Kirsty Wells: Housing as a human right – celebrating Scottish Housing Day 2019

Kirsty Wells, head of HouseMark Scotland, discusses Scottish Housing Day 2019 and the theme of ‘housing as a human right’

Kirsty Wells: Housing as a human right – celebrating Scottish Housing Day 2019

“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity” Nelson Mandela.

In 2019, as we celebrate Scottish Housing Day, and its theme of ‘Housing as a Human Right’ we must turn our thoughts to the current crisis in the UK housing system which means many people do not live in a decent home. The right to a decent home was set out almost 50 years ago, in December 1969, in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I wasn’t alive then, but I wonder if the legislators imagined that in one of the richest economies in the world 50 years later, thousands of children would not be living in “a safe, secure, habitable and affordable home” as set out in Article 25?

In 2019, the Brexit debate has largely overshadowed other issues faced by people in their day-to-day lives. Even though we read, hear and see examples of food banks, school uniform banks, rough sleepers in every city and people making difficult choices about eating, feeding their children or heating their homes, Brexit remains in the spotlight as the top UK-wide priority.

The 2018-19 figures for homelessness in Scotland 1 tell us that there were 10,989 households living in temporary accommodation, an increase of 0.5% on the previous year. 3,415 of those households included children or a pregnant woman, and this is the fifth consecutive year that this figure has increased. 6,795 children were living in temporary accommodation, an increase of 3% on the previous year.

The question is, how do we tackle this crisis when there are simply not enough houses for people to live in? There has been a failure to tackle the root cause of systemic problems in the housing market, meaning that there are people living in our country today with limited chances to live in a “safe, secure, habitable, affordable home” as set out in Article 25. The temporary nature of their accommodation means they don’t know where they’ll be living in six months’ time, so prospects about their own or their children’s future health or educational opportunities are also limited.

In Scotland, the new regulatory framework launched in April 2019, refers to human rights and equalities legislation. The Scottish Housing Regulator (SHR) sets out 2 that “Promoting equality and human rights is integral to all of our work. These rights mean that everyone should be treated fairly and with dignity and respect. All landlords must ensure that they full comply with their responsibilities under relevant human rights and equalities legislation.” The SHR requires landlords to confirm that they meet these obligations in their first assurance statements which are due on 31 October 2019.

It may not cross our minds every day that the SHR is enforcing human rights legislation when it intervenes – it’s more likely that we think about the Scottish Social Housing Charter, various Housing (Scotland) Acts of parliament, health and safety legislation etc. but actually the statutory duty of the regulator to “safeguard and promote the interests of current and future tenants, people who are homeless, factored owners and gypsy/travellers” 3 is doing exactly that.

The challenge for all of us today, on Scottish Housing Day is: How do we change the broken housing system? How do we stop people living in converted office blocks? How do we get children out of temporary accommodation so they can spend their school years at as few schools as possible? Howdo we address the growing drug crisis that means people are sleeping rough on the streets?

Recently, I photographed this poster in Princes Street, Edinburgh. A young man dreaming of the city having affordable housing in 2050. The city does have affordable housing in 2019, just not enough of it. From Article 25 in 1969 to 2019, we’ve come a long way, and the world is unrecognisable in many aspects. However, many people in the UK don’t have their basic need for shelter met. Where will be in 2050? As a CIH member, #proudtobeprofessional, I will be retired (hopefully) in 2050. I hope I can look back and feel like we made a difference in our time and that there is more hope in 2050 than 2019 for people living in “safe, secure, habitable, affordable homes”. A girl can dream….

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