Ending homelessness together: updated action plan - October 2020

Updated Ending Homelessness Together action plan, outlining how national government, local government and third sector partners will work together on our shared ambition to end homelessness. It has been revised to reflect actions needed in response to the global coronavirus pandemic.

Actions we will take 1: we will embed a person-centred approach 

Setting the scene

The Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) published Ending Homelessness Together, our national plan for ending homelessness, in November 2018. We formally reported on the positive progress made against the actions in that plan in our annual report of January 2020. This updated plan builds on the original action plan in light of the pandemic; it does not replace it. Scotland’s Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group will be responsible for overseeing the delivery of our plans and driving joined up action across the public and third sectors.

When the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic in March 2020, partners in Scotland’s housing and third sector pivoted to meet urgent needs for safe accommodation. We had to temporarily pause some longer term and strategic activity; however, the learning about what works in preventing and responding to homelessness has continued. Our work to transform the homelessness system in Scotland is now resuming in a phased and prioritised way. This updated action plan sets out our plans for tackling homelessness with renewed impetus and strengthened cooperation.

A home is much more than bricks and mortar and homelessness is not just a housing problem. A home provides security, a sense of wellbeing and is somewhere to put down roots. It is a place to make connections with friends, family and the wider community 

and to access services. For some people, homelessness is linked to more complex needs and difficult life and institutional experiences; for others, there may only be a requirement for light-touch services or practical support. Whatever wider needs people have, we are clear that everyone needs a safe, warm, secure home and no-one should be denied this.

Person-centred and trauma-informed approaches

We know that to be most effective, services should be trauma-informed, person-centred and tailored to reflect individual needs and circumstances. This means understanding the ways in which adverse and traumatic experiences in childhood and later life contribute to homelessness. 

The Scottish Government is committed to developing a trauma-informed workforce across Scotland, supported by over £1.5 million investment in a national trauma training programme, led by NHS Education for Scotland. The national trauma training programme is overseen by a steering group, chaired by the Deputy First Minister, with representation from senior leaders across all sectors of the workforce including housing and adult protection, as well as experts by experience. The programme will continue to support local authorities and community planning partners across Scotland to drive forward progress in embedding trauma-informed practice across the workforce and services.

This programme has now delivered face-to-face training to over 7,000 people across our public services, including social workers, police officers and housing officers. Many thousands more have used online digital training resources, which are accessible across all sectors. Delivery trials are currently underway in Glasgow, Argyll and Bute and Midlothian. Through the trials, we are looking at different approaches to delivery, including partnerships with third sector providers. Our ambition is to ensure we have trauma-informed workforces and services to help minimise distress, overcome barriers and build trust. Whatever the level of need, people must have the right support to prevent homelessness happening in the first place and to stop it recurring in future.

Scotland’s modernised (post-2012) legislative framework delivers strong housing rights and puts the individual at the centre of homelessness policy. Indeed, a person’s rights, needs and aspirations are the starting point for the current delivery of housing options services in Scotland (‘housing options’ is the advice process that councils use when someone approaches them with a housing problem). Further improvements could, however, be achieved by continuing to develop person-centred approaches, such as those taken in Housing First, and this will be underpinned by the personal housing plan approach we are now developing.

“Housing First has helped me a lot, my support worker has been great. Anytime I have a problem, my support worker helps me to solve it.”[1]

We and our partners are committed to working together to design housing and homelessness services around the needs of individuals, and not around how the public sector is organised, as described in the Scottish approach to service design. Organisations that work together in a responsive and person-centred way can help people out of a difficult situation more efficiently and effectively. Ending homelessness depends on all public services working together and playing their part in ensuring people have stable homes. This is the thinking that informed the creation of the Prevention Review Group, which will make recommendations to the Scottish Government for new legal duties on all relevant public bodies to prevent homelessness[2]

Promoting equality

Health and socioeconomic inequalities have been brought into sharp focus by the pandemic. Now is the time to examine more closely the range of inequalities faced by people experiencing homelessness, recognise the differential impact of gender, and build a fairer society.

The Social Renewal Advisory Board is supporting our thinking in this area. This board is advising the Scottish Government on how to build a stronger, fairer and more equal Scotland for the postpandemic period. Proposals are being developed by a series of expert discussion groups known as ‘policy circles’. One of these circles is focusing on the housing system. Others are considering age and disability; addressing low income; community-led place based renewal; cross 

cutting delivery; financial security; access to food; the third sector; and communities and volunteering. Initial recommendations from the board are included in our programme for government 2020/21. The board is now developing further proposals on social renewal and will set these out in a report later in the year.

As part of our commitment to embed a person-centred approach, we set out actions in our annual report to develop a better understanding of women’s experiences of homelessness. We know that the risks, causes and paths into homelessness are different for men and women. We need to understand these differences to respond to homelessness effectively. We will continue to work with partners to ensure that policies and practice development are informed by a gendered analysis of homelessness. 

Having safe accommodation is fundamental for women’s – and their children’s – safety and wellbeing. At the start of the outbreak, Fife Council saw a spike in domestic abuse enquiries. Working closely with Fife Women’s Aid, the council provided an additional six properties for refuge. Housing support was made available through the Fife Public Social Partnership to support the women and children. The council is now focused on sourcing permanent housing for the families.

We are also committed to understanding the experiences of groups with other protected characteristics so that we can better meet people’s needs and help everyone find routes out of homelessness.

The homelessness prevention pathways, the work of the Prevention Review Group, personal housing plans, rapid rehousing transition plans and our work on improving housing outcomes for women and children experiencing domestic abuse will all benefit from embedding a richer understanding of the varied experiences of women and men. 

In developing this updated action plan, we considered relevant evidence for each protected characteristic. This evidence will inform the equality impact assessments we conduct as we transform the new actions into policy and practice. We will strive to ensure our actions and commitments reflect the needs and experiences of different individuals and households experiencing homelessness. 

To improve our understanding of the age, gender and ethnicity of homeless applicants, the Scottish Government will continue to publish equality breakdowns of the homelessness statistics. The Scottish Government will review homelessness data collections and ensure we are capturing appropriate data to understand the experiences of people with other equality characteristics in the future.

Recognising that people’s outcomes are simultaneously affected by multiple factors and disadvantages, an intersectional approach is required if we are to fully understand individual needs and risks in the post COVID-19 period, as well as any gaps in our plans for recovery and renewal. 

The Scottish Government has published evidence on how COVID-19 has different impacts on different groups of the population. The evidence highlights that women are more likely to be unpaid carers and are overrepresented in health and social care jobs. This is likely to put them at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Women are the vast majority of lone parents. Their disproportionate share of caring responsibilities may also make it harder to maintain or take on employment. Women account for the majority of employment in many of the shutdown sectors, such as retail, accommodation and food and beverage services. Women earn less than men on average, are less likely to be eligible for sick pay, and are overrepresented in many of the sectors where median hourly pay will fall below the current rate of the real living wage if employers do not bridge the 20% shortfall for furloughed staff. 

We will build on this evidence to understand the impact of COVID-19 on the risk of homelessness for particular groups and reflect this in our policies.

Policies that reflect the real world

The policy process must be informed by up-to-date evidence and should take account of ideas and experience from the frontline. We have heard from people with lived experience of homelessness how important it is to have access to clear information, support and advocacy during a public health crisis. 

We will continue to ensure that the voices of people with lived experience and those working on the frontline are at the heart of what we are doing to end homelessness. We remain committed to working closely with and listening to the Change Team[3] and to engaging with the Prevention Commission[4]. This will ensure the recommendations are grounded in real life experience of what works to prevent homelessness.

We will continue to support the Change Team to work with and advise the Homelessness Prevention and Strategy Group, ensuring people with lived experience help shape policy and practice. 

We will strengthen the role and influence of the Change Team and ensure they draw on a diverse range of lived experience as they do so. This means that those affected by housing and homelessness policies are engaged in the policy-making process and have the opportunity to feed in their views and offer constructive challenge to policy makers.

Personal housing plans

Personal housing plans are an important way to ensure people receive the support, information and advice they need as they access emergency accommodation during the pandemic.

Shelter Scotland and the Improvement Hub (ihub) – part of Healthcare Improvement Scotland – are working together to develop a personal housing plan model in two phases. Based on its extensive experience in this area, Shelter Scotland is drawing together an analysis of models used elsewhere, identifying features that embed choice and control for people. The design phase is underway and a report is due in early 2021.

Once this work is complete, we will incorporate a personal housing plan model in the updated code of guidance on homelessness, including practical advice and expectations around timescales for delivery. 

Child wellbeing assessments

We want to support the homelessness system to respond more appropriately to the shared requirements of parents and children. Recognising that the majority of single parent households making a homelessness application are mothers and children, a gendered understanding of their needs is particularly important.

We will draw on examples of models used elsewhere as we take forward development work around child wellbeing assessments, with the aim of ensuring that children in households experiencing homelessness have any additional learning or support needs met as the household is supported to access settled accommodation. 

We will work with children’s services and children’s organisations, local authorities and partners, as well as people with lived experience, to establish how to best deliver child rights and wellbeing assessments. We will also consider how best to link this with the personal housing plan model.

Digital access

The digital world is not a substitution for human contact but having digital expertise is a great enabler. The pandemic has highlighted that internet access is a basic necessity and not a luxury. People must have the ability and the equipment to access the information, support and advice they need. Recognising that not everyone has the same digital access and skills, we will support those who need it to access equipment, data and training. 

The importance of digital access will be reflected in planning at an individual level in the personal housing plans, and at a local authority level through rapid rehousing transition planning.

Connecting Scotland is a Scottish Government programme set up in response to COVID-19. It provides iPads, Chromebooks and support to develop digital skills for people who are digitally excluded and on low incomes. Phase two of the programme launched in August 2020. It is targeted at households with children (including pregnant women with no child in the household) and care leavers up to the age of 26. 

Public awareness of homelessness and challenging stigma

We regularly hear from those with experience of homelessness about the stigma they face when going through housing and other crises. We are determined to change the narrative on homelessness. 

We have a rich bank of positive stories from frontline homelessness services on how our collective response to the virus has already improved outcomes for individuals. 

“Housing First is the best thing ever. To have the opportunity to start a new life. Through lockdown, staff have been fantastic. I get along with all the staff, they are all amazing.”

We must get better at sharing stories about successes. We need to inspire and motivate the public and the media, and raise the aspirations of people experiencing homelessness to show that ending homelessness is possible.

We will continue to work with our partners in the housing sector to challenge stigma and improve public perceptions of homelessness. We have joined forces to develop a set of style guidelines. These are designed to support the media to understand its role in challenging stigma and to raise awareness of the underlying structural causes of homelessness. 

We will organise a virtual event for Scotland’s media industry later in 2020 to promote and share the style guidelines. We will also ensure that all Scottish Government communication on housing and homelessness is designed to reduce stigma and encourage discussion about homelessness. 


Email: Homelessness_External_Mail@gov.scot

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