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by Sally Thomas, Scottish Federation of Housing Associations
10 May 2023
Associate feature: This government can tackle poverty – delivering the social homes we need is the first step

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Associate feature: This government can tackle poverty – delivering the social homes we need is the first step

Sally Thomas, Chief Executive, Scottish Federation of Housing Associations 

The new First Minister has said that tackling poverty will be a defining mission of his time as leader and that’s no small task. Yet it’s categorically the right thing to focus on. In 2023, it’s simply not right that one in four children in Scotland are growing up in poverty – and it doesn’t need to be this way. 

Of course, the Scottish Government doesn’t control all the levers that would end child poverty. And while laudable Scottish Government policies have kept child poverty rates from spiralling, recent work from our partners at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that the number of people living in very deep poverty in Scotland has grown dramatically in recent years. The same report highlighted that the higher levels of social housing in Scotland have acted as a barrier to the far worse poverty rates seen elsewhere in the UK. Yet even though social homes protect people from poverty, we’re simply not delivering them at the rate we need. In fact recent figures show that 110,000 households in Scotland are on housing lists, with over a third waiting for more than three years.

That’s three years where life is on hold. Where children are growing up without a secure home that they can call their own, in a community that’s theirs. Research commissioned by SFHA, Shelter and the Chartered Institute of Housing showed that to reduce housing need we must deliver 38,500 social homes by the end of this parliament. These are the real-life consequences if we don’t achieve that. 

Making sure that someone has a safe, warm and affordable home is one of the biggest differences we can make to people’s lives. I know that from first-hand experience. I grew up in council housing and as a young adult needing somewhere to live while I looked for my first job, became trapped in a failing housing market in London. I had no options - priced out of private rent and homeownership and ineligible for council and housing association waiting lists. Just like so many of our young people now. 

I ended up living in squats and short-life housing condemned for demolition. That was until I was involved in starting a housing co-operative which gave me a safe, secure, affordable home in a community with some measure of control and certainty. It gave me the break I needed.  

And that’s what our housing associations and co-operatives do. They give people from all types of backgrounds the start they need, with a stable, affordable home. Because that’s the basis of everything else, isn’t it? For our health, our job opportunities, and the childhoods we all deserve. Beyond just providing that bedrock, housing associations directly tackling poverty and inequality every day. They support tenants with access to social security, employment, health needs and so much more, sustaining tenancies and helping to create successful lives. 

That’s why I was pleased to join the First Minister at the recent Anti-Poverty Summit, where I made clear that delivering social homes must be a core policy, if the First Minister is to achieve his goal of tackling poverty. Now we need to make it happen. 

We have a new Scottish Government and a new, renewed opportunity to build a socially just Scotland. Poverty isn’t something we have to live with. The biggest step we could make toward ending it, and to changing lives, is to deliver the social homes we need. 

This article is sponsored by Scottish Federation of Housing Associations

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