28 May 2013

Having and Keeping a Home

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is an Equal Opportunities Committee debate on “Having and keeping a home: steps to preventing homelessness among young people”.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I entered this Parliament, after a by-election, on 13 June 2001. Five other colleagues who are present now were there on that particular day. They will recall that, immediately after being sworn in, I was thrown in at the deep end to stage 3 consideration of the Housing (Scotland) Bill.

Linda Fabiani was the first member to speak in today’s debate whom I heard on that day. The proceedings were extremely confusing and long, and they took place in a cramped chamber up the road, which got very sweaty on a warm summer day. Therefore, it is appropriate to return to the subject of housing.

I have the Christian name “Stewart”, which is the family name that comes from many of my ancestors who were Travellers. They were not, of course, people who were homeless, but people who moved around Scotland with their home, although a number of my rather distant ancestors were homeless from time to time.

I was brought up in relatively comfortable circumstances in a large house with a large garden, but homelessness was not that far away from us. A gentleman of the road, whose surname was Stewart, used to stay with us in the bottom of the garden for a month each year; he used to get soup from the kitchen. I suspect that, to some extent, he was homeless through choice—perhaps he was reconciled to his circumstances—but in today’s modern society, particularly in urban areas, being homeless is nothing like a cushy number.

We must think about the consequences that legislation can sometimes have. Homelessness touched on my personal circumstances on another occasion as a consequence of the introduction of the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1962, which changed the rules for the licensing of hotels on Sundays. Up to that point, a hotel could sell drink on a Sunday only if there were people resident in it. In consequence, hotels offered huge discounts for people to stay in them—each hotel had someone who lived in it at a low cost. When the legislation changed, all those people were thrown out and became homeless. One of them was a patient of my father. He was a poor wee soul. He was a former soldier who could just about get by. After becoming homeless, he lived in the caravan in our front garden for a year.

Many of the homelessness issues that we deal with are a result of highly diverse circumstances. For me, as for other members, the circumstances that matter most are those in which people have become homeless through mental ill health. I worked as a psychiatric nurse for about seven or eight months between school and university, and many of the people who were in psychiatric hospitals in the early 1960s were people who could not—in the circumstances that then prevailed—live independently. Some of them had been homeless and then ended up with us. It was fundamental that their condition was based on distorted perceptions of the world, which required special training to deal with.

Anyone who has met, dealt with, lived with or looked after someone suffering from mental ill health will understand that. Some of the people in our ward—we had 32 beds—were there because of substance abuse, whether alcohol or other substances. Mental ill health is a particularly potent source of problems.

Historically, the support for mental ill health among the young has never been particularly good, and trying to throw them into the adult system has never really worked. Such young people become very disconnected from their peers as they grow up, so that they end up as adults who find it very difficult to cope with life. Objectively, that is not only a huge cost but a lost opportunity to the individuals and to society as a whole.

We have heard talk of finance, and we talk about training youngsters with relatively modest amounts of money in financial management. I cannot help but remember that when I was a youngster we had a local savings bank in most of our big towns. We had one in Cupar, where I was brought up. The bank came to the school and we all put a little bit of money away each week and learned a little bit, by practical application, about how to manage money and defer the gratification of spending all our money now for a future objective for which we would aggregate it.

One of the great disgraces that I think the Tories were responsible for was the selling off of the Trustee Savings Bank and turning it into just an ordinary bank with much less of a social attitude and conscience than it previously had. Not every kid is lucky enough to have a George Adam bank of dad, and many kids find managing money difficult.

Of course, we expect financial management of a high standard from the people who are least able to do that: those with the least capability and least money. In all honesty, I do not really count the money out of my pocket as I spend it, and I suspect that none of us here is in the kind of income bracket in which we have to do that.

The situation of youngsters in care or coming out of care presents huge problems as well. That is a regular feature of the constituency case work that I undertake, and I am sure that that is the case for all members.

The committee has treated an issue of huge importance in a serious and useful way, but many of the reasons for homelessness are not necessarily based on rational failings. Mental ill health means irrationality, so I hope that we can support in particular those who suffer from mental ill health.


Stewart Stevenson
does not gather, use or
retain any cookie data.

However Google who publish for us, may do.
fios ZS is a name registered in Scotland for Stewart Stevenson

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP