Blog: Housing: a price worth paying
In Scotland’s fragile housing market, just having a house – irrespective of quality, location and affordability – is a good position for anyone to be in. Of course, many people do have decent homes, but the number of households on waiting lists for social housing (150,500) and the number of homeless applications (36,400) made last year in Scotland are two of many indicators that we continue to do the wrong things when it comes to people’s homes and wellbeing.
Our goal at Shelter Scotland is to see a safe, secure and affordable home for everyone. But housing remains a largely under-appreciated part of our lives. If you have problems finding a job, is your home simply too far away from areas where relevant jobs exist? If you have a mortgage or rent to pay, would losing your job make it difficult to keep up with the payments? What impact would this have on your life? If you’re a parent or guardian, how essential is it that your house is close to schools, nurseries and parks? What impact does this have on the care, play and education for your children?
“Having a decent home makes you feel human, because it’s somewhere you can entertain, somewhere you can feel safe, it’s somewhere that when things are tough, you can be around things, like your pictures, or your furniture, or television, or have somebody over.”
Joe, Community Engagement Participant
For some, having a home is a stabilising factor in their lives. For others, it’s the very part of their lives that causes chaos, uncertainty and a lack of identity. But a good home for everyone in Scotland could help to address a host of problems – beyond bricks and mortar – 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 now encounter.
I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved in the Commission on Housing and Wellbeing since April of last year. The independent group, chaired by Robert Black – the former Auditor General – was tasked by Shelter Scotland to assess the importance of housing for people’s wellbeing in Scotland and to make policy suggestions to help improve housing conditions and enhance wellbeing.
On Wednesday 10th June 2015 the Commission launched its final report: A blueprint for Scotland’s future.
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 £160million 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.
With so many households on waiting lists, 39% of households in fuel poverty, over 60,000 households that are overcrowded and £1.8billion spent on housing benefit in Scotland last year alone, the Commission is right to say that we are a long way short of providing everyone with a safe, secure and affordable home.
The Scottish Government’s may say that it’s capital budget has been reduced but there is always a pecking order of priorities when it comes to how governments choose to spend their money. Choices about housing spend is the sole responsibility of the Scottish Government, who must recognise that this is a price worth paying if we are to guarantee the wellbeing of our own, and future generations to come.