I took part in yesterday's STUC housing lobby of the Scottish Parliament. There was an excellent turnout of housing staff, tenants organisations and housing associations in an attempt to push social housing in Scotland further up the political agenda.
The bottom line on housing is that Scotland needs more affordable housing, built and maintained to higher standard. This is not only good for housing but also for the economy by creating quality jobs. Around 19,000 additional households require housing every year and some 250,000 people languish on housing waiting lists.
The housing budget is suffering a massive cut in the Budget Bill and spending plans for the coming year. The Scottish Government's plan is to spread the limited cash ever more thinly. As a number of speakers pointed out, councils and housing associations do not have the reserves to plug the gap on the funding for each new house. Therefore, they either won't be built or HA's will have to borrow at high cost and pass the burden onto the tenants through higher rents.
In fairness the Scottish Government has taken a number of positive actions in housing policy. A partial end to the right to buy should stop the hemorrhaging of our social housing stock that has resulted in 400,000 houses in Scotland being lost to social housing. The small (3,300 houses) reinstatement of council house building may be a drop in the ocean but it does at least create a welcome ripple. The social housing charter and stronger regulation of the private rented sector is also welcome.
The lobby put a particular focus on the Con-Dem coalition's cuts in Housing Benefit (see my post below). Expert speakers predicted this would impact on all tenants with up to 110,000 people in Scotland being forced to move house, when alternative smaller accommodation is simply not there.
There was a further concern over the quality of housing. Fuel poverty is supposed to be eliminated by 2016. However, 45% of rural households and 30% of urban ones still live in fuel poverty and rising energy bills are likely to increase those numbers. A big energy conservation programme would help and create new jobs quickly.