Last week’s Scottish Parliament debate on the “2012 target” (the commitment, laid down in 2003 by the previous Labour Executive, to eradicate “unintentional” homelessness by 2012), was a largely constructive affair.
Whilst members of all parties acknowleged the bravery and ambition of the target, they also recognised that progress towards realising it has been uneven across local authority boundaries, with some councils assessing 90% of applications as priority, and others only around 80%. The spirit of the commitment demands that it is achieved throughout Scotland: there is no room for homelessness in a modern, civilized society, irregardless of what part of the country you happen to live.
There is another aspect to this debate, however, which members failed to give voice to. Although it is generally accepted that the coalition’s Welfare Reform Bill will have a deleterious impact upon the attempt to reach our homelessness target, it has also presented the SNP Government with an opportunity to amend grants and provisions which, under the terms of the bill, will be devolved to Scotland. One such is the Community Care Grant.
In its current form, the Grant provides financial support for vulnerable applicants entering a new tenancy, providing them with a small but essential fund to purchase essential goods.
There are a number of problems with the grant in its current form. At present, applications to the grant are not accepted until notice of housing is received, causing a wholly unecessary delay. Under the successor arrangements, applicants should receive the grant along with the keys to their property. In addition to this, eligibility criteria for the grant, along with the appeals process, must be made simpler and more transparent. This will cut down on the volume of unecessary appeals and allow support workers to provide more accurate advice to applicants.
Finally, the ridiculous rules excluding those in receipt of other benefits – such as incapacity benefit – from applying for the grant must be removed. The grant should go to the neediest, whatever their circumstances.
When I proposed these changes to the grant during a debate last december, Alex Neil, Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment, appeared receptive. I am anxious to learn what action has been taken in the interim.
Tommy Morgan, Labour council candidate for Airdrie North, has kindly produced this informative leaflet for anyone requiring clarification on the Plains station proposals.