Building outcomes: housing in Scotland
Housing is a key factor in the fight to build a healthier, wealthier and fairer nation
For the past few years, it has become a widely held view that Scotland is in the grip of a housing crisis. It is also acknowledged that improving Scotland’s housing stock and ensuring everyone has access to a safe, warm and affordable home is an important way of improving outcomes.
The term might be overused but the idea of a crisis remains a fact for those working on the front line of housing and homelessness. According to Shelter Scotland, in the 12 months running to December 2016, 20,882 calls were made to its free national helpline – an increase of six per cent on the previous year. At the same time, 2,794 online digital chat advice sessions were provided and unique visits to its online pages increased to 726,000.
For Adam Lang, head of policy and communications at the charity, this is a stark reminder of the issues facing Scotland right now. Speaking to Holyrood, he said: “We are strongly of a view that we are in a housing crisis at the moment. This is based on the evidence of the more than 20,000 people we helped last year across our services, people who are at a genuine point of crisis in their lives because they are either at risk of losing their home, they have lost their home or they’re living in awful conditions. We need more affordable housing on a sustained and continued footing.
“At the heart of so many public policy agendas and the morality of who we are as a country, we have to provide people with a home and we are failing far too many people at the moment. This is due to years of underinvestment.
“We undertook the Commission on Housing and Wellbeing, published in 2015, which aimed to independently make the case if you want to have a healthy, wealthier and fairer nation, if you want people to thrive in their communities, to tackle reoffending, if you want to improve health outcomes and educational outcomes, you will struggle or fail in all those areas if people don’t have a safe, secure and affordable home.
“At the moment, there are large areas where our available housing stock is not fit for purpose. If you look at energy efficiency, of adaptability of homes for people with mobility issues or disabilities, there are too many homes which are just not suitable.
“We can’t afford to repeat mistakes of the past by throwing up high-rise developments on the outskirts of cities just to meet the numerical targets. We have to build well designed homes, in well designed communities, where people want to live.”
For the Scottish Government, housing is an important part of the policy agenda. In March 2016, the More Homes approach was launched with the aim to spend over £3bn to fund 50,000 homes, of which 35,000 will be for social rent, by March 2021. The government said this would build on the achievement of exceeding its target to deliver 30,000 affordable homes by 2016.
The More Homes approach involves investing more public and private money in housing, getting land ready for housing and making sure the government plans effectively for new housing.
Housing Minister Kevin Stewart told Holyrood the approach is vital for bringing together all the different partners involved in housing in order to deliver these ambitious targets.
He said: “Our aim is to create and deliver 50,000 warm, affordable homes to benefit everyone in Scotland and I can’t reiterate enough that in order to do so, we need to be collaborative and have partners completely on board. And it is happening, the level of positivity about this programme is huge. It is great to go around the country and speak to people and get those positive vibes from them.
“Right now we are analysing strategic housing investment plans which have come in from local authorities. They came in at the end of the year and give us an indication of how we deliver over the piece.
“Some of them have identified the sites that they will build on and the numbers on those sites. Others, we will have further discussions with them as they are not as advanced. Again, the More Homes Scotland team will have discussions with partners in each of the areas to make sure that delivery is complete. Beyond that, we recognise that there may be gaps in terms of skills in certain areas because this programme is bigger than it’s been for a long time and we will help local authorities and housing associations to develop the skills they require.
“If people are living in a warm, affordable home, it helps with so many other aspects of life. Mental health is better and the standards we are building to help combat things like fuel poverty.”
For Adam Lang, the 50,000 target is very welcome, however, there is always more to be done. In 2015, Shelter Scotland, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) and CIH Scotland commissioned independent analysis by St Andrews University and Sheffield Hallam University looking at affordable housing need in Scotland. It found that Scotland required 60,000 affordable homes over the lifetime of the parliament.
Lang said: “The Scottish Government’s current commitment is a bit short. However, the other point here is the pledge is a significant increase and we accept the realities of the political world and that things have to happen in increments.
“The real issue about supply is that targets have proven to be quite effective for driving government policy and stakeholder efforts but what we actually need is a sustained commitment to a high level of affordable homes, year on year. Every time it goes down we have to spend years playing catch up and the backlog gets more and more severe.”
In December, the Scottish Government released its draft budget. It stated that it recognised “that keeping housing costs affordable can have a positive impact on both the economy and people’s experience of poverty, [so] we are investing heavily in the provision of affordable housing”. Over £470m of direct capital investment has been pledged for the Affordable Housing Supply Programme.
The budget also provides over £140m of investment in energy efficiency measures as a first step in delivering the commitment to invest over £500m in energy efficiency over this parliamentary term.
Responding to the news, SFHA chief executive, Mary Taylor said: “The draft Scottish budget contained a modest increase in funds towards meeting the 50,000 affordable homes target.
“The £470 million announced is in line with the £3 billion committed over five years, but it is important that this funding grows at a level that will allow this target to be met and contribute towards solving the nation’s housing crisis.
