Issue 13

THINKING BIG ON AFFORDABLE HOUSE BUILDING - A COMMON SENSE POLICY?

By Adam Lang, Head of Communications and Policy, Shelter Scotland

…. while there has been significant improvement in tackling homelessness the statistics still shame our society. Last year there were 35,764 homeless applications made in Scotland and of these, 29,565 households were assessed as homeless.

Shelter Scotland has been campaigning and lobbying for a major step-change in the provision of affordable social housing for many years. Finally it looks like politicians have been listening to Shelter and others in the housing sector and meaningful, positive changes could be afoot.

It hasn’t been easy. The amount of evidence, research and dogged attrition that has gone into making progress on such a basic yet fundamental need – a safe, secure, affordable home of your own – has been immense.

Spelling out the social and economic benefits of a house building programme on a scale not seen in decades finally seems to have done the trick.

Scotland’s Housing Challenges

The evidence is strong. Scotland’s housing challenges include:

  • an acute shortage of social housing and affordable housing – 150,000 on council waiting lists
  • high rents in the private sector and lack of security of tenure
  • the impact of social security reforms (housing benefit)
  • sluggishness of the planning system
  • problems of land supply
  • the need for more sustained, preventative and person centred housing and homelessness services across Scotland
  • fuel poverty and poor housing conditions across all tenure types - 47% of Scottish homes currently failing Scottish Housing Quality standard; 67,000 suffer from penetrating damp; 60,000 are overcrowded and 940,000 are in fuel poverty

Amazingly last year, 48,000 homes were assessed as below ‘tolerable standard’ i.e. so bad that people shouldn’t be expected to continue living in them.

And while there has been significant improvement in tackling homelessness the statistics still shame our society. Last year there were 35,764 homeless applications made in Scotland and of these, 29,565 households were assessed as homeless. This equates to a household in Scotland being assessed as homeless every 18 minutes - that's 81 households a day. In addition, 18% of all homelessness applications last year came from the private rented sector (PRS) in Scotland, despite this sector accounting for only 14% of all households.

Building the Case

Last year Shelter Scotland played a major part in shaping the argument and making the case for politicians in Scotland to commit to a step change in the delivery of affordable social housing. Three key reports were published – first, the Commission on Housing and Wellbeing, second, the Affordable Housing Need in Scotland report and third, the Economic Impact of Investing in Affordable Housing.

The Commission on Housing and Wellbeing (chaired by former Auditor General of Scotland, Bob Black, and set up by Shelter Scotland) published its final report - ‘A blueprint for Scotland’s future’ - in June 2015. This report laid out a series of recommendations for housing in Scotland and called for a radical look at the future direction of housing policy, linking the benefits of a safe, secure and affordable home to improved, health, equality, wellbeing and life chances for all. It called for a major increase in the provision of new affordable housing.

The report – which received significant political and housing sector attention - noted that failure to act now on Scotland’s housing policy would risk the future wellbeing of people in Scotland.

In October 2015, Shelter Scotland, along with the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) and the Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland (CIH Scotland) published independent research into the real level of affordable housing need in Scotland.

…..if the Scottish Government were to double the funding to the affordable housing supply programme to deliver at least 12,000 new affordable homes each year, it would bring a significant boost to Scotland’s economy. A major affordable house-building drive on this scale would sustain up to 19,000 jobs,

This landmark report was compiled and conducted by a joint team from the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam, Sheffield University and University of St Andrews. Centred around the first in-depth investigation into Scotland’s total housing need in the last 10 years, the report concluded that Scotland needs to deliver 12,000 new affordable homes each year for the next five years to meet both the current backlog and projected future need. This is double the current level of affordable housing supply and, if realised, would result in the biggest affordable house building programme in Scotland in generations. The cost for an affordable house building programme on this scale was estimated in the report at being in the region of at least £700 million each year over five years.

‘The economic case for investment in affordable housing’ published by Shelter Scotland in December 2015 showed that if the Scottish Government were to double the funding to the affordable housing supply programme to deliver at least 12,000 new affordable homes each year, it would bring a significant boost to Scotland’s economy. A major affordable house-building drive on this scale would sustain up to 19,000 jobs, with every £100 million invested in affordable housing generating £210 million of wider economic activity. Investment of this type would complement initiatives to eradicate overcrowding, dampness, disrepair and fuel poverty which would all play a key role in reducing generational health inequalities. It would also help tackle housing poverty, where the lack of a decent, safe and secure home compounds health inequalities and damages the life chances of those affected, especially children.

Increased investment in affordable housing should also be part of a wider effort to stabilise and reduce volatility in Scotland’s housing market to avoid the potential harm of a further downturn in Scotland’s economy.

Progress

It has been on the back of these significant contributions to housing policy debates in Scotland that at the October 2015 SNP Party Conference, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, pledged to deliver 50,000 new affordable homes in the lifetime of the next Scottish Parliament should the SNP be re-elected to government in May 2016. Importantly, 35,000 of this total will be delivered as homes for social rent.

Other political parties in Scotland too have looked more earnestly at the significance of politically prioritising affordable homes and the vital role they play in delivering on issues such as improving the economy, delivering on the preventative spending and social justice agendas as well as tackling inequality and child poverty. The Scottish Labour Party has indicated that it would deliver 12,000 new affordable homes a year if it were in power after May’s elections.

This is very welcome realisation of the significance of affordable housing in delivering the sort of country that we can all be proud of, but there are other central issues related to housing and homelessness that we want to see politicians engage with as they prepare their manifestos for the 2016 Holyrood election. We need to see an increased focus on delivering person centred services, both nationally and locally in Scotland, that truly meet the needs of homeless and vulnerable people in Scotland. We need to ensure that the current welcome and progressive reforms to the private rented sector that are working their way through Holyrood translate into real change on the ground that delivers increased security and stability for the 330,000 households in Scotland that live in the private rented sector.

Finally, we need to ensure that all political parties in Scotland commit to ensuring that information and support is available to all those affected by the ongoing reforms to social security and that we maintain a housing safety net that supports all those that need it or who may fall on tough times in their life.

The opportunity now exists for Scotland to put housing at the very heart of our political agenda in 2016. If we want to deliver a society in which everyone has access to a safe, secure and affordable home, then all political parties must prioritise delivering more affordable homes alongside support for those struggling with housing or homelessness issues when they finalise their election manifestos later this year.

Adam Lang is Head of Communications and Policy at Shelter Scotland

By Adam Lang, Head of Communications and Policy, Shelter Scotland

Issue 13

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