Guest Blog: Both UK and Scottish Governments must put shoulders to the wheel to solve Scotland’s housing crisis

By February 29, 2016Uncategorized

Ahead of the Chancellor’s statement on 16 March, Indigo asked Keith Anderson, Chief Executive of Port of Leith Housing Association and Chair of CIH Scotland to outline his hopes and concerns for the social housing sector in this year’s Westminster Budget.

Like access to food and water, good quality, secure and affordable housing is equally important to our standard of living. Decent housing is a fundamental human right, which makes the current housing crisis a matter of huge and growing significance for policymakers across the UK

And whilst housing is a devolved policy area to Scotland, we live in an interconnected UK where budget decisions made in London have a knock-on impact on the ability of the Scottish Government to allocate capital to build the homes we so desperately need. 

The Scottish Government has, in the past, received a Barnett consequential as a result of housing changing to housing budgets south of the border and we can expect that John Swinney will be praying for similar announcements when the Chancellor rises to the despatch box on March 16th.  Similarly, housing providers will be looking for news on the much-vaunted city deals, especially in Edinburgh, where we hope that such new investment will be used to support building the 32,000 new homes needed in the Capital over the next 10 years.

Scotland, like the rest of the UK, faces a shortage of affordable housing – that is clear. Last year over 28,000 households were assessed as homeless and there are currently around 160,000 households on local authority and housing association waiting lists for social housing. We are looking for our political parties to commit to increasing the supply of affordable housing, including social and mid-market types, over the next Parliament.

That need is also reflected nationwide.  Various studies carried out over the past year, including the Commission on Housing and Wellbeing in Scotland and most recently published research by CIH Scotland, Shelter and SFHA, have clearly demonstrated the need for an additional 60,000 new affordable homes over the next 5 years across the country.

The link between poor health and poor housing can be traced back to the 19th century and too often such poor health leads to a dependence on the welfare state – an area where the Chancellor wants to reign in state spending.  The link between poor education and poor housing is also clear. It is a fact that children living in temporary accommodation in Scotland miss, on average, a quarter of all school days due to the uncertain family life arising from insecure accommodation.

The ambition to increase new supply is certainly there. The Scottish Government has committed to building at least 50,000 affordable homes, backed up with investment of over £3 billion, over the next five years. This, alongside a new £50m infrastructure fund and PRS Rental Income Guarantee Scheme form the key planks of a new “More Homes Scotland” initiative announced recently. Both the Labour Party and Scottish Conservatives have made pledges in their manifesto statements for the forthcoming Scottish Election regarding new housing supply targets.

These are all big ambitions and to be credible, and not remain as simply a pipe dream, they require detailed delivery plans which recognise the scale and complexity of the challenges facing all the delivery partners.

However, there are huge concerns in the housing sector that the Chancellor has the balance all wrong and his recent decision to cap Housing Benefit for social rented properties is a good example. This proposal will drastically reduce the amount under 35s and people in supported accommodation, such as older and disabled people, receive to pay their rents.

The building of new, affordable and good quality housing is one way of bringing down the welfare bill and until government realises this fact, housing associations and other public facing organisation will continue to bear the brunt of decisions taken in Westminster and Holyrood. 

It remains fundamental that housing associations continue to provide advice and support to our tenants on budgeting/money management and welfare rights. We recognise that many of our tenants rely on such advice and that high quality support, tailored to individual need, not only has a very positive impact on individuals and families, it also helps to reduce the need for and consumption of public services across the board.  We all have a part to play.

Furthermore we need to create a better social security system which, amongst other things, protects the most vulnerable people who depend on specialist supported housing from the welfare reform measures being proposed by the current UK Government. 

Sadly, I hold out very little hope that we will hear a bold new vision for welfare from the Chancellor on March 16th but I remain willing to be part of the conversation.

By Keith Anderson,

Chief Executive

Port of Leith Housing Association

Port of Leith Housing Association (PoLHA) is the largest social landlord in Leith, currently providing over 2,700 high quality homes at affordable prices in places people want to live.

On Thursday 17 March, Indigo’s Executive Chairman Jacqui Low will be among the panellists speaking at the Herald’s special post-Budget briefing event in Glasgow, looking at the Chancellor’s statement and asking how it will affect leading businesses and their employees in Scotland. 

If you’re interested in finding out more about attending the event, or to discuss how your company may wish to respond to the issues raised in this year’s Budget and Scottish general election, please contact me at 0131 554 1146 or email peter@indigopr.com to arrange an informal conversation.