A surge of Scots children that would fill St Andrews were declared as homeless last year in a national scandal that has seen more than 160 die in housing limbo in Scotland's biggest city over four years, The Herald can reveal.

An investigation has revealed that every day 50 Scots children are being hit by homelessness while the numbers languishing in halfway house temporary accommodation because they cannot be found settled homes has hit record levels, having more than trebled in twenty years.

It has prompted a coalition of experts and anti-poverty campaigners to demand urgent action.

Some 18,400 children are included among the 64,000 Scots within families who have been seeking homelessness support from councils last year, despite widespread attempts to curb homelessness.

The estimates based on requested council and government evidence which lays bare the extent of the nation's homelessness crisis show nearly 1400 more children in families were seeking homelessness help from councils than there were in the pre-pandemic year of 2019.

Councils have seen a near 4800 rise in the number of Scots who were declaring they did not have a home to go to in just four years despite widespread attempts to curb homelessness.

One mother who lost her son while he was living in housing limbo has made an emotional plea for action to end the "dumping" of homeless people in hotels and bed and breakfasts as estimates show over 160 people have died in Glasgow alone since the pandemic while living in emergency accommodation.

(Image: Linda McVean)

It all comes six years after the Scottish Government launched an action plan to build affordable homes which was meant to curb homelessness, cut the use of temporary accommodation and rapidly rehouse people.

But so far it has not worked, with 4,700 households more stuck in housing limbo in 2023 than there were six years ago - a rise of 43% - with 15,625 in temporary accommodation last year - the highest for over 20 years. Over two decades, that number has trebled with just 5403 in the makeshift homes in 2003.

The number of children in the housing limbo has followed suit hitting new records. There were 9,860 children in such transitory homes towards the end of 2023, 3245 (49%) more than when ministers launched the action plan.

The homelessness charity Crisis said that the effect of the housing emergency on children was a "national scandal" and said that homelessness in Scotland was a "political choice".

"We can stand by and watch as more people are forced into homelessness – as more children are robbed of a childhood – or we can create a different future. We need to act now, to prevent homelessness from happening in the first place, and build a Scotland where everyone has a safe, secure place to call home. Because the status quo is not an option," the charity's chief executive Matt Downie said.

The national tenants' rights organisation Living Rent said that it was a crisis that was decades in the making and said: "This is a national disgrace and should shame our politicians into action".

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The Herald can reveal that councils have seen their spend on placing the homeless in temporary accommodation such as bed and breakfasts and hotels shoot up to over £720m of public money over the last five years because of the housing shortage.

Meanwhile the Scottish Government spend on affordable housing, seen as a pathway out of the crisis, has  seen cumulative cuts estimated at over £570m in real terms over three years.

Evidence from most of Scotland's 32 councils shows that as of this year, families were typically trapped in temporary homes for nearly half a year (155 days).

And the longest stays were averaging nearly three years across Scotland's councils.

As of March 31, last year there were 640 households that had been holed up in temporary accommodation for over three years, with 525 of those in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

It comes amidst growing alarm that not enough is being done after the Scottish Government finally declared a national housing emergency in May.

Ten local authorities have now declared a symbolic housing emergency - Glasgow, Edinburgh, Argyll and Bute, Fife, West Dunbartonshire, West Lothian , Scottish Borders, South Lanarkshire, Angus and Dumfries and Galloway citing housing shortages.

In Scotland's biggest city, there has been a fourfold rise in the number of children in temporary accommodation since 2003, from 685 to 2855 in 2023.

In the nation's capital Edinburgh, the rise has been much steeper, going from 240 to 2755.

The Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland said that child poverty and the housing emergency were "inextricably linked" and said: "If we are serious about wanting to end the child poverty and homelessness that has become such a disgraceful scar on our country all of us must be willing to pay our fair share toward the adequate social security, housing and childcare infrastructure that is needed for all our children to thrive."

The professional standards charity the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) in Scotland said the housing emergency needed "political action, not words" adding: "We need the Scottish Government and all political parties to work together to address the housing emergency, provide the long-term funding for building and make this THE political priority."

Housing charity Shelter Scotland said: "Scotland’s housing system is fundamentally broken and biased. If you need evidence for that then look no further than how it has failed so many children."

And the Scottish Tenants Organisation has called for the housing minister Paul McLennan to resign over the issues saying: "Only through the reprioritisation of housing in Scotland to the top of the policy agenda can any real progress be made."

