Homelessness is a universal issue in Scotland
A new report reveals how the introduction of Universal Credit has contributed to homelessness in Scotland.
The report highlights how people can lose their homes due to problems with the five-week wait to receive the first payment, and sanctions which lead to payments being withdrawn if claimants don’t meet certain conditions.
Scottish Government analysis in the report, titled Homelessness and Universal Credit, shows:
Universal Credit has resulted in some tenants being forced into rent arrears and evictions and has contributed to relationship and mental health problems.
The Universal Credit caseload has nearly doubled since the beginning of 2020, meaning more people than ever are at risk of being negatively affected.
Social Security Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “While a variety of circumstances can contribute to homelessness, this report paints a stark picture of how people can be plunged into poverty by a poorly executed social security system.
“The UK welfare system must be made fit for purpose with damaging reforms reversed. It is disappointing the UK Government plans to cut the £20-per-week uplift in Universal Credit payments in six months’ time and that they have refused to expand it to legacy benefits.
“Despite predictions of an increase in unemployment of half a million across the UK, unemployment support is being cut to its lowest level since 1990 and the decision to freeze local housing allowance rates from April 2021 will push more people into poverty and put them at risk of homelessness.”
The five-week wait for Universal Credit can push many households into financial difficulties, particularly when a claim is likely to have followed job loss or another change of circumstance.
Alison Watson, director of Shelter Scotland, said: “The five-week wait for Universal Credit leaves people worried sick that they will lose their home and indeed some are swept into the homelessness system as a result.
“It’s not right that the social security safety net isn’t enough to keep people’s heads above water during times of crisis.
“Like other organisations working with people in poverty, we are calling on the UK Government to retain the £20 a week uplift and to fix problems with Universal Credit.
“It’s also never been more important that the next Scottish Parliament sets the goal of reducing housing inequality by giving more people access to social homes.
"That’s why the next Scottish Government must go further than the current plans so that it builds social homes at a faster rate than demand is rising from families desperate from a safe, secure and affordable home.”
Research published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in 2020 found a strong link between Universal Credit and destitution, with the five-week wait cited as the most problematic aspect.
Scores of people battling with addiction are also being forced to choose between going into residential rehabilitation facilities or keeping their home.
Shelter Scotland has highlighted a flaw in the support system whereby people with a home who require housing benefit to help pay their rent, but who need to enter residential rehabilitation, are often faced with an impossible choice.
This is because many rehabilitation facilities are not funded by the Scottish Government or Local Authorities and require the person to claim housing benefit.
Alison Watson, the charity’s director, said: “This is causing a great deal of distress and, in one tragic case, a client lost his life as he left rehab early as he was so concerned he would lose his home. We’re asking for an emergency fund to be set up.”