Time for housing to be recognised as a human right
Three leading housing organisations in Wales are calling for the right to housing to be recognised in Welsh law.Tai Pawb, CIH Cymru and Shelter Cymru launched a jointly-commissioned report looking at the positive impacts that incorporating the UN-enshrined right to adequate housing would have in Wales in helping to tackle the housing crisis.
The call comes two years after the tragedy of Grenfell tower, where 72 people lost their lives as a direct result of inadequate housing.
In an event sponsored by John Griffiths AM, chair of the Senedd Equalities, Local Government and Communities committee, attendees heard from all three organisations and the report author, Dr Simon Hoffman (Swansea University). The report makes a strong case for the recognition of the right to housing in Wales, demonstrating how it would help address key housing issues such as homelessness and the severe shortage of affordable and accessible housing.
Speaking after the event, Tai Pawb’s director, Alicja Zalesinska, said: “We believe that at the core of any solution to the housing crisis in Wales must be a national commitment to the principle that everybody should have a human right - underpinned by law - to access adequate and sustainable housing. We need a vision and a legal framework that would help us shift the paradigm of the way housing is understood – namely as being central to the dignity of every person, where people in need are rights holders, not charity recipients.”
The report demonstrates how the right to housing would help solve issues such as the lack of accessible homes, requiring there to be a focus on those most in need of housing.
Jillian Wadley, a disabled tenant living in Cwmbran, previously lived in a house that was inaccessible.
“I really struggled in that time with tasks that many people often take for granted. For example, without a stair lift, I would have to climb the stairs with the help of my husband holding me, but often, my back would give way and I would fall down. Eventually, our landlord organised for a stair lift to be fitted until a suitable home was found.
“It took three years for us to be rehoused to a property that could be adapted to accommodate our family and, although it wasn’t necessarily accessible, it could be adapted for my needs.
“It almost seems that being disabled is okay so long as you don’t have children, because many adapted or accessible homes are just one or two-bedroom properties. We really need to build many more accessible homes but, as it stands, there aren’t any clear plans to do so. This needs to be addressed as there are so many disabled people who live in properties that are not suitable for their needs.”
In adopting a rights-based approach to housing, Wales would follow a growing number of countries where the right to housing is a constitutional principle, including Finland, where homelessness has fallen by 35 per cent since 2010. In a similar period, homelessness in Wales has risen by 63 per cent .
Referring to the report, director of CIH Cymru, Matt Dicks, said: “This is an opportunity to re-energise and re-purpose the original commitment to providing that most fundamental of human rights – a safe place we can call home - by adopting a rights-based approach to housing and fully incorporating the ‘Right to Adequate Housing’ into Welsh law. We can look to international examples, including in Canada, South America, the US and Finland, where the right to housing has been enshrined, in various ways, into the delivery of public services, together with recent developments in Scotland, and use them as a platform for advancing the rights agenda in Wales.”
John Puzey, director of Shelter Cymru, added: “A right to a home, enshrined in Welsh law, would require all public services to have proper regard to a person’s human rights and would positively change many of those decisions that drive people into homelessness. Such a right would also increase a citizen’s ability to challenge poor decisions that led to them becoming homeless in the first place.”
The report marks the beginning of a joint campaign by the three organisations on the right to housing, which will also involve sector and wider stakeholder engagement ahead of the next Welsh Assembly elections scheduled for 2021.