Hundreds come together for Scotland's biggest and best housing event
We take a look at the highlights from day one of Scotland's Housing Festival in Edinburgh.
Hundreds of housing professionals braved the weather to came together as Scotland's biggest and best housing conference got underway.
Writer, strategist and communications guru Alastair Campbell opened this year’s Housing Festival with a challenge to stop the normalisation of rough sleeping and homelessness.
While applauding the progress being made in Scotland, he stated that the UK as a whole is far too accepting of the causes of rough sleeping; noting around four in ten homeless people have mental health problems and there is a lack of prioritisation of mental health as a cause of homelessness.
Reflecting on his own depression Alastair articulated how we all need support from NHS and other services and that in his view BREXIT is impacting on both budget lines and political discourse; making it impossible to progress any other public policy issues. He later called for the housing sector to step up and make politicians and the public recognise the need to invest in housing.
Horizon Housing Association led one of the stand-out breakout sessions with a discussion on the need for accessible housing. Publishing new research at the festival they reported that only 1.9% of affordable housing is adapted for wheelchair use, down from a peak of 3.1% in 2012.
Their findings show that 3.6% of households have wheelchair users and by 2024 this number is expected to almost double to 6.5%. With over 17,000 households having unmet wheelchair accessibility needs Horizon is calling for: (i) 10% of all new homes to be wheelchair accessible (ii) an increase in adaptations and (iii) better allocation of existing stock.
The Cabinet Secretary Angela Constance delivered the afternoon keynote calling on delegates to remember that affordable housing is about more than just bricks and mortar – it provides safe, warm homes, helps create a fairer Scotland-through its role connecting people and place.
She noted the Scottish Government will take “new and innovative” approaches to the housing challenges of BREXIT and an ageing population and reiterated its commitment to end rough sleeping. She highlighted that addressing child poverty as one of the pillars to end homelessness and stressed the need for new homes to meet the reach the highest standards on energy efficiency and accessibility to meet the needs of the ageing population
CIH executive director Annie Mauger chaired a packed out breakout session featuring the Housing Minister Kevin Stewart and Crisis chief executive, Jon Sparkes. The minister kicked off by reiterating the Scottish Government commitment to eradicating homelessness in Scotland, backed by £50 million funding over five years. He noted that a Housing First approach is be part of the solution but is waiting on the final report from the action group in May.
Jon Sparkes discussed how the working group has been gathering evidence from stakeholders and people with lived experience of homelessness and how this will be used to shape the future of homelessness services in Scotland. Jon explained how the group is focusing on five main areas (i) preventing homelessness(ii) supporting multi-agency frontline support (iii) improving access to appropriate accommodation (iv) improving measurement and (v) tackling any existing legal barriers.
In questioning the minister welcomed the progress made towards the 50,000 affordable homes target but recognised there are legitimate questions about size and location of new developments.
To end the afternoon Sir Harry Burns spoke to delegates about the economic cost of not addressing health inequalities. He challenged the assertion made by politicians for decades that it costs too much to provide good housing, a decent income and improved health - noting the opportunity costs of inaction was in the billions in Scotland alone.
Sir Harry added that by giving the most marginalised people in society control, by giving them money and choices that they will make the best decisions about their life. He criticised the traditional approach to public sector delivery which focuses on playing it safe rather than actually helping people.
- Follow #HousingFestival for live updates from day two of Scotland's Housing Festival