I was speaking at the APSE housing seminar today in Peebles. This was a panel debate with the Housing Minister and the housing spokespersons for the main political parties. This was a good opportunity to set out UNISON Scotland’s vision for housing in Scotland.
Housing in Scotland has changed enormously over a relatively short period. In 1983 half of Scots rented council houses. Today two out of three are home owners and half of social housing is in the not for profit sector.
However, the main challenges remain. Demand for housing remains high with more than 150k on housing waiting lists. This problem has been exacerbated by the recession with private house building down 30% and social housing down 7% last year. Whilst there have been real improvements in the housing stock, there are still too many damp and unsuitable houses, and a £1bn maintenance backlog.
I set out UNISON Scotland’s solutions to these challenges. The priority should be a focus on housing investment with 10,000 new houses for rent each year. These houses should primarily be in the council house sector with a level playing field for new investment between housing associations and councils. In addition there should be an end to housing stock transfers coupled with debt write off for those councils who retained their stock. Of course this will only work if we curtail the right to buy – a real prospect with the Housing Bill currently before parliament.
It is not just what we build, but how we build. New houses need to be built to higher standards with a real emphasis on tackling fuel poverty and meeting Scotland’s ambitious climate change targets. New housing should be fully integrated without the spatial segregation that has characterised social housing in Scotland.
There was a good debate covering methods of financing, responses to the recession and the role (if any) of the Scottish Futures Trust. There is broad agreement on a vision to raise housing quality, build sustainable communities and ensure that an affordable home is within everyone’s reach. Sadly there is far less consensus on the means of achieving the vision.