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Blog: The Scottish Government’s Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan will focus on rents, by Jeremy Hewer, SFHA Policy Advisor

SFHA's Jeremy Hewer comments on the Scottish Government's Every Child, Every Chance strategy and considers how it might impact on Housing Associations

Just before the Easter Break, the Scottish Government published Every Child, Every Chance, its delivery plan for tackling child poverty up until 2022. It is a well-known technique for governments to make announcements that they might feel awkward about on the eve of public holidays  (c.f. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions recent statement on housing costs for 18-21 year olds), but this publication is nothing of the sort: weighing in at a hefty 156 pages, it fulfils the duty of Ministers to produce a delivery plan covering the period from April 1st, 2018 to March 31st, 2022, under the provisions of the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017.

Why SFHA members should be interested is that the plan makes it clear that the poverty of families will be measured after housing costs have been taken into account. Housing costs are identified as one of the three main drivers of poverty and there are specific references to the role of the Scottish Housing Regulator in addressing issues of affordability and value for money – whether this means that there will be extra teeth given to the regulator to police social housing rents remains to be seen – but from the tenor of this document, it can’t be ruled out as a possibility. There is also reference to using procurement to help dive down costs.
Specifically, the plan has the following pledge: to work with the social housing sector in 2018 to agree the best ways to keep rents affordable.

The plan goes on to state:
“In Scotland, individual social landlords strike a balance between rent levels and meeting the housing needs of their local communities, but rents must not be increased without regard for the importance of affordability for tenants. Information on rent levels is monitored and published by the Scottish Housing Regulator.

“To help landlords secure best value for money when developing new homes, the Scottish Government is offering support through its Achieving Excellence in Housing Development programme. One area of support is procurement and early results suggest that there is scope for savings by procuring goods, services and construction more effectively. This programme is also seeking to establish clearer measurement of performance and quality in new affordable homes. As performance improves, councils and housing associations will also be able to deliver new homes with increasing efficiency and this too will help to reduce costs. We will report on the progress of this work in 2019.”

There are other references in the plan which may be of interest to housing associations and cooperatives.

There will be a new Financial Health Check initiative may offer possibilities for associations providing financial inclusion support; the Scottish Government is matching the Carnegie Trust UK’s Affordable Credit Loan Fund may have potential for associations with partnerships with Credit Unions. There may be a potential for wider role involvement in the £2million investment in the Children’s Neighbourhoods Scotland programme and the £7.5 million Innovation Fund with the Hunter Foundation, looking at new approaches to addressing child poverty.

Housing associations and cooperatives, in their role as community anchors, can play a key part in helping tackle issues of poverty, especially if they can forge partnerships with other stakeholders; but at the core there is the imperative to prove that they continue to provide value for money. The SFHA has produced a rent setting guidance and affordability tool, which has been designed to help housing associations and co-operatives make practical decisions on all aspects of rent policy, rent structures, rent setting and affordability in a way that embraces good value for money principles for both the landlord and their tenants.

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