MORE than 7,000 Scots children were living in temporary accommodation as the Covid-19 pandemic began – the highest number since records began 18 years ago.

Statistics released by the Scottish Government reveal that 31,333 households were assessed as homeless in 2019/20 - a four per cent increase on the previous year – while 7,280 children were being sheltered in temporary accommodation as of March 31 – a seven per cent rise on the same time the previous year.

Campaigners have called for the Scottish Government to "uphold their promises to homeless people" amid fears of a "long-term crisis".

A total of 51,365 people were homeless in Scotland in 2019/20 - 35,654 adults and 15,711 children.

As of March 31, there were a total of 11,665 households in temporary accommodation, 3,570 of which contained a pregnant woman or children – a five per cent rise.

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Glasgow had the highest number of homeless households in 2019/20 - with 5,262 and 17 per cent of Scotland’s total and a 12 per cent rise from the previous year. In Edinburgh, 3,355 households were homeless – a five per cent rise in the space of a year.

Local authorities are required by law to offer temporary accommodation to homeless households – but during 2019/20, Glasgow City Council did not offer the shelter on 3,835 occasions – whereas across Scotland, the number was 4,595.

Edinburgh City Council breached unsuitable accommodation laws, where a pregnant woman or a child is in unsuitable accommodation for more than seven days, 375 times out of 500 breaches across Scotland.

Shelter Scotland's assistant director for communications and advocacy, Gordon MacRae said: “These figures show that Scotland’s homelessness system was failing people even before the pandemic hit.

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“We had rising homelessness and record numbers of people in temporary accommodation before the lockdown. Local authorities were already struggling to cope with the level of housing need. And since then the situation has gotten a lot worse.

“The Scottish Government took swift action in the early days of the pandemic to get rough sleepers off the streets, protect people from eviction and limit the amount of time anyone could spend in unsuitable temporary accommodation. They pledged not to go backwards on homelessness as we emerged from the crisis."

He added: “Now is the time for ministers to uphold their promises to homeless people. Government and local authorities must urgently step up and significantly increase the supply of suitable accommodation.”

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“Otherwise a short-term success could become a long-term crisis, with more and more people trapped in unsuitable temporary accommodation, or forced back on to the streets.”

Officials who drew up the statistics have stressed that the data “only crosses over with around a week of coronavirus restrictions” - concluding that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the statistics “will be minimal”. But snapshot data on temporary accommodation on March 31 may be impacted by the beginning of the lockdown.

Housing Minister Kevin Stewart said: “Today’s figures are a reminder about why we are committed to ending homelessness and rough sleeping. They do not reflect the progress made to dramatically reduce the numbers of people sleeping rough during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Since the start of the crisis, we have provided more than £1.5 million to third sector partners to accommodate those experiencing homelessness in hotels. This builds on our £32.5 million investment to support local authorities to prioritise settled accommodation for all.”

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He added: “Our priority is now to prevent anyone from ending up back on the streets or in unsuitable temporary accommodation.

“To help us achieve this, the homelessness and rough sleeping action group recently made a series of recommendations which we will respond to fully next month.

“In the interim, our partners have closed night shelters to explore alternative self-contained options for the coming winter, with a view to phasing out such shelters completely in the long term. Additionally, as previously announced, we also intend to extend emergency legislation designed to protect renters from eviction.”