Blog: Homes for People
Our society is facing major challenges in responding to the consequences of a housing crisis with poor quality housing coupled with a serious lack of affordable housing damaging the health and life chances of thousands of people in Scotland.
Of course, many people do have decent homes, but across Scotland there are over 150,500 households on waiting lists for a home of their own, 39 per cent of all households live in fuel poverty and over 73,000 households find themselves in overcrowded conditions.
These figures indicate that we continue to do the wrong things when it comes to people’s wellbeing because having a decent house is central to the quality of life for everyone in Scotland.
So, what are the housing policy responses that could improve the wellbeing of our communities and bring about positive change?
Since 2013 the Commission on Housing and Wellbeing – chaired by the former Auditor General Robert Black – has been exploring Scotland’s housing crisis and has considered a host of proposals for the future direction of our housing policy.
In June this year the Commission launched its final report: A blueprint for Scotland’s future at the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation.
The report explains why housing should take centre stage in the next Scottish Parliament elections and in doing so sets out 47 recommendations in relation to the role that housing can and should play in ensuring that the Scottish people live good lives.
A key recommendation in the report is the need for a significant increase in house building; 23,000 new homes each year, 9,000 of those affordable. Of course, any increase comes at an additional price; the Commission’s fairly conservative targets for new house building will require a substantial increase in the Scottish Government’s budget for its Affordable Housing Investment Programme – approximately £160 million each year.
And that covers just two of 47 recommendations the Commission has made to the Government and its partners. It also sets out the major challenges for the next decade on issues including housing benefit and council tax reform, freeing the supply of land for new housing, recognising and supporting the growing role of the private rented sector and stepping up the pace in reducing residential greenhouse emissions.
Here are just some of the recommendations:
- If the Smith Commission proposals are implemented, the Scottish Government should permanently end the ‘bedroom tax’
- The Scottish Government should develop an improved property tax to replace the Council Tax in Scotland
- The mid-market rental new build programme should be opened up to private landlords
- There should be a review of the full range of powers currently available for regulating the private rented sector at some stage in the next Parliament
- Serious consideration should be given to practical ways to shift the balance from personal subsidies towards funding subsidies that support the supply of houses – without any negative impacts on those in receipt of Housing Benefit
- A Scottish Land Corporation or Delivery Agency with powers to acquire, service and sell land on to developers should be established
- Housing should be a full and equal partner in health and social care partnerships
- There should be a strengthening of the emphasis on the prevention of homelessness through joint agency working
- The Scottish Government should review the funding required to meet its 2030 milestone of delivering a step change in the provision of energy efficient homes
- The Scottish Government should provide more resources for housing services, such as help with handyman tasks and small repairs for older households, which can help to reduce demands on the NHS.
The overall message of the Commission’s report is that a good home for everyone throughout Scotland could help to address a significant range of problems that desperately need our attention: educational attainment, unemployment, low-income, mental and physical ill health, high carbon emissions and the lack of stability that so many households encounter.
The Commission is right to say that we are a long way short of providing everyone with a safe, secure and affordable home that can contribute to tackling these problems and its blueprint for Scotland’s future should be seen as a call to action on one of the most serious and challenging issues facing our society now and throughout the next decade.
- Paul Bradley is campaigns and public affairs officer at Shelter Scotland. This article was first published by Scottish Policy Now.