Catherine Hall: Scotland’s elections and the ever-growing importance of ‘home’

Ahead of this week’s Scottish Parliament elections, new policy and practice officer at CIH Scotland Catherine Hall sets out why housing must remain at the heart of the political agenda.

Catherine Hall: Scotland’s elections and the ever-growing importance of ‘home’

As the world prepares for ‘normality’ amidst the gradual unlocking of society, it is absolutely vital that we do not lose sight of the lessons learned over the last year. The pandemic has forced people all over the globe to remain within the confines of their home, blurring all aspects of life together under the same roof.

Never has the importance of access to a safe, warm and secure home been more apparent. The pandemic has truly unveiled the issues surrounding housing inequality throughout Scotland, and these can no longer be silently swept under the rug. Homes are not simply ‘bricks and mortar’ – they challenge poverty, tackle climate change, support mental health, and provide the foundation for people to reach their full potential. As the Scottish people await the Parliamentary elections, now is the time to consider to just what extent housing finds its place on the political agenda.

Reflecting on the last five years, we have seen significant investment in social housing. Our UKHR analysis shows that if, and when, the Scottish Government completes the 50,000 homes target, social housing will witness a net increase of 25,000 homes. However, it is vital that this commitment crosses parliamentary terms, and it is hoped that Scotland’s Housing to 2040 Strategy will reflect the start of this promising journey.

One thing that is clear from this vision is the power of the government to really make change, where there exists a will to effect this change and resources in place to allow this change to be realised. The Strategy shows how the government plans to take forward increasing housing delivery, whilst tackling child poverty and homelessness, as well as a continued commitment to increasing stability and challenging high rents in the private rented sector. The Strategy presents a sweeping opportunity to place housing at the heart of Scotland’s economic and social issues, whilst supporting our ageing population and tackling the global climate emergency. The Strategy details a number of overarching priorities that all stakeholders should welcome. The challenge is how exactly these themes will be achieved.

The political ambition on housing throughout the key parties’ manifestos presents much scope for optimism, particularly on the housing delivery front. All show promising cross-party consensus, with housing forming a key focal point of their manifestos. All provide clear intentions to commit to the delivery of affordable housing, which is well aligned with the necessity to deliver at least 53,000 affordable homes throughout the next five-year parliamentary term if we are to meet housing need. The SNP, which is widely projected to remain the largest party, has already pledged to commit to a £3.5 billion housing grant programme.

Promisingly, there is also a clear commitment to tackling climate change and meeting ambitious net-zero targets, with hopeful investment figures proposed by all main parties, as well as further change in the private rented sector with SNP, Labour and Greens all highlighting their commitment to reform.

Going forwards, particularly as we recover from the pandemic, CIH is hopeful that we will witness a continued investment in our affordable housing supply programme, as well as a commitment to meeting the needs of our ageing population and urgently addressing our role in reaching net-zero carbon emissions. Grant levels must reflect the need to build more accessible, energy efficient homes, as well as improving existing homes. We also note the Scottish Government plans to introduce legislation that recognises housing as a human right but this will require an action plan that supports this progressive realisation with appropriate resourcing.

The coronavirus pandemic has shone a light on the vital importance of the housing sector and in particular, the significance of housing practitioners, whether that be local authorities, social landlords or private landlords. However, the importance of housing practitioners themselves is, unfortunately, not an area that we feel has been adequately addressed within the party manifestos. Nevertheless, the manifestos of all the main parties do recognise the importance of investing in our housing system in Scotland. We hope that whatever the composition of the next Parliament, the Scottish Government can follow through on the promise of these pledges and the vision detailed in Housing to 2040 is realised.

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