Record numbers of Edinburgh children in temporary accommodation

Across Scotland, children are being forced to live in temporary accommodation.
Across Scotland, children are being forced to live in temporary accommodation.
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Record numbers of Edinburgh children are being forced to live in temporary accommodation.

Crippling rent rises and a surge in zero-hour contracts alongside the demise of the oil industry and a cap on benefits have combined to tip thousands of families into despair.

Now, Scottish Government statistics show there have never been more youngsters growing up in hostels and bed & breakfasts.

At the end of March, there were 781 children in Edinburgh without a stable home, the highest figure since records began in 2002 and a 58% rise on the same time last year.

Unprecedented numbers were also seen in West Lothian (314; up 31%), East Lothian (251; up 36%) and Aberdeen (117; up 75%).

There were also large rises in Glasgow, Dundee and Lanarkshire.

Robert Aldridge, chief executive of Homeless Action Scotland, claimed Scottish children are suffering as a result.

He said: “Children should not have to grow up in a hostel or a B&B because it deprives them of the conditions they need for their educational and emotional development.

“They may not have a space to play or do their homework; they can be far away from their school so can’t participate in normal relationships with their peers.

“They can’t put down roots and that will affect how well they do at school.

“These figures are a stark warning that housing policy is failing to cope with market forces and austerity.”

The scale of the crisis was laid bare in Government data published last week.

Homeless applications have been falling year-on-year since 2008/09 and dipped a further 2% in 2016/17.

But it’s low-paid families who are increasingly feeling the pinch.

Across Scotland, the number of children in temporary digs peaked at 6268 in 2008.

Now, though, the figure is climbing fast, up 16% last year from 5223 to 6041.

Within that total, the tale is worse in our four major cities where the rise is an alarming 28% from 2078 to 2660.

Away from urban centres, places such as Highland and the Western Isles have also seen surges.

At the same time, Citylets data shows the average rent for a two-bedroomed flat in Edinburgh soared 7% from £870 per month to £928 with Glasgow up 5% from £721 to £756.

Meanwhile, the number of people on zero-hours contracts across the UK has soared from 800,000 to 910,000 in only 12 months.

Mr Aldridge said: “The fact there are hotspots where there is a rapid explosion in numbers of families in temporary accommodation shows the housing market is volatile, something people on fixed incomes can struggle to cope with.

“Rents are going through the roof in some parts.

“Edinburgh tends to feel that uplift more than anywhere in Scotland, but demand for property in the capital is also enormous at the moment.

“The city’s economy is very strong and so people have plenty of money to spend on rent.

“That forces up prices and once a family defaults and has to leave a property, it’s very difficult for them to get back into the market.”

Mr Aldridge added: “A lot of landlords would rather not have tenants in receipt of benefits, even if they’re hard-working people.

“They’d rather leave a property empty or put it up for weekend let as a party flat or Airbnb, which squeezes the supply of housing even more.

“The downturn in the oil industry means people have lost their jobs while a lot of landlords are selling their buy-to-let properties to release their investments.

“Add in the benefits cap which is cutting the budgets of some families and that more jobs are coming with zero-hours contracts and it easy to see how just a small rise in rents can be devastating for the working poor of Scotland.

“They find themselves with no other option than to approach their council and apply for homeless status and, because social housing is not being built quickly enough to cope with the demand, they end up in temporary accommodation.

“We need a major debate about how to increase the supply of affordable homes and access to them for those on low incomes.”

Scottish Labour’s housing spokesperson, Pauline McNeill MSP, described the situation as “distressing”.

She said: “We have to strive for a country where every child grows up in a stable home with a roof over their head.

“The root of this problem is insecure and low-paid work and a lack of affordable housing.

“A Labour Government will abolish zero-hour contracts, raise the living wage to £10 per hour and build 60,000 new affordable homes in Scotland.”

Earlier this year it was revealed more than a quarter of children in Scotland live in poverty.

Overall figures show that 1.05 million people in Scotland were in relative poverty after they had paid housing costs, which is up 2% from the previous year.

Equalities Secretary, Angela Constance, said the Scottish Government was working hard to reduce child poverty, but it was hampered by the UK Government’s “failed austerity agenda” and £1 billion of cuts to welfare spend in Scotland.

The picture of despair widened last week when it was revealed teachers are regularly dipping into their own pockets to pay for things for poorer pupils.

An EIS survey said teachers are personally providing food and funding school uniforms for children living in poverty. Some 51% said they or colleagues had taken steps to help less-affluent pupils.

Last night Mrs Constance said she was dismayed at the rise in children living rootless existences.

She said: “Whilst homelessness is falling, we were disappointed to see a rise in the numbers of families in temporary accommodation.

“We are increasing housing supply to help with this.

“We are also committed to ensuring all temporary accommodation is the same standard as permanent accommodation.

“The Minister for Housing met with local authorities in March to discuss action that needs to be taken to reduce the numbers in temporary accommodation.”