Time to recognise housing as a human right in Scotland
In 2019 we need to shift the view of housing so it is seen as an economic necessity for everyone, writes CIH Scotland’s National Director Callum Chomczuk.
In 2019 we celebrate a number of anniversaries: 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, 25 years since the end of apartheid in South Africa. But for many in the housing sector, what makes 2019 notable is the centenary of the Housing and Town Planning Act – or the Addison Act, as is commonly known. It was the piece of early 20th century legislation that started the construction of subsidised social housing across the UK.
This legislation made housing a national responsibility, and local authorities were given the task of developing new housing and rented accommodation where it was needed by working people.
We have come a long way since the Addison Act, with 50,000 affordable homes being provided in Scotland between 2016 and 2021 alone. However, we still live in country where one-bedroom flats in our capital, Edinburgh, cost on average £740 per month to rent, while across the country historic underinvestment in housing stock has lead to chronic health problems.
Now the United Nations recognises the right to adequate housing – the right that we should all have housing that is secure, affordable, habitable, accessible and in a place we want to live.
Governments across the UK have always stopped short when it comes to enforceable economic rights. But with Brexit (possibly) looming, the Scottish government is considering what legislative protections are needed to embed social, cultural and economic rights – including the right to a home.
This may seem like overkill to some, given the significant investment being made in social housing in Scotland.
But it is not enough just to build more homes – we need the right homes in the right places and we need both the affordable and private housing sectors to be delivering.
The current model of speculative housebuilding has not served us well, with many forced into insecure and undesirable rented properties that they can ill afford.
A total of 94 people died on the streets of Scotland last year and more than 160,000 are on council waiting lists for social housing.
We can rightly applaud the huge investment there has been in affordable housing in this country – £3bn over five years – but we are still not doing enough.
The Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) has for the past six months been campaigning to improve the experience of victims of domestic abuse to ensure that they are given the option to stay in their own home.
We will continue our campaign until it succeeds, but if victims of abuse were empowered to challenge housing decisions by using human rights, this could encourage more housing providers to step up to the challenge of tacking domestic abuse.
We need to give everyone the opportunity to have a home that they can afford in a place they want to live. In 2019 we need a national conversation about having housing embedded as a human right.
This of course has to be matched with money. Having a right that is not available because there is no suitable home to live in is no right at all.
And with the Scottish government already consulting on its housing plans post-2021, it is clear that a commitment to build another 50,000 will be a challenge.
But the opportunity of 2019 is to make the case that the greatest success of this government has been its affordable housebuilding programme, and to be a truly radical, reforming government we need to see a long-term funding commitment for a generation.
CIH Scotland is proudly independent and tenure neutral. But we are not neutral about the failures in the housing system.
Market failure and rampant price speculation have failed tens of thousands of Scots. By recognising housing as a human right we can change the narrative about what it means to have a home, shifting the focus away from housing as an economic asset for the few towards an economic necessity for everyone.
*This article was originally published in Inside Housing on 14 January 2019.