Every two minutes someone faces losing their home.
That fact is taken from the Shelter website. It’s not a historic statistic but a stark reminder of the times we are living through. It reminds me of Ken Loach’s film about homelessness, Cathy Come Home, and the impact that made on me and another 12 million people who watched it when first broadcast in 1966. Today the film still features on the Shelter website. Homelessness is still with us.
Housing is now the key factor determining a person’s health, wellbeing, and prospects in life, according to Shelter Scotland (http://scotland.shelter.org.uk). Yet Right to Buy and a lack of new building (only 583 dwellings were built by local authorities in Scotland in 2010/11) and properties in serious disrepair, mean over 156,000 households in Scotland languish on council waiting lists, with just under 11,000 households stuck in temporary accommodation.
In 2011/12 councils in Scotland received a total of 45,322 homelessness applications, a welcome 19% decrease on the 2010/11 figure. Of these applications 91% were assessed as priority need. 34% of applicants were also assessed as having one or more support needs. Priority need gives an entitlement to settled accommodation, while those assessed as non-priority are entitled only to temporary accommodation, advice and assistance.
Relationship breakdown is the main cause of homelessness applications. Almost half the applications (46%) were from those who had previously been living with friends or family, with single men forming the largest percentage, twice the number of single women. Rent arrears or mortgage default accounted for around 5% of applications in 2011-12, while 5% of applications were from those leaving prison/ hospital/ care or some other institution.
Despite towns and cities sprouting property for sale signs, official figures show that during 2011-12 applications from owner occupiers citing mortgage default as the reason for their homelessness was 39% lower than in the same period in 2010-11. This though is against a background of an increase in the notifications from creditors intending to start repossession proceedings against homeowners from around 2,000 per quarter in 2009 and 2010 to over 4,000 in Jan-March 2011, and since then remaining at much the same level. So homelessness remains a threat to many.
Rough sleeping in 2011-12 accounted for 4% of homelessness applicants, with Edinburgh accounting for the highest percentage (10%) and Moray (9%) with some councils reporting no rough sleepers in their areas.
Despite the apparent opulence, gadgetry and good living of recent years, and the encouraging trend of these figures, too many people still fall between the cracks of a society that is becoming more unequal instead of less, a society where the growth in charity run food banks is not enough to meet the demand from families in need. In Scotland today one in five people are now at risk of slipping into poverty with 17 per cent of people in work now cited as living in relative poverty.
My play See them ratsis about three homeless guys who feel let down by society, yet still want to conform to most of
its values. They found one another and an unconventional place to stay and feel they have become a family, perhaps less of a dysfunctional family than what usually passes as the norm, as they discover.
When I was involved with tourism, a phrase VisitScotland people often repeated was that tourism is everyone’s business. Sylvia, the sculptor in my play, decides that homelessness and inequality are her business and does something about it.
The statistics given here are not part of my play, but they form the background against which it is set. My play isn’t about statistics and it doesn’t preach. See them rats is about people, homeless people, trying to get their lives together. It is touching and rather funny. Come along to one of the performances and see for yourself. More details soon.