Blog: Homes must be at the heart of Scotland’s new social security system
By Adam Lang, head of communications and policy at Shelter Scotland
Access to a safe, secure and affordable home is a fundamental human right and is critical to people’s health, prosperity and wellbeing. However, many people in Scotland today don’t have a home and too many people currently fall through the gaps in our housing safety net.
The scale of the challenge is huge, housing costs contributed to pushing over 1 million people in Scotland into absolute poverty in 2014/15 and nearly 36,000 households applied as homeless in Scotland last year. To add to this, the unfair bedroom tax is currently affecting 71,000 households, a potent symbol of the impact of recent welfare cuts in Scotland.
Having a good home is central to improving health outcomes, raising educational attainment, tackling reoffending, improving social mobility and to genuinely realising the potential of spend to save initiatives across the public sector in Scotland. Without a safe, secure and affordable home to act as a foundation for people’s lives, we risk undermining progress in all of these other areas.
But it doesn’t have to be this way, there is a unique opportunity to do things differently in Scotland. As a result of the passing of the Scotland Act 2016, the next Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament will take control of significant new social security powers in Scotland, including:
- The ability to vary housing costs within Universal Credit and to change payment arrangements
- The possibility of topping-up existing benefits and powers to introduce short-term discretionary payments for people whose well-being is at risk
- Control over discretionary housing payments
- The power to create new benefits in devolved areas of policy
While the powers coming to Holyrood do not amount to devolving Housing Benefit in full, these new powers will equate to billions of pounds of Scottish Government expenditure and will require the establishment of a new Scottish Social Security Agency (SSSA) to oversee the design and administration of the new system in Scotland.
These powers will be far reaching, with some analysis estimating that as many as 35 per cent of households in Scotland may potentially receive both devolved and reserved benefits in the future, meaning they will interact or have payments and support provided by both the Department for Work and Pension (DWP) and from the new Scottish Social Security Agency.
Shelter Scotland recognises the challenges and complexities involved with, as well as the opportunities presented by, designing and implementing a new and potentially improved form of social security support in Scotland. This is why our Manifesto for Homes calls for all political parties to:
- Put homes at the heart of Scotland’s new welfare system and ensure it reduces poverty, promotes dignity and the human rights of all those that need it.
- Ensure information and support is available to all tenants affected by welfare reforms and the roll out of universal credit.
- Abolish the Bedroom Tax and commit to mitigating cuts to the housing safety net.
- Improve public health by ensuring housing is put at the heart of health and social care integration in Scotland.
For the first time, the incoming Scottish Government will have the ability to influence how significant elements of our social security system and housing safety net work in Scotland. Ensuring homes are put at the heart of the design and structure of the new system would be a positive and welcome step in the right direction.