Scottish Government responds to Housing and Wellbeing Commission report

Alex Neil
Alex Neil

The Scottish Government has agreed with the Commission on Housing and Wellbeing that housing is fundamental to the wellbeing, fairness and prosperity of the country and has vowed to undertake a number of measures in line with the Commission’s recommendations.

Chaired by former Auditor General of Scotland, Robert Black, the independent group was set up with the support of charity Shelter Scotland to investigate national housing policy.

A report from the Commission, which was published in June 2015, identified the central importance of having a safe, secure and suitable home that allows people to fulfil their potential, and made a number of recommendations which it says would begin to address the housing-related poverty and environmental challenges currently facing Scotland.

The 18 priority recommendations fell under five main headings: Housing as “Home”, Neighbourhood and Community, Economic Wellbeing (Employment and Income), Health and Education, and Environmental Sustainability.

Responding to the report, the government pointed to steps it has taken to boost housing supply and protect social and private tenants.

On the Commission’s Housing As “Home” recommendations, the government said it fully agrees with the Commission about the importance of the supply of housing in Scotland for the wellbeing of society and that it is committed to increasing the delivery of affordable housing to 50,000 homes over the next 5 years, of which, as the Commission recommended, 35,000 will be social homes. It will also continue to support innovation in housing supply, building on its track record which has seen nearly 4,000 new affordable homes approved through a range of innovative financing mechanisms, unlocking up to half a billion pounds of housing investment.

Legislation in the Private Rented Sector, to be passed by the Scottish Parliament early in 2016, will strengthen the security of tenants while protecting the interests of landlords and investors, it added.

In the Neighbourhood and Community category the government said that empowering people and achieving greater democratic participation to help tackle inequalities are key parts of its plans to achieve a Fairer Scotland. It pledged to continue to invest in the Empowering Communities Fund, to ensure that communities are well equipped and supported to deliver long-term solutions that tackle poverty and inequality based on local circumstances and priorities. The government also said it is working with NHS Health Scotland and Architecture and Design Scotland on an implementation strategy for the recently launched Place Standard which aims to help councils, communities and developers ensure that the regeneration and development of neighbourhoods, towns and villages supports wider aspirations for vibrant and successful communities.

On the Commission’s Economic Wellbeing (Employment and Income) recommendations, the government agreed that progressive tax and welfare policies are essential requirements for promoting the wellbeing of communities and pledged to make changes to Universal Credit which will allow continuation of direct payments to landlords and will abolish the bedroom tax for Universal Credit recipients following the transfer of tax and welfare powers to Holyrood.

The government also recognised the importance of planning and land supply to increase the rate of housebuilding in Scotland and said the consideration of the land reform recommendations, the actions set out in the joint housing delivery plan and the current planning review are all elements currently being taken forward to achieve that aim.

The government’s position on Health and Education was to continue to highlight the importance of close partnership between housing organisations and the new Health and Social Care Partnerships to provide the best possible support for those who need assistance to live independently. It also agreed the importance of further strengthening the prevention of all forms of homelessness, building on the success of the Housing Options approach, guidance for which will be published this month.

Finally on Environmental Sustainability, the government identified the importance of improving the energy efficiency of Scotland’s housing in order to reduce harmful emissions and mitigate fuel poverty and pledged to continue to invest in the Home Energy Efficiency Programmes for Scotland (HEEPS) to provide help to those who need it most. It will also work with stakeholders to develop Scotland’s Energy Efficiency Programme, which will be launched in 2018.

Social justice secretary, Alex Neil, said: “We recognise the critical role that housing plays in promoting social justice, strengthening communities and tackling inequalities.

“We have invested £1.7bn in affordable housing over the lifetime of this Parliament and have met and exceeded our target to deliver 30,000 affordable homes, including our 20,000 social rented homes target and within that our 5,000 council homes target.

“We are determined to increase housing supply across all tenures, which is why we have set a target of delivering at least 50,000 affordable homes over the next five years.

“We also want to protect and promote the interests of tenants in the social and private rented sectors. We introduced the first Scottish Social Housing Charter, which set out standards that all social landlords should be achieving.

“The Private Housing Tenancy Bill will enshrine in law measures to provide security and stability for hundreds of thousands of tenants

“We will also abolish the bedroom tax as soon as possible by making use of the devolved powers to vary the under occupancy charge within the housing element of Universal Credit. At the same time, for those remaining on Housing Benefit, we will continue to mitigate the bedroom tax fully, through Discretionary Housing Payments.”

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