Scotland’s homelessness legislation was once hailed as the strongest in the world. So good was it that the then Scottish Executive was confident enough to declare it would end rough sleeping by 2003.

That target was missed (under Labour) as has it been since then under the SNP. Most recently it was restated in August by a Scottish Government which says tackling and preventing homelessness is a key priority.

But it is not being prevented. With councils fielding nearly 35,000 homeless applications last year, it is on the rise.

Volunteers at Glasgow’s Wayside Club, which has provided meals for roofless citizens since 1932, say the problem is at its worst for 60 years. Visible evidence of rough sleeping is unmissable in all our cities.

Shelter Scotland releases data today showing its housing advice service is receiving more calls than ever before. Last year 21,290 people sought the charity’s help and 46 per cent of calls were from people fearful of losing their homes. Shelter says the situation amounts to a “national housing emergency”. Despite good intentions and good legislation, homelessness is back. But why?

Stagnant wages and the rising cost of living are one explanation. Meanwhile Scotland still has a shortage of affordable housing, and tens of thousands of homes are still classed as ‘below tolerable standard’.

UK Government austerity policies are a major factor too, however. Under the guise of “welfare reform” punitive sanctions have been applied to people not deemed to be meeting rules on job-seeking, amid claims of arbitrary and unfair decisions and allegations of sanction targets for job centre staff. Meanwhile the move from the old Disability Living Allowance to the new Personal Independence Payments has seen almost half of claimants lose out, sometimes losing their entire claim.

While Westminster policies – as well as the ‘hostile environment’ immigration strategies which aim to leave people destitute – are a major factor holding back efforts to tackle homelessness, the Scottish Government cannot be absolved from blame. A commitment from ministers to build 50,000 affordable homes as part of a £3bn investment programme is belated, but welcome. Equally valuable is spending to mitigate the worst welfare cuts.

Criticism of the SNP on the issue from Labour is somewhat disingenuous – its record in Government was broadly similar in terms of failure to tackle Scotland’s chronic housing crisis.

But the fact that there are still 160,000 people on housing waiting lists should trouble us all. Homelessness is too costly, in terms of the spending we all contribute to, and in terms of the misery of the individuals and families affected.