The SNP fails again – Scottish homeless death rate three times worse than England's

The SNP fails again – Scottish homeless death rate three times worse than England's

by Max Young
article from Monday 1, March, 2021

IT ONLY TAKES a few scratches for the SNP’s progressive sheen to begin wearing away. Beneath it, an ugly truth – the nationalist party is unconcerned with providing basic standards for the people it claims to represent.  

The statistics speak for themselves. 

The worst homeless death rate in Britain 

Scotland’s homeless death rate is currently the worst in Britain, at a rate of 52.2 per million of the population aged 15-74 compared to just 18.0 in England and 14.3 in Wales. That’s a death rate three-times higher than that in England. 

This figure includes those found dead in the street and in temporary homeless accommodation, which includes homeless B&Bs and hostels.

The average age at death for homeless people was 43-years-old for males and 39-years-old for females. 

The causes of homelessness are complex but for the number of deaths of homeless people to be three times higher in Scotland than England cannot be brushed off lightly nor blamed on others. The Scottish Government must take responsibility.

National Records of Scotland data shows that homeless deaths have been increasing for at least three years in a row now, from 164 in 2017 to 216 in 2019. Inverclyde holds the title for the highest homeless death rate at 213.2 deaths per million.  

In 2019/2020, 31,333 households were assessed as homeless or threatened with homelessness. That is a 4 per cent rise on the previous year. Those households contain 51,365 people, 15,711 of which are children. 

11,665 households were in temporary accommodation as of the 31st of March last year, an increase of 676, or 6 per cent compared to 2019.  

4,595 homeless households were not offered temporary accommodation by the state in 2019/20. 3,835 of them could be found in Glasgow.  

Covid not to blame

This data was collected up until the 31st of March 2020, which means the Scottish figures included only one week of Coronavirus restrictions. Gordon MacRae, assistant director of Shelter Scotland, said, “figures show that Scotland’s homelessness system was failing people even before the pandemic hit.” 

Councils are continually allowed to break the rules on who can be put where and for how long when it comes to homelessness. For the third year running Edinburgh City Council places the most pregnant women and children in unsuitable accommodation, breaking the rules 375 times

Once the pandemic hit, the SNP rushed to house the homeless in accommodation like hostels and hotels, but the founder of Kindness Homeless Street Team Laura McSorley reports that some in temporary housing only receive a small box of cereal and a piece of fruit every day from the Scottish government. Crisis also warns that conditions in this accommodation are often terrible, lacking in furnishing and with only a kettle for kitchen appliances.  

As always, the SNP was quick to blame the UK government. Housing minister Kevin Stewart decried a “shortfall of over £500m in consequentials for housing as a result of decisions taken in the UK government’s Spending Review last autumn.” 

It would be easier to believe Mr Stewart if £2.7 billion of UK Government Covid-19 support funds weren’t unaccounted for, or if the SNP wasn’t ploughing ahead with its mega-spend projects such as the newly created Scottish National Investment Bank, for which the SNP has earmarked £2 billion, or yet another £50m to the delayed disaster that is the Ferguson Marine ferry-building fiasco. How much the SNP really care about the homeless is demonstrated by their decision to slash the Affordable Housing Supply Programme next year by more than £100m, a full 16%. 

The SNP cannot blame Westminster for this one. Neither can it claim that it is doing everything it can – actions during the pandemic prove this is a matter of political will. Does Sturgeon have the will to protect Scotland’s most vulnerable? These figures speak to a worrying answer.

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Max Young is an undergraduate student at Edinburgh University

Photo of rough-sleeping homeless man in Edinburgh from Shutterstock.

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