12 Apr 2021

Housing as a human right

Last month the National Taskforce for Human Rights, co-chaired by Professor Alan Miller and the Cabinet Secretary Shirley Anne Sommerville, published its Leadership Report setting out recommendations to the Scottish Government for establishing a statutory framework for human rights. The intention is that international human rights treaties will be recognised in Scots law.

This is echoed in Housing to 2040 which calls for a right to an adequate home, but what does a human right to a home mean in practice for Scotland’s housing sector?

We know that passing laws and developing policies does not always change practice. But it would be churlish to dismiss this commitment to a human rights law. Incorporation matters. By moving the issue from an international to a national arena, we can ensure our Government considers human rights fully in its policy deliberations. Crucially, it means we can provide citizens with a legal basis to challenge councils, landlords and the Government through the courts if they violate the minimum set of rights.

In Wales they have already started to the process of detailing what a right to adequate housing may look like in practice for their citizens. Professor Simon Hoffman’s feasibility report suggests how it could be given better effect in Wales through devolved law, and what difference this would make to Welsh housing policy. This is a process we in Scotland need to mirror if our citizens are going to benefit from housing as a human right.

Yes, this is a challenge. Legislation will be only the first step and educating the public and judiciary about the value of this approach will take time. However, we are not starting from scratch either.

The explicit focus in Housing to 2040 and from the Scottish Housing Regulator demonstrates the pre-eminence human rights has in developing housing policy and strategy in Scotland today. Further, when we consider housing and human rights in practice we can point to the work of landlords across the country in

  • building homes for social rent;
  • building accessible, adaptable homes for people at all stages of their lives; and
  • improving the quality, condition, and standard of housing.

But it is up to us, all of us to decide what our ambition is for housing in Scotland. That is why on 21 April CIH Scotland is hosting the second in its series of housing leaders’ network events on human rights. The online event will hear from Professor Miller, Professor Hoffman and Fanchea Kelly, chief executive of Blackwood Homes.

We need to agree as sector, as a profession, what housing as a human right means and how we get there. The early years of the next Parliament in Scotland will reach long into the future, a new Housing Bill, a renewal of the social housing charter and a move towards a single rented sector will reshape housing policy and practice in Scotland. Let’s make sure that as we build our sector over the next two decades that we put human rights at the centre of our housing system.