Interview with Housing Minister Margaret Burgess
Speaking to Holyrood she said: “Hopefully we’ve come some way to mitigating the bedroom tax part [of welfare reform] but it has been a challenge for local authorities and registered social landlords (RSL) in the past year.
“There’re also other challenges for the social sector, in terms of the aging population. More and more people need assistance in their tenancy and it’s about how this is dealt with. For RSLs in particular, because of the financial collapse, they’ve had a real issue with getting banks to lend to them in order to operate and develop to the degree they’d want to take things forward.”
In terms of house building, figures released in August by the Scottish Government showed the number of newly-built, refurbished and converted homes fell 14 per cent between 2011/12 and 2012/13 from 16,922 to 14,629 units. The fall was mainly caused by a drop in building in the private and housing association sectors. There were 13,803 new house completions in Scotland, down from 15,940 in 2011/12.
In addition the figures showed that there were 6,009 affordable housing units completed through the Affordable Housing Supply Programme, 13 per cent down on the previous year and the third consecutive decrease since 2009/10. However the Government said at the time that it had “reversed decades of decline” with completions between 2007/08 to 2012/13 up 32 per cent compared with the period 2001/02 to 2006/07. In addition the rate of completions per 100,000 of the population for Scotland was 295.8 for 2012/13, higher than England – which saw a rate of 201.5 – and Wales – which sat at 177.9.
Burgess added: “We’re constrained here in Scotland, particularly with social housing, when 85 per cent of rental income comes from housing benefit which we don’t control. If we were in control, it would give us a far better opportunity to make policy and decisions which better suit Scotland. Welfare changes have come in with the bedroom tax which was effectively saying ‘you’re too poor to have an extra bedroom’. I think that’s wrong and we would do a lot better in an independent Scotland.
“For many years, housing associations, supported by the government and councils have built two or three bedroom homes because that’s what is wanted here in Scotland. Now, we’re being told by the UK Government that we have to build smaller houses or the people that move into them will be subjected to the bedroom tax. We’re doing everything we can in terms of child poverty but one of the things children should have is a room each, especially if there’s a wide age gap between them. I don’t think just because someone is on a low income they shouldn’t get that.
“In an independent Scotland we could decide the housing we think is right for our people and tie it in with a benefit system with doesn’t include a bedroom tax.
“Our existing housing stock is also very important. We need to make sure we get the best use of our existing housing stock, that we don’t have empty houses lying there. We’ve put money into an empty home loan fund to encourage people to bring an empty home back into use for themselves or to be sold on or rented.
“It has been difficult for the house building industry and we’re not going to down play that. We’ve worked with Homes for Scotland, which represents the housing builders in the industry, to look at ways of helping. With the help to buy system, we worked with Homes for Scotland and the Council of Mortgage Lenders to get that up and running. It’s about helping the construction industry and working with them.
“The vision we have for housing remains the same, that each and every one of us can live in a house which is warm, sustainable and meets our needs. We’d be able to do a lot more if we had integration with the welfare state and if we had the capital borrowing we would need to build the houses. We could get many more houses built and use our resources in Scotland in a way which better meets the needs of the people of Scotland. We could do a lot more in housing and have a much bigger vision and we could deliver that vision quicker than we are able to do so now.”