Nicola Sturgeon has been urged to intervene to halt a plan to cut homeless services in Glasgow by £2.6 million because it undermines government policies to eradicate homelessness.
The calls come after Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership (GCHSCP) passed recommendations to make “savings” by reducing emergency and supported accommodation beds for homeless people across the city.
Presenting the paper at the partnership’s Integration Joint Board meeting on 8 May, Susanne Miller, chief operations officer for GCHSCP, claimed that the “difficult decisions” were being made as the city transitioned to the Housing First model.
Under the model, which is being adopted by five of Scotland’s cities, people who are homeless are given a permanent flat and required support is put in place around them. It challenges the old presumption that people must go into supported hostels while addressing addiction and other issues to become “tenancy ready”.
The city also claims it is moving to a “rapid rehousing” approach, to address the fact that many are in temporary accommodation for months and years.
However critics said that suggesting the cuts were justified by the new approach was “a red herring”. According to the Scottish Housing Regulator city authorities are regularly unable to fulfil legal duties to provide temporary accommodation because demand outstrips supply.
Fears have been raised that getting rid of temporary accommodation before there is adequate Housing First stock in place, will lead to more on the streets.
Opposition politicians including Pauline McNeill, MSP for Glasgow Kelvin, and Scottish Labour’s housing spokesperson, said they planned to raise the issue at First Minister’s questions.
Mike Dailly, lead solicitor at Govan Law Centre argued that Sturgeon must intervene. The centre is forced to threaten the council with legal action on behalf of those turned away from homeless services “week in, week out”, he said.
The cuts of £2.6m, reported by The Ferret, will be made to emergency and supported accommodation offered by the Simon Community, the Scottish Association of Mental Health (SAMH), the Talbot Association, Aspire and others.
Miller told members of the Integration Joint Board that savings had been rationalised in terms of their strategic relevance, effectiveness and the demand on them. The need to reduce budgets by £2m was agreed last March.
She claimed that that not all of the accommodation services were running at capacity, meaning the cuts translated into a loss of 68 beds. The Ferret understands that the total numbers of beds across the services is 89 and that some are full.
Targets for Housing First show that a total of 93 beds will be provided in Glasgow by the Housing First pathway – funded by the Scottish Government, Social Bite, Merchants House and the Cora Foundation – but many are already occupied. Just 30 are due to be added between July and the end of September.
Miller added: “It has always been very clear that we need to make savings – that has been known for quite some time. [But] I still think we are on the brink of effecting real and significant change. I genuinely believe that.”
However concerns were raised by third sector representatives at the meeting including Shona Stephen, chief executive of Queens Cross Housing Association. “The cuts impact wholly on the third sector,” she said.
“People were taken aback at how those conversations went. There’s no doubt about the commitment to Housing First where appropriate but it’s not appropriate for everyone. We were working in partnership and this has come as a sideswipe to people.”
Despite widespread agreement that Housing First was “the right direction of travel” others claimed the cuts were “counterproductive” while one member warned of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”.
Miller apologised for the lack of consultation, accepting it was an “old-fashioned” way of working on which she claimed the GCHSCP’s hands were tied by procurement procedure. But she rejected the sideswipe accusation.
After lengthy debate the recommendations were agreed, with support expressed for Housing First principles.
The over-arching problem is that we don’t have enough emergency accommodation to meet the demand. The reduction in beds is directly undermining the Scottish Government strategy in ending homelessness together. Mike Dailly, Govan Law Centre
However Mike Dailly described the decision as “very sad” adding: “The GCSCHP are effectively taking one step forward and ten back with this.”
He claimed that Housing First policy was being used as a “red herring” to distract from cuts that could see more turned away from services and ending up at risk on the streets.
“The over-arching problem is that we don’t have enough emergency accommodation to meet the demand. The reduction in beds is directly undermining the Scottish Government strategy in ending homelessness together. Not only does it put that strategy in jeopardy but it threatens the lives of vulnerable homeless people.
“The Scottish Government’s ambition is world class but this will prevent us from getting there. I would like to see the Scottish Government put pressure on the partnership, and for this to be reconsidered.”
Pauline McNeill MSP added: “I think it’s serious that Scotland’s largest city is cutting its homeless budget by this amount. There has to be a way for the Scottish Government to intervene here.
“If we whip away that sort of money before Housing First and rapid rehousing have had a chance to bed in then I really worry about what is going to happen.”
A spokeswoman for GCHSCP said: “Glasgow’s homeless services are being transformed to ensure they are fit for the 21st century and that no one spends longer than necessary in temporary accommodation.
“Rapid rehousing is our aim and all service users affected by these plans will move to either Housing First tenancies, mainstream tenancies or have appropriate support provided from alternative care group resources.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Our Budget allocates £11.2 billion for councils – a real terms increase of £310 million.
“Local authorities are autonomous bodies, and it is the responsibility of individual councils to manage their own budgets and to allocate the total financial resources available to them on the basis of local needs and priorities, having first fulfilled their statutory obligations and the jointly agreed set of national and local priorities.
“Glasgow City Council will receive over £1.4 billion to fund local services in 2019-20, which taken with the council’s decision to increase council tax by 3%, means an additional £67 million (4.8%) to support the delivery of essential local services compared to 2018-19.”