homeless people. BAME homeless should have  access to support which recognises their specific needs around dealing with racism, language barriers, family conflict, domestic violence  and a range of other issues that mean  they are falling through gaps in the provision of  services. 

Vulnerable migrants and more recent refugees are not receiving the assistance they need during COVID-19.  Feedback from the people who use our services/our networks tell us that they are falling through gaps in local authority provision and others are being housed in hostel and hotel accommodation which does not meet their needs. These needs include basic needs such as  food and medicine. In addition there is  failure  to provide for religious and cultural needs.

Insufficient culturally appropriate accommodation is available, exacerbated by the current closure of caravan parks due to COVID-19. Gypsy/Travellers are being offered settled housing instead.

Gypsy/Travellers are experiencing racial harassment from neighbours which then forces them to present as homeless.

Longstanding issues regarding Gypsy/Travellers having a pitch but no funds to put a caravan on their pitch, then being offered temporary accommodation and losing their pitch. Can funding be provided for culturally appropriate accommodation i.e. caravan which can go on the pitch.

Scottish Government Homelessness Statistics




Equality and fairer Scotland duty assessment of the health and social impacts of COVID-19 (Scottish Government)


























Consultation with PATH Scotland

















Consultation with Gypsy/Traveller Impact Group



The analysis we can conduct on the data from homelessness statistics on ethnicity is limited due to the small population sizes.

We plan to engage with key stakeholders who support people of different ethnicities to improve our understanding.

Characteristic - religion or belief



In terms of the impact of COVID-19:

Closure of buildings is disruptive to religious communities, and while many have offered worship through livestream amidst the pandemic, some people will still be excluded if they do not have suitable digital access.

This could have negative impacts on wellbeing for people who rely heavily on their religious community. Conversely, some disabled people or those who live a distance from their place of worship but have digital access may feel more connected to their religious community than they have in the past.

There is little current evidence of the impact of closing religious buildings but there may be significant impacts of closing centres on other service provision such as community food provision and broader help and support.

Equality and fairer Scotland duty assessment of the health and social impacts of COVID-19 (Scottish Government)


Scottish Government homelessness statistics are not currently collected on religion or belief.


[1] Refer to Definitions of Protected Characteristics document for information on the characteristics

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