Ewan Aitken: Social housing only hope for many

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THE number of people in private rented accommodation approaching our homeless prevention service is growing considerably because of the insecurity of their tenure. What they seek is security of tenure. Given their income, that is only achievable with a tenancy from the council or a social landlord, which is why the building of new council and social housing for rent is so important.

It is that reality that reminds me why I am so grateful that we have a Scottish Parliament that protects us from the madness of the Westminster government’s proposed social housing fire sale. That madness is compounded by the stupidity of funding this ideologically-driven policy by selling off council housing. It is not so much misguided as morally wrong – and ironically, given its ideological roots, an extraordinarily centralist and narrow definition of aspiration.

It is a task of the state, given to it by the people, to ensure that its citizens have the housing they need. This reflects article 25 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Article 25 articulates a human right to a standard of health and wellbeing as the reason for us all having a right to number of needs being met, one of which is housing.

The Westminster government claims that housing need can only be truly met if you own your own home, suggesting that other forms of housing are to be seen as temporary and that not aspiring to home ownership is a failure of aspiration and a dependency culture.

Yet the so called economic recovery is built on house prices rising out of the reach of many, and a low-paid and rarely-permanent employment environment. At the same time, describing social housing as “subsidised by the state” whilst ignoring the huge amount of housing benefits and working tax credits going to the higher rents but insecure tenancies of private landlords would do credit to Orwell’s Ministry of Truth. Contrast this with the powerful German economy where home ownership is far lower.

The insecurity being injected into social housing tenures, coupled with the narrative that the only true aspiration is owner occupation whilst building an economy that puts that aspiration out of the reach of huge numbers of people, will have devastating effect on their health and wellbeing. Especially when they are being told that their housing tenure defines them as failures.

Sir Harry Burns has shown how systemic societal insecurity significantly decreases health and wellbeing. Scotland’s housing policy needs more affordable social rented housing – not just for the homes the nation needs but for its very health and wellbeing.

Ewan Aitken is chief executive of the Cyrenians