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Event report: The importance of investing in social housing

Monopoly houses on coins - Image credit: Joe Giddens/PA

Event report: The importance of investing in social housing

“All roads lead back to the supply of homes,” said Gordon MacRae, assistant director of Shelter Scotland, as he detailed some of the housing challenges that still need to be tackled in Scotland.

These include rising homelessness, continued housing unaffordability, an increase in children in temporary accommodation, a lack of family homes in the social housing system, the lack of move-on accommodation and the challenges of scaling up Housing First for people with multiple complex needs.

MacRae was speaking at a Holyrood webinar on social housing, held in partnership with Shelter, ahead of the publication of the Scottish Government’s ‘Housing to 2040’ strategy, the country’s first long-term national housing strategy.

In a recorded video, communities secretary Aileen Campbell expressed the Scottish Government’s commitment to housing as “pivotal for recovery” after the pandemic and said recovery “won’t ever be enough” if that just means a return to normal.

“We will be publishing that strategy soon and it will be ambitious, a vision and plan for housing that puts equality at its heart and aims to deliver good quality, energy efficient, zero emissions housing with access to outdoor space, transport links, digital connectivity and community services,” she said.

Shelter has called for all parties to commit to building 37,100 new homes for social rent in the next parliament and MacRae said the organisation now has a “single-minded focus” on social housing as its main campaigning priority.

“Only social housing, in our view, provides the security, the affordability and the standards,” he said. “Some of the greenest homes in Scotland now are social homes and we need to go that little bit further.”

One key aim is to be able to see the impact that building more social homes has had by the end of the next parliament.

“This is not about a price tag,” he said. “It’s not even really about the number. It is about the ambition and about being able to measure the purpose of social housing.

“You want a social house building programme that actually makes the difference so that when we have this conversation in five years’ time, we don’t do it still with record numbers of children in temporary accommodation, still with ever increasing homelessness and still with demand outstripping supply.”

Professor David Clapham of the University of Glasgow praised the ambition in the strategy consultation, particularly the aim to move towards a more “tenure-neutral” policy, where all forms of housing are seen as equally valid choices.

He also talked about the importance of not looking at social housing in isolation, but at the interactions between tenures and highlighted the need for investment in housing support, not just in the bricks and mortar.

Deborah Hay from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation talked about the wider economic, social and health benefits of social housing, including jobs, supply chains and local spend, but also other priorities such as tackling climate change, health and wellbeing, and tackling poverty and inequalities.

She noted that child poverty levels are six percentage points lower in Scotland than the rest of the UK primarily because of a bigger social housing sector. She also called for investment in existing homes as well as building new ones.

Lesley Baird of TPAS Scotland pointed out that tenants are partners in the development of social housing and must be involved and consulted, while Olga Clayton of the Wheatley Group talked from the perspective of a social landlord on the work they have done to support tenants during the pandemic.

She also talked about the importance of social housing in supporting the ageing population and expressed disappointment that the recent review of social care had so little about housing in it. “New models of care and support will be needed,” she said.

Closing the session, Shelter chief executive Alison Watson said there had never before been such a wealth of evidence on the socio-economic benefits of social housing and with an election coming up, it felt like the right time to think about our national outcomes.

The commitment to building social homes must cross parliamentary terms, she said, and she hoped that ‘Housing to 2040’ would be the start of that.

Watson also expressed the hope that the right to housing would be embedded in Scots law after the election, but added that “for those rights to become a reality, we need enough social homes”. 

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