Lorna Wilson: Social housing’s impact goes far beyond delivering housing

Lorna Wilson shares initial findings into research from SFHA, JRF, Public Health Scotland, and RIHAF into the social, economic, health, and wellbeing impact of social housing.

Lorna Wilson: Social housing’s impact goes far beyond delivering housing

Lorna Wilson

No one can dispute the importance of good quality affordable housing – but many people may not be aware of the wider impact that housing associations and co-operatives’ homes and services have. Last year, as we started to look towards the end of the current Affordable Housing Supply Programme, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) decided it was time to change this, especially if we were to make the case for sustained investment in social housing beyond 2021.

The Scottish Government’s current Affordable Housing Supply Programme is delivering the most affordable homes for a generation, and it was on track to achieve its 50,000 homes target, 35,000 for social rent, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The Scottish Government has to be given credit for the progress it has made into tackling housing need – and now, more than ever, it is vital it is maintained as the effects of the pandemic will likely have left more people in housing need. 

Housing associations and co-operatives have been key to helping the government to increase affordable housing supply levels – but the impact of their work goes far beyond ‘just’ delivering homes. Through their building programmes, as well as their wider services, social landlords help the government to meet its social, economic and environmental policy objectives in health and social care, poverty, an ageing population, employment and education, climate change and fuel poverty, and inclusive growth.

In order to evidence this, SFHA decided to partner with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF); Public Health Scotland; Rural and Islands Housing Associations Forum (RIHAF), SFHA’s rural and islands members’ forum; and commissioned the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE) and HACT to carry out research into the social, economic, health, and wellbeing impact of social housing. This diverse and renowned group of partners brings valuable knowledge, perspectives, and experience to this project. 

I am delighted that, today, I can share the research’s initial findings:

  • Evidence supports the view that there are significant economic benefits in terms of jobs, gross value added (GVA), local spending and relatively large multipliers associated with social housing investment and operational activities of social landlords.
  • Social housing, and its lower rents, appear to help to explain Scotland’s relatively better performance on poverty compared to the rest of the UK.
  • Research, from both large-scale evidence reviews and from detailed longitudinal neighbourhood analysis, indicates that well-designed housing improvements and investment can positively impact on health outcomes and contribute to reducing the fundamental causes of health inequality.
  • It is clear that social housing offers considerable benefits for Scotland’s recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Social housing investment can have a critical role to play in supporting and making rural communities more resilient through providing low cost housing for young people, so they stay in these communities, helping to sustain vital public services and employment.

On 9 June, SFHA, Shelter Scotland and CIH Scotland released a report into housing need in Scotland between 2021–2026, calling on the next Scottish Government to commit to delivering 53,000 affordable homes, backed up by a capital investment programme of £3.4 billion over five years – our main message was that this commitment is vital in order to help rebuild Scotland’s economy, create jobs and reinvigorate its communities. Our new research with JRF, Public Health Scotland, RIHAF, HACT and CaCHE will show the difference that social housing can make to Scotland and its people – these critical economic, social, health and wellbeing boosts have never been needed more than they are now.

It is hoped that our final research report will be released at the beginning of August.

  • Lorna Wilson is SFHA head of policy and innovation
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