Ending Homelessness Together: annual report 2021
Annual report setting out the progress made in the last 12 months by national government, local government and third sector partners against actions in the Ending Homelessness Together action plan.
Progress against actions in theme 1: we will embed a person-centred approach
We have made steady progress against the outstanding actions in this section. We have completed one action; three actions are well underway; and work has started on the remaining two.
We are taking a person-centred approach to our policy making, to the people we serve and to the homelessness services we provide.
We have committed to develop the evidence base on homelessness. In particular, we said we would build on the evidence base to understand the impact of COVID-19 on the risk of homelessness for particular groups. We also said we would apply a gendered analysis to our actions, ensuring the homelessness system meets the needs of diverse groups of women.
The Scottish Government's latest homelessness statistics show that the pandemic has had an impact on homelessness. The number of homelessness applications received by local authorities has reduced but the number of households staying in temporary accommodation has increased.
The impacts of COVID-19 have been and are likely to continue to be borne unequally. Unequal outcomes between different groups existed pre-COVID, and the effects of the pandemic have worsened this. Analysis carried out at the end of 2020 showed that those groups disproportionately impacted include households on low incomes or in poverty, low-paid workers, children and young people, older people, disabled people, minority ethnic groups and women. Mothers have been more vulnerable than fathers to job loss during the crisis, either as a result of the shutdown or due to an inability to keep working while managing childcare responsibilities. The evidence also suggests that domestic abuse incidents reported to the police went up during the lockdown period, although referrals to services initially decreased during the early stage of lockdown, suggesting that access to support may have been reduced.
This evidence is contributing to our understanding of the impact of the pandemic on the risk of homelessness and has prompted the Scottish Government and COSLA to refresh the membership and terms of reference of our expert Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group so that the interests of all those at risk of homelessness are considered and represented.
- We have reported openly on how COVID-19 has affected progress towards Scotland's national outcomes and impacted on particular groups. With input from COSLA, the Scottish Government produced a report, Scotland's Wellbeing: The Impact of COVID-19, in December 2020.
- The Scottish Government included equality characteristics in its main homelessness statistics publication in June 2021.
- We appointed someone with gender expertise to our Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group in 2020 and we recently invited to the group a new member with expertise on the housing and homelessness concerns of people from minority ethnic communities.
We know that some people are experiencing homelessness or are at risk of homelessness but do not appear in official homelessness statistics. This type of homelessness is hidden from view. Particular groups, including women, young people, ethnic minorities, migrants and people in rural areas are likely to be part of this hidden population. For example, we know that domestic abuse is the leading cause of women's homelessness in Scotland, and some victims-survivors report that they have been forced into hidden homelessness, staying with friends or family to escape the perpetrator of domestic abuse.
- The Scottish Government has introduced new legislation to strengthen the housing rights of victims-survivors of domestic abuse (more details are provided later in the document).
- The Scottish Government is in the process of commissioning research to better understand those people who are homeless, at imminent risk of homelessness or who face housing insecurity but do not appear in Scotland's official figures.
- The Scottish Government has organised gender competency training for policy makers in the homelessness unit.
- Rapid rehousing transition plans are supported by an equality impact assessment (EQIA). In 2021, The Scottish Government asked local authorities to review EQIAs through a gender lens, taking account of the recommendations from the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) Scotland and Scottish Women's Aid (SWA) on how to improve housing outcomes for women and children experiencing domestic abuse.
People with personal and frontline experience of homelessness from the Change Team are already represented on our Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group but we said we would strengthen the role and influence of the Change Team.
- Change Team members have collaborated with government officials on the job description for a senior post in the homelessness unit and they have contributed to thinking on plans for a new right to adequate housing in Scotland. The Change Team has also launched a national conversation to find out how the actions in Ending homelessness together are helping to make change on the ground.
- The Scottish Government has invited members of the Change Team to join corporate sessions in the homelessness unit.
- The Scottish Government committed in its Housing to 2040 strategy to offering a secondment to someone with lived experience of homelessness.
- In August 2021, following a competitive recruitment process, we seconded a member of staff from Homeless Network Scotland to the homelessness unit. The new member of staff is contributing to the policy development process and ensuring that policies and practice are grounded in real life experience of what works to prevent homelessness.
Our evidence base must be informed by people who use homelessness services. However, there are lower levels of voter registration among people experiencing homelessness and this means that those who are not registered are less able to influence local and national politics. We want people experiencing homelessness to have a say on the subjects that affect and concern them.
- In advance of the Scottish Parliament elections in 2021, we included new information on the Scottish Government's website about registering to vote in Scotland if you do not have a settled address.
Scottish local authorities rapidly adapted their service provision and methods of engagement with people experiencing homelessness at the start of the pandemic in line with no wrong door and person-centred principles. Balancing the risks of COVID-19 transmission with the benefits of providing effective responses to homelessness, local authorities worked hard to provide stability and care for clients. Some councils offered telephone and online services; others have continued to provide socially distanced face-to-face support throughout this fast-changing period.
Throughout the pandemic, local authorities have adapted their homelessness service provision to safely meet the needs of people at risk of and experiencing homelessness.
