Enough social rented housing is the only answer to inequality, poverty and social exclusion
By Craig Sanderson, former Chief Executive of Link Housing Association.
The Scottish Government’s consultation paper ‘Housing to 2040’ is a welcome and bold attempt to consider how to build on the effectiveness of the current strategy, which has been to provide an unprecedent level of support for the delivery of a significant volume of new, high-quality social and ‘affordable’ housing.
Some observers have suggested that Scotland cannot afford to continue doing ‘business as usual’ as far as the housing budget is concerned and that other pressing needs (education, health, the police) will have to be favoured post-2021. We must resist the temptation to accept that view by continuing to make a holistic assessment of – and demonstrating – all the social, environmental and economic benefits of investment in social housing. It ain’t broke, so don’t fix it.
We must also remember that the targets of 35,000 social and 15,000 affordable homes, although commendable, still fall short of what is required.
The crux of the mounting crisis is what Scottish Government headlines in Principle 1 of its paper: “The housing system should supply high-quality affordable homes for living in, to shift the balance away from the use of homes as a means to store wealth”. Until folk are disabused of their obsession with home ownership as a means to take advantage of rising house prices in so-called ‘booms’ and to line their pockets for the benefit of their kids or pension pots, then we’re all doomed (pay attention at the back! Read The Spirit Level and Thomas Piketty (both Capital and his latest) and watch the film Push).
It is also essential that significant improvements are achieved by reform of the taxation system, both at national and local government levels. The Scottish Government suggests that taxation and subsidy should promote house price stability. Hear, hear!
During my 14 months as an Edinburgh Poverty Commissioner, I have become even more convinced than I always have been that an adequate supply of high-quality social rented homes is the only answer to inequality, poverty and social exclusion.
Social housing (and I mean ‘social’, not ‘affordable’) supply remains the best curb on rampant house price rises, is built (or retrofitted) to mitigate fuel poverty, is at a rent level appropriate for those in low paid employment or on limited fixed incomes, creates ‘proper’ jobs paying the Living Wage and contributing tax to the Exchequer, improves security, reduces crime, offers ‘quiet’ study for young people, helps local economies and delivers wider social impacts. All the other stuff (like Help to Buy which profits individuals or private developers) is merely Titanic-lifeboat-rearrangement.
Crucially, capital subsidy has got to be recognised for what it is. It is not a gift to the RSL/council but is a guarantee of the long-term availability of genuinely affordable homes for current and future tenants. And it is not actually a ‘grant’ but an investment in the whole nation’s assets.