In May, the First Minister, John Swinney declared the eradication of child poverty as his "single most important objective" as a key plank of a plan for government.

Ministers have a statutory target to cut the number of children living in households in relative poverty to below 10% by 2030.

A March analysis from the Scottish government found on average about 240,000 children (24%) were living in relative poverty after housing costs, over the period from 2020 to 2023.

The housing minister Paul McLennan has come under fire for a pre-Scottish Government summer recess action plan to try and resolve the emergency which put no money on the table despite massive cuts to the budget to build affordable homes which many believe is the long-term route out of the crisis.

Paul McLennan (Image: NQ)

The housing emergency declaration was made by social justice secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville during a Labour-led debate at Holyrood and ministers have blamed increased inflation, Brexit and the 9% cut to the capital block grant had all substantially contributed to the current housing situation.

The SNP previously voted against a Labour motion declaring a housing emergency in November.

After the collapse of the SNP's power-sharing deal with the Greens in May, the First Minister John Swinney's government faced defeat in the new vote.

But the SNP changed its position and made the symbolic housing emergency blaming UK government funding cuts and Brexit.

By declaring the emergency, the Scottish Government was said to be formally recognising the housing problem but there are no practical effects that happen as a result.

John Dickie, director of Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland housing costs are a key driver of child poverty, and a lack of affordable housing is leaving "far, far too many of Scotland’s children in unacceptable housing conditions, or worse still homeless".

"Lack of affordable housing and drastic UK government cuts to housing benefits are leaving parents to make impossible choices between paying the rent or putting food on the table, and in too many cases leaving them unable to secure a home at all.

"The consequences for our children’s education, wellbeing and future life chances are immeasurable. But the price all of us pay in terms of long term social and economic costs has been calculated – and amount to a staggering £39.5 billion across the UK.

"There is nothing inevitable about these levels of child poverty and homelessness, nothing inevitable about the damage that that poverty and homelessness wreaks and the costs it incurs. They are the result of policy decisions, the way governments at every level prioritize budgets, and the value all of us are willing to attach to the next generation."

The Scottish Government's affordable homes budget has taken a cumulative hit of over £280m over the past three years without taking inflation into account - based against the 2021/22 allocation of £779.776m - despite a pledge by outgoing First Minister Humza Yousaf of a £80m uplift for affordable housing over the next two years.

Housing campaigners have been staggered by a £196.08m (26%) cut to the budget in the 2024/25 alone, without taking into account inflation, with the spending plans set at £555.862m before an extra £40m was promised by Mr Yousaf.

If the budget had kept up with inflation since 2021/22 in 2024/25, the spending plans would have been at £985.32m.

When inflation has been taken into account, instead of getting £2.631bn over the three years - the affordable homes budget is at £2.058bn - a drop of £573m.

Mr Dickie added: "We are not a poor country, so why do we allow our politicians to make policy choices that condemn our children to poverty?

"There is an alternative. The unanimous Holyrood support for Scotland’s legally binding targets to reduce the number of children living in poverty to less than one in ten by 2030 was a good start.

"But with so many children still locked in poverty, and too many of them facing homelessness, it is absolutely clear that more action and investment is needed – at every level of government.

"So it’s right that the new First Minister has made eradicating child poverty his number one priority, and that politicians across the political spectrum say they support that aim. But if it is to be more than an aspiration then all the political parties must back the policies needed to achieve it. Here in Scotland that means restoring affordable housing budgets and ensuring investment prioritises families most at risk of poverty.

(Image: NQ)

"Across all levels of government our children need our politicians to be bold, upfront and ambitious with tax and spending choices, not shy away from them. All our political parties must recognise that investing in our children is a prerequisite for sustainable economic growth, not something that can wait until that growth appears."

Housing minister Paul McLennan said: “I have been meeting with housing convenors across the country since last summer to discuss the housing pressures each area is facing. The Scottish Government is working with local authorities to identify ways to reduce the number of people in temporary accommodation and provided an additional £2 million in 2023-24 to the local authorities with the largest percentage increases in temporary accommodation.

“When temporary accommodation is used we are determined to ensure that it is indeed temporary.

“Increasing housing stock is key to reducing the use of temporary accommodation. Since 2007, we have delivered more than 131,000 affordable homes, with more than 93,000 of those being for social rent and we will invest nearly £600 million in affordable housing in 2024-25.”