08 Jun 2022
It was a great pleasure to be involved the Chartered Institute of Housing's Scotland's Housing Festival 2022, held at Glasgow’s SEC last month. For start, it was thrilling to share space with real people – dutifully distanced, of course – who all share a passion for housing in Scotland, and a commitment to making things better.
The pandemic has proved the vital importance of having a home and highlighted the pressing need for further action to ensure that everyone in Scotland has a safe place they can call their own. But it has also brought real challenges for the sector, now deeply concerned about the continuing affordability and supply of new housing – particularly social housing – along with the escalating cost-of-living crisis.
So there was plenty to talk about in plenary sessions, workshops and during breaks in the Festival's buzzing exhibition hall. From the main stage, in workshops and fringe sessions, speakers brought a range of perspectives to all the hot topics – from tenants’ rights to homelessness, data gathering and independent living to decarbonisation and Covid recovery – while delegates contributed lively challenge from the conference floor.
Shona Robison MSP, cabinet secretary for social justice, housing and local government, gave the opening keynote speech acknowledging the financial pressures and covering the Scottish Government’s Housing to 2040 strategy. During questions, she was pressed on shorter-term priorities: how many of Scotland’s 110,000 new homes (70 per cent of them social housing) promised by 2032 would be completed by the end of this Parliament in four years’ time? The questioner asserted that, to keep up with demand, Scotland would need at least 50,000 of those new homes to have been built by the next Holyrood election…. food for political thought.
Planning for the future was the focus for day two, opened by Angiolina Foster, chair of Public Health Scotland, who spoke about the country’s yawning equality gap which pre-dates Covid. She evidenced the terrible impact of poverty on the lives of the less-affluent and said there is now a clear moral case for building a fairer, more socially-just Scotland. Alongside health and social care recovery, housing has an important role in achieving that.
Sharing the stage was Patrick Harvie MSP, minister for zero carbon buildings, active travel and tenants’ rights, and Scottish Green Party co-leader, who stressed the necessity for environmentally sustainable housing to address both the climate emergency and fuel poverty. Delegates agreed that taking a preventative ‘upstream’ approach rather than waiting for crisis to happen would mean extra resources for housing now.
The looming cost-of-living crisis cast a long shadow over discussions throughout Scotland's Housing Festival, which drew to a close with powerful presentations from Polly Jones, head of the Trussell Trust in Scotland, and Chris Birt, associate director of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. These leading campaigners for social change left no-one in any doubt about the prospect of deepening poverty, despair and destitution across ‘Foodbank Britain’, unless urgent action is taken.
My take-home message? It’s not the sole responsibility of Government ministers or local authorities to solve Scotland’s housing crisis. We all have a part to play in accelerating improvement, even if it means holding our elected representatives and policy makers to account.
Pennie Taylor is a freelance journalist.