Comment: Housing policy should be priority

Newly built flats in Easter Road, Edinburgh. Picture: TSPL
Newly built flats in Easter Road, Edinburgh. Picture: TSPL
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AS more people are living in poverty than ever, Adam Lang says 10,000 new homes for social rent every year would begin to tackle the problem

Figures released by the Scottish Government this week showed that in 2012-13 as many as 510,000 people in Scotland were recorded as living in “severe” poverty and around 230,000 lived in “extreme” poverty. That’s more people living in severe poverty than the entire population of Edinburgh city. Households in severe and extreme poverty are defined as those with incomes below 50 and 40 per cent of the UK median income, respectively. These figures are utterly shameful and wholly unacceptable in a modern, affluent society.

What makes this situation worse is that the high cost of housing in Scotland is driving many more households into severe or extreme poverty than ever. The Government’s figures show that an increased total of 710,000 people live in severe poverty and 500,000 in extreme poverty after housing costs are factored in.

At Shelter Scotland we know all too well that people are being battered by a perfect storm of welfare reforms, stagnant wages, high utility bills, higher living costs and job insecurity. We know this because people facing these challenges come to us every day for help, advice and support.

Despite the welcome move from the Scottish Government to mitigate the impact of the Bedroom Tax here in Scotland, we know that for the 70,000 plus households affected, this doesn’t make things better, it just stops things from getting even worse.

These latest statistics on poverty are clear evidence that the safety and security of having a home is under threat like never before. To tackle this, we must return housing to the very heart of the political agenda in Scotland. We must drive our politicians to commit to suitably and sustainably housing our population and ensuring that everyone has access to a safe, secure and affordable home.

If we look at the role of housing in relation to wider ambitions around improving wellbeing, ensuring a home for everyone becomes even more vital. If we fail in the fundamental principle of adequately housing our population we will not realise progressive and preventative policy ambitions around early years education, health and social care integration, reform to the justice system or even maximise value from public expenditure.

We must build at least 10,000 new homes for social rent every year and reform and modernise the growing private rented sector which is now home to more families with children than ever. It is only by being bold on these issues that we will truly tackle Scotland’s housing crisis and begin to address one of the core reasons behind the unacceptable levels of widespread poverty in our society, which brings misery to too many families.

• Adam Lang is head of communications and policy at Shelter Scotland.