Independence could create momentum for world-leading housing policies, say housing charities
A yes vote come September won’t cure Scotland’s housing crisis but could create an “adrenalin-charge” towards the most progressive housing policies in Europe.
Leading housing bodies say while the referendum won’t immediately alter Scotland’s housing problems – such as the dearth of available social accommodation – Scotland’s “housing evolution” could build on independence, creating far-reaching innovative polices ahead of their time.
Housing policy in Scotland has been diverging from the rest of the UK since devolution in 1999.
Enhanced homelessness protection, fuller rights for tenants and the abolition of the right to buy in the most recent housing bill, are just a sample of the measures.
The challenge however was making best use of resources as a new economy would significantly affect available spending.
In either a yes or no vote, more power would be inevitable, say these organisations, but the challenge lies in how to harness this.
Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, said he was in no doubt Scotland has the most progressive homelessness laws and that momentum could be capitalised on.
“There’s the possibility of what I’d call adrenalin-change,” he said.
The three pro-union political parties have now committed to devolving housing benefit. Could we reshape for the better the £1.8 billion we currently spend on this benefit?
“Scotland has the most progressive homelessness laws in the world because of a brief window of opportunity that emerged immediately after devolution in 1999.
“At that time, new ministers were able to use the momentum of constitutional change to challenge conventional wisdoms.”
He said there is the potential for the same to happen either in 2016 or using further devolved powers that have now been promised.
“For example, the three pro-union political parties have now committed to devolving housing benefit.
“Could we reshape for the better the £1.8 billion we currently spend on this benefit?”
However, the complication between reserved and devolved policies has created a disconnect in Scottish social policy according to the SFHA – starkly illustrated by the disastrous consequences of the bedroom tax.
Mary Taylor, SFHA chief executive, said simply obtaining control over support for housing costs in Scotland, by whatever means, may bring more problems than it solves.
“The existing social security system is complex, but there is scope to be more creative in finding a sustainable solution that works for Scotland, whether as an independent nation or through having more control of the welfare system in a Scotland that remains within the UK,” she said.
Alan Ferguson, director of CIH Scotland, said he believed there would be significant cuts especially following the 2015 Westminster election and the comprehensive spending review anyway – and campaigners would need to fight to keep housing high on the political agenda despite constitutional change.
“Whatever the constitutional arrangements and whoever is in power after 2016 we are going to have to ensure a high profile for housing and demonstrate it needs the investment because of the pivotal role it plays in preventing homelessness, preventative care, creating jobs, contributing to educational attainment and tackling anti-social behaviour,” he said.