“We welcome the announcement of £47 million to continue to mitigate the ‘bedroom tax’ and £10.9 million for other Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) uses.
“However, it remains to be seen if this will cover the increased pressure on DHPs, for example, caused by the UK Government’s benefit cap. The SFHA has long argued that investing in energy efficiency will create jobs, improve the nation’s health and reduce climate change, so it was pleasing to hear Mr Mackay say this when he announced £140 million funding to support energy efficiency programmes. We look forward to seeing further details of the draft budget so that we can analyse its implications for our sector more fully.”
CIH Scotland executive director Annie Mauger said the organisation understands the ongoing budgetary challenges the Scottish Government currently faces and in that context, it welcomes “its commitment to continue to prioritise funding for key housing priorities such as affordable housing supply, energy efficiency, delivery of enabling infrastructure and measures to offset the worst impacts of UK welfare reform”.She added: “The commitment to maintain funding for local authority budgets next year will also be welcomed by the housing profession as helping to safeguard the delivery of essential frontline housing services.
“The reconfirmation of £3 billion of funding to support the delivery of 50,000 new affordable homes over the lifetime of this parliament is welcome. As we work towards meeting that challenging target, we are keen to ensure in particular that the quality of new homes being built is also maintained.
“We have consistently raised concerns about the impact of UK welfare reform on the housing sector. Most recently, we highlighted the negative impact of the new reduced benefit cap on around 6,700 families across Scotland. In that context, we welcome the Scottish Government’s ongoing commitment to offset the worst effects of welfare reform and will continue to work with the government on the design of a new social security system for Scotland that treats people fairly and with respect.”
For Adam Lang, the £470m is a welcome commitment but there are other areas of concern around local government funding for housing and homelessness support.
He added: “Our campaign focus right now is on homelessness. The existing legislation on homelessness is, on paper, very good and progressive, however, there is a patchy implementation across local authorities in Scotland.
“Some areas do great work, while others have significant problems. The twin tracks are welfare and social security reforms. These are going to put more people at risk of homelessness and possibly limit the support for people who do become homeless.
“Our concern is that there is a big problem coming over the horizon in terms of homelessness and we know that local authority budgets are going to be under significant pressures. These services are vital and are there to help some of the most vulnerable in our society to get a home.
“That, running in parallel to the welfare reform changes, means there is a real likelihood that the support and services which are already there will be under significant threat. It’s wrong, in this day and age, in a wealthy society, that we’re failing to provide a home for some of the most vulnerable people.”
Recent figures have shown the number of Scottish children living in temporary accommodation increased by 17 per cent in a year. Homelessness statistics show local authorities received about 17,100 applications for homelessness assistance from April to September 2016, three per cent lower than in the same period in 2015.
However, the number of children in temporary accommodation increased by 826 (17 per cent), when comparing figures from 30 September 2016 with the same date in 2015. Overall, there were 10,570 households in temporary accommodation as at 30 September 2016 – an increase of 97 households from 2015. Over a quarter (3,174 households) included children or a pregnant woman – an increase of 355 households (13 per cent).
Kevin Stewart said: “We are doing everything we can to make sure everyone has access to a warm and safe place to stay, and I welcome the decrease in the number of homeless applications being made during this time.
“It is, however, our aim to stop people becoming homeless in the first place which is much better for our people and our communities, and of course, our homelessness services. While there are many reasons for families staying in temporary accommodation, I am disappointed in the increase in the number of children in temporary accommodation. Although the majority of temporary accommodation is good quality, well managed social housing, which is of the exact same standard as permanent accommodation, I am keen to see these numbers decrease and people to have a settled home.
“We are addressing the various reasons for families staying in temporary accommodation and I will continue to work together with local authorities and partners in the best interests of all households.”
As of 30 September 2016, 27 households were in unsuitable temporary accommodation, with 12 breaches of the Homeless Persons (Unsuitable Accommodation) (Scotland) Order 2014. Scottish Liberal Democrat housing spokesperson, Caron Lindsay, said the rising number of children living in temporary accommodation is “a symptom of Scotland’s housing crisis”. “A child without the safety and stability of a permanent home is missing out on the best possible start in life and the Government cannot allow this to continue,” she said.
“That’s why Scottish Liberal Democrats want to see the number of affordable homes increase by 50,000 over this parliament, with 40,000 of these available for social rent rather than purchase. This would make a big difference as we seek to ensure that every child has a safe and stable home.”
Andy Wightman MSP, the Scottish Greens’ housing spokesperson, said the reduction in applications for homelessness assistance was welcome.
“Nevertheless, the fact that homelessness still exists, and in such large numbers, in our wealthy country is a national disgrace,” he said.
“The Scottish Government also needs to assist children and families to find suitable accommodation, because the temporary arrangements can often be inappropriate and cause indirect issues on the wellbeing of youngsters in schools. We already know that teachers, social and healthcare professionals report an increase in instances of anxiety and behavioural issues due to the stress and unfamiliarity of where they are placed.”
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