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Election 2016 – New horizons for Scotland

The campaign to move housing to the heart of the political agenda ahead of the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections has already had huge success. Graeme Brown explains the background.

There is now an abundance of evidence that Scotland is in the grip of a significant housing crisis. Driven primarily by a lack of investment in, and political priority for, delivering more affordable homes over successive governments, it is a housing crisis with a very real human cost.

In Scotland today, more than 150,000 households are currently on waiting lists for a home. In addition, last year there were 35,764 homeless applications made in Scotland and of these, 29,565 households were assessed as homeless. This equates to a household in Scotland being assessed as homeless every 18 minutes – that’s 81 households a day. In addition, 18 per cent of all homelessness applications last year came from the private rented sector (PRS) in Scotland, despite this sector accounting for only 14 per cent of all households.

Perhaps most hard hitting of all, however, is the fact that tomorrow nearly 5,000 children in Scotland will wake up without a place to call home. This stark figure is made all the more concerning when considered alongside the fact that children in temporary accommodation miss on average 55 school days a year, a quarter of the school year, due to the disruption this has on their lives.

In addition to these grim statistics are serious concerns about the quality and suitability of some of Scotland’s existing housing stock: over 1 in 10 households in Scotland are affected by dampness or condensation (or both), 940,000 households are living in fuel poverty (39 per cent of all households) and 75,000 households are currently overcrowded in Scotland.

It is against this backdrop that Shelter Scotland has been campaigning publicly and lobbying for several years for the Scottish Government to deliver a step change in the supply of new affordable housing across the country.

In October 2015, Shelter Scotland, along with the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) and the Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland (CIH Scotland), published our independently conducted research into the real level of affordable housing need in Scotland.

This landmark report was compiled and conducted by a joint team from the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam, Sheffield University and University of St Andrews. Centred on the first in-depth investigation into Scotland’s total housing need in the last 10 years, the report concluded that Scotland needs to deliver 12,000 new affordable homes each year for the next five years to meet both the current backlog and projected future need. This is double the current level of affordable housing supply and if realised would result in the biggest affordable housing building programme in Scotland in generations. The cost for an affordable house building programme on this scale was estimated in the report at being in the region of at least £700 million each year over five years.

On the back of these findings Shelter Scotland is urging all political parties in Scotland to adopt ambitious targets for new affordable housing in their manifestos for next year’s Holyrood election campaigns.

Further evidence of the need for both greater financial investment and a reprioritising of the value of homes to a range of political and policy outcomes was made by the independent Commission on Housing and Wellbeing when it published its final report – ‘A blueprint for Scotland’s future’ – in June 2015. This report laid out a series of recommendations for housing in Scotland and called for a radical look at the future direction of housing policy, linking the benefits of a safe, secure and affordable home to improved health, equality, wellbeing and life chances for all. It too called for a major step change in the provision of new affordable housing.

The report noted that failure to act now on Scotland’s housing policy would risk the future wellbeing of people in Scotland.

It has been on the back of these two significant contributions to housing policy debates in Scotland that at the October 2015 SNP Party Conference, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, pledged to deliver 50,000 new affordable homes in the lifetime of the next Scottish Parliament should the SNP be re-elected to government in May 2016. Importantly, 35,000 of this total will be delivered as homes for social rent.

Shelter Scotland welcomed the First Minister’s commitment to a major house building programme on this scale, which would bring real hope of a home to the thousands of people in Scotland without a suitable affordable home and also would also deliver a major boost to jobs and the economy. We also understand that other political parties in Scotland are now looking more seriously at the significance of politically prioritising affordable homes and the vital role they play in delivering on issues such as improving the economy, delivering on the preventative spending and social justice agendas as well as tackling inequality and child poverty.

This is a very welcome realisation of the significance of affordable housing in delivering the sort of country that we can all be proud of, but there are other central issues related to housing and homelessness that we want to see politicians engage with as they prepare their manifestos for the 2016 Holyrood election. We need to see an increased focus on delivering person-centred services, both nationally and locally in Scotland, that truly meet the needs of homeless and vulnerable people in Scotland. We need to ensure that the current welcome and progressive reforms to the private rented sector that are working their way through Holyrood translate into real change on the ground that delivers increased security and stability for the 330,000 households in Scotland that live in the private rented sector.

Finally, we need to ensure that all political parties in Scotland commit to ensuring that information and support is available to all those effected by the ongoing reforms to social security and that we maintain a housing safety net that supports all those that need it or who may fall on tough times in their life.

The opportunity now exists for Scotland to put housing at the very heart of our political agenda in 2016. If we want to deliver a society in which everyone has access to a safe, secure and affordable home, then all political parties must prioritise delivering more affordable homes alongside support for those struggling with housing or homelessness issues when they finalise their election manifestos later this year.

Graeme Brown is director of Shelter Scotland

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