Welcome to my Blog
It mostly covers my work as UNISON Scotland's Head of Policy and Public Affairs although views are my own. For full coverage of UNISON Scotland's policy and campaigns please visit our web site. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.
Thursday, 6 June 2013
Homes for a Fairer Scotland
Fewer homes are being built in Scotland than during the depression of the 1930s, leaving us with a housing crisis that needs a radical policy response. Today, UNISON Scotland offers such a response with the publication of our new housing policy.
Shelter tells us that the figure for 2012 of 14,877 completions was the lowest number since 1947, when 12,149 houses were finished. It was also worse than the low point reached in the Great Depression when 17,544 homes were completed in 1932. They estimate 465,000 new homes need to be built by 2035 to meet demand.
We spent a lot of time time talking to our members in housing while developing this policy. We covered lots of issues, but everything came back to one simple truth - we just need to build more houses. And the primary need is social housing.
The Scottish Government describes social landlords as, ‘the providers of homes for the most vulnerable in society’, as ‘a safety net at a time of personal crisis’ and as ‘a first home before entering owner occupation’. We think that's the wrong approach. The market has not and is not interested in meeting the real housing need in Scotland. That's why we need to make social housing central to a new housing strategy. Houses that people can afford and want to live in.
Fine you say, but how will you pay for it in these straightened times? Well paying for housing isn't a big problem as there is rental income that can cover the building and maintenance costs over the life span of the building. The problem is financing the capital cost. The banks won't lend at rates that housing associations can afford even if the money was available. So our solution is to tap into the vast assets of our Scottish local government pension funds. £24bn, almost half of which is invested outwith the UK. The workers and employers who paid for these assets would rather their cash was invested in local housing than lining the pockets of City fund managers.
Building houses is much more than simply putting a roof over people's heads. It will provide jobs in the public and private sector that will help kick start the economy. It will also make a huge contribution to tackling health inequalities, probably Scotland's greatest policy challenge. Talk to any community nurse, health visitor or social worker and they will tell you about the impact cold, damp, overcrowded housing has on the health of their clients.
It makes financial sense as well. If we are serious about preventative spending why are we wasting scarce resources on temporary accommodation. This year alone Glasgow has spent over £24 million and Edinburgh over £30 million. To this you can add £millions on the health and social consequences of poor housing. And by the way, we can also make a real contribution to our climate change targets.
Private sector tenants need secure affordable homes too. They require a proper system of rent control, improved regulation of landlords and decent housing standards. Of course, rent controls, regulations and standards are only effective as long as they are enforced whenever necessary.
But most importantly a new housing strategy will transform the lives of hundreds of thousands of ordinary people by providing a safe comfortable home so that they and their families, their communities and ultimately our society can reach their full potential.