We also said we would support people to access digital equipment, data and training.
We were pleased to see the positive outcomes achieved by Simon Community Scotland through its Get Connected digital inclusion pilot at the start of lockdown, where 36 people were supported to get connected. People said they felt less isolated, improved their digital skills and confidence and experienced a greater sense of wellbeing. As part of our winter plan for social protection, the Scottish Government funded Simon Community Scotland to extend this project. It meant we could build on Simon Community Scotland's existing training framework, developed with service providers and people with lived experience.
- The Scottish Government provided a grant of £40,000 to Simon Community Scotland in December 2020 for its Get Connected 100 project, which provided 100 people experiencing homelessness in Scotland with devices, unlimited connectivity for 12 months and training.
- Early findings from this latest project show that participants' lives have already been improved. Being connected digitally has supported people with their mental health and recovery, opened up learning opportunities and increased autonomy and independence.
- The Scottish Government has allocated a further £160,000 to support digital inclusion for people experiencing homelessness during 2021/22.
"I got a choice out of a phone or a tablet. I chose the tablet. It gave me a bit of relief, I'm a recovering addict and it's helped me get to online meetings, it's helped me when I've been struggling and I've been down. I've had that help, I've had that support." Supported person
"I'm a bit more confident now, than I ever have been, because I didn't even know how to send an email. It made me a lot more positive with what you can use on a phone as I had no idea at all. I'm in contact with family that I haven't been in contact with in a long time. I find that a great bonus because there was no way of my daughter and I being in contact with each other. She's 14 and wants to ask questions and I feel it's opening up a friendship on the horizon." Supported person
"Since [M] had the phone, the bond and links with support is completely like night and day. She's available to us and we're available to her. The phone was the link that pulled it together. That was what helped us sustain the tenancy." Kevin, Support Worker
We said we would explore options for taking forward personal housing plans; ensure a child wellbeing assessment is undertaken where children are homeless; publish the first modules of the housing options training toolkit and support frontline staff in their work with people experiencing homelessness.
The Scottish Government previously funded Shelter Scotland and Healthcare Improvement Scotland to explore the potential for developing a Scottish personal housing plan model. Our intention in looking more closely at personal housing planning was to support local authorities to better understand the wider support needs of households alongside their housing aspirations as part of housing options discussions. Shelter Scotland and South Lanarkshire Council worked together to pilot an approach to delivering personal housing planning in South Lanarkshire in order to understand what does and does not work. This was underpinned by an evidence and literature review to gather information on best practice approaches to personal housing plans and other types of housing planning across the UK. Following this, draft guidance and a personal housing plan template were developed for local authorities.
We received Shelter Scotland and Healthcare Improvement Scotland's final report, guidance and template in April 2021. Having considered the materials submitted, Scottish Government officials want to review in more detail the merits of implementing a personal housing plan model in Scotland. We also want to make sure that people with lived experience are involved in this work. It is not yet clear what additional benefits would be gained from implementing a standard personal housing plan approach, given the housing support assessments and outcome tools already in use, including Housing Options, Housing First, Better Futures and Homelessness Star. However, the Scottish Government will consult with local authorities in the housing options hubs on how best to ensure quality and consistency.
We recognise that homelessness is an adverse childhood experience with the potential for longer-term impacts. The Scottish Government is planning to include practical advice on what to cover in child wellbeing assessments in the updated code of guidance. We will make sure this advice is aligned with the plans for new legislation on children's rights.
- We have explored the potential for a Scottish personal housing plan model and note that there are existing and valid processes of recording people's needs and options. Building on the evidence provided by Shelter Scotland and Healthcare Improvement Scotland, the Scottish Government is now working with local authorities in the housing options hubs to understand the range of assessment processes in place with a view to ensuring a consistent service to homeless households wherever they are in Scotland. We will consider how different assessment processes are valued by people using the service.
- The Scottish Government will include practical advice on child wellbeing assessments in the updated code of guidance.
More detail on the actions we are taking to train and support frontline staff, including development of the housing options toolkit, appears later in this document.
We also promised to raise public awareness of homelessness and challenge stigma.
When we talk about homelessness, the words and images we use are important. People who have lived experience of homelessness tell us that they dislike some of the terms used as they can be stigmatising and dehumanising. The Scottish Government and COSLA are committed to changing this language to combat stigma and exclusion.
We know that to end homelessness in Scotland, we will need a powerful narrative to capture people's attention, improve understanding of the structural factors that lead to homelessness and show that homelessness is not inevitable.
- In March 2021, we worked with partners on a set of style guidelines, Responsibly communicating homelessness, for use by all those who write about homelessness, including politicians, journalists, providers of statutory services and third sector organisations. The guide is designed to ensure the language we use is not detrimental to the people we are trying to support.
- Crisis promoted the guidelines through its social media channels and sent them to the Scottish Parliamentary Journalists' Association.
- Plans for an in-person event to contextualise the guidelines were delayed because of the pandemic. However, Crisis is planning a future event for journalists in Scotland.
- We will further promote the style guidelines and evaluate their impact during 2022.
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