07 Feb 2022
Housing and human rights can feel complex, but it is a set of principles for tackling inequalities, discrimination, and powerlessness at its core.
The recent debate on housing as a human right has primarily focused on arguments for and against their incorporation into domestic legislation.
Indeed, many international concepts, including the ‘right to housing’, can be ambiguous and open to interpretations. There are practical issues around governance matters, resources, data availability and competing policy goals.
Irrespective of these challenges, the Scottish Government has made a welcome commitment to introduce a new legal framework that will bring economic, social, cultural and environmental human rights (including the right to housing) into Scottish law during this Parliament.
This will not by itself ensure tenants are treated with respect, fairness and dignity and have a real say over the services they use and adequate live-in housing.
Therefore, how do we embed a cultural shift toward human rights across the whole housing sector in Scotland?
Firstly, the Scottish Government needs to define what it means by housing as a human right. What standards (or obligations} can be realised immediately, what could be realised over time and how such changes can be enforced, monitored and crucially, paid for. Resourcing, enforcing and monitoring these obligations is critical, and Government must be forthcoming about its commitment to them all.
Secondly, how will the national and local Government work with housing providers to better understand how human rights can help raise the standard of the homes we live in and housing services. There will be a need for clear guidance, training and education so that landlords can apply human rights consideration to their services.
Beyond this framing and support, the Scottish Government will have to address the inconsistencies in housing policy pertaining to human rights in Scotland. For example, we know private renting can offer a flexible way to find a home and caters for a diverse range of demands. However, its largely unregulated growth before 2016 may have been unintentionally discriminatory due to the propensity for younger households and those from minority ethnic backgrounds to reside in the sector and be disproportionately exposed to affordability issues and comparatively low physical and management standards. We need to be open to addressing these tensions in housing policy as we work through what this means in practice.
As we move towards incorporating human rights into Scots law, the Scottish Government will have to work more collegiately with housing providers, tenants, homeowners and the wider public to resolve these policy tensions and rethink its policies, strategies and plans. It will also need to rethink how best to support the housing sector to realise housing as a human right. However, it is adherence to these principles in decision making and service delivery rather than legal remedy that will ultimately ensure tenants are treated with respect, fairness and dignity and have a real say over the services they use and live in adequate housing.
Callum is the national director of CIH Scotland.