Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Children are paying for the imbalance in the supply and demand for public housing

Shelter Scotland made a plea yesterday for Scottish Ministers to prioritize the housing needs of children in their guidance to councils and other agencies. Their report states that 22,000 children were made homeless in Scotland last year, amounting to 60 children a day. The release of this data is particularly ironic, considering that in 1946 the Committee on Homeless Children in Scotland was hailed as a landmark in the creation of a child welfare policy. Since then, a series of government initiatives like the Housing (Scotland) Act of 2001 and the Homelessness etc (Scotland) Act of 2003 have tried to tackle the effects and causes of homelessness. In 2001, as a result of a debate on the Scottish Parliament on the principles of the Homelessness Bill, MSP Tricia Marwick asked Ms Margo Curran Minister for Social Justice whether “ B&B or temporary accommodation was suitable for families and children”? The answer from Ms. Curran, was that that type of accommodation was indeed inappropriate but “ The committee reports on the bill are littered with quotes… saying that it is probably the most progressive legislation in western Europe and that the Executive has delivered for homeless people in a way that has not been possible before”.

Delivered? Nine years after the 2001 act and 2 years away from the target set in the Homelessness etc (Scotland Act of 2003) of entitling “all unintentionally homeless people to permanent accommodation” the equivalent of 3 classrooms of mostly less than 5 years old children are made homeless every day. The impact of homelessness on children has been amply documented and covers psychological and emotional problems, health and nutritional issues as well as lower than average educational attainment. These are just the problems related to the children; there are also all the problems homelessness brings to the family as a unit.

According to the Key Trends Housing summary statistics produced by the Scottish Government the level of public authority housing has been steadily decreasing since the 1980’s and since the 90’s it has hovered between 3 and 4% mostly due to the right to buy policy. While it has been beneficial that some households have become home owners, overall the level of public ownership of housing stock has decreased. Statistics show that in March 2008 public authorities owned 599,000 units amounting to 55% of the stock. This contrasts sharply with public housing ownership of 777,000 units (90%) in the 1990’s. the situation in 2010 has not changed much; as public authority housing decreases the role of registered social landlords within the area of social housing has increased dramatically.

The imbalance between demand and supply of social housing is quite evident. According to the Government’s Housing Statistics for Scotland Bulletin in 2008 there were 16,471 dwellings built by the private sector, 4,577 dwellings built by housing associations and only 336 dwellings built by local authorities. It is clear that public authorities are not building housing, and that the level of building by housing associations amounted to 28% of those built by the private sector. In March 2009 (the latest statistics available) there were 199,554 applicants on the housing register. It would not be presumptuous to estimate that amongst them were many families with children. Only 28,038 applicants got re-housed by the same date.

As public housing becomes scarcer, house prices dearer, and most dwellings built for profit, a nagging question crops up… Who is responsible for housing the neediest of our children?

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