Having a decent house is central to the quality of life for everyone in Scotland
Bob Black, chairman of the Commission for Housing and Wellbeing in Scotland writes for Holyrood
Having a decent house is central to the quality of life for everyone in Scotland. Housing provides homes for people. But it’s a stark fact that 73,000 households across Scotland – many with children – live in overcrowded housing. More than 150,500 families and individuals are on a waiting list for a home of their own, and in the private sector house prices have far outstripped the rate of inflation to create a generational gulf of the haves and have-nots.
It is no surprise then that those on the lowest incomes in Scotland are disproportionately affected by the housing shortage and quality of the homes available to them.
Our society is facing major challenges in responding to the consequences of a housing crisis. Across Scotland over 4,300 children will wake up homeless tomorrow, and thousands more will spend months and possibly years in cold, damp housing and this condition will have a determining influence on their futures.
The Scottish Government estimates that some 85 per cent of the houses in use by 2050 are already built. But poor quality housing continues to damage the health and life chances of thousands of families and individuals in Scotland – around 13 per cent of households are affected by dampness or condensation, whilst 39 per cent of all households are in fuel poverty. Not only do we need to build more homes, but we must also improve the quality of existing stock. Only then can Scotland ensure the future wellbeing of its people.
Recently a Joseph Rowntree Foundation report found that one in four of those under the age of 30 is at risk of financial hardship. In the context of housing, these figures should not come as a surprise. Figures show that young people are at higher risk of homelessness. While the overall number of homeless applications is decreasing, the rate of homelessness in Scotland is higher for young people than other age groups. In real terms, this means 10,794 young people aged 16-24 faced homelessness last year.
The scale of the country’s wealth gap is staggering, with the richest 10 per cent of households in Scotland having 900 times the accumulated wealth of the poorest 10 per cent. This chimes with Professor David Bell’s recent work on inter and intra-generational inequality, which showed that the hope of buying a home for less affluent young adults is dashed by those able to rely on cash inherited from their family or the so-called Bank of Mum and Dad.
Annual expenditure of £1.8 billion on housing benefit in Scotland is providing personal housing subsidies in the rented sector. It dwarfs the direct expenditure by the Scottish Government on housing. In Scotland, 65 per cent of tenants in the social rented sector receive housing benefit, compared with 32 per cent of private sector renters. But the increase in expenditure on housing benefit in recent years has come largely from more people taking up tenancies in the expanding private rented sector (PRS).
This increased take up has, to a large extent, come from working people in low-income jobs and, consequently, the PRS accounts for more of the spending on housing benefit. Rental income supplemented by housing benefit enables landlords to repay long-term loans to lenders and helps low-income tenants pay their rents.
The Commission on Housing and Wellbeing, which I chair, has committed itself to exploring the housing crisis and offering proposals for the future direction of housing policy in Scotland. Although the commission is sponsored by Shelter Scotland, we are independent in our work. We will launch our conclusions and recommendations in June in Edinburgh.
This review will make suggestions about how to sustain and improve the wellbeing of the Scottish population through policies and programmes which reinforce the importance of good housing in building strong local communities and helping people to live better lives.
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