Commissioner Craig Sanderson recently wrote an opinion piece in the Evening News (14 October 2019) reflecting on his career and the opportunities that the Edinburgh Poverty Commission has to end poverty.
I have recently retired, having been CEO of the Link group of housing associations and social enterprises for 31 years.
Last year, I was honoured to have been approached to join The Edinburgh Poverty Commission and I’m enjoying meeting and discussing issues with people working in frontline service who I didn’t get to meet often enough before.
We have a crisis in housing, health and social care throughout Scotland. If you add those issues to austerity measures which have seriously adversely affected both national and local government social services budgets, It can’t be any surprise that poverty (even in an apparently prosperous city like Edinburgh) is on the rise.
But you have to look under the surface to understand it. And this is what we’re doing at the Edinburgh Poverty Commission.
Welfare and wages ‘freezes’ and cuts and increased transport, food and fuel costs have all put pressure on household budgets, particularly those with the lowest levels of incomes and wealth.
But in my view, the most serious problem is the mushrooming price that has to be paid for sustaining a secure, safe, comfortable home, whether it is to rent or buy.
The pressures experienced on the housing market in Edinburgh have led to high housing costs and unmet need. The income inequality is large and growing and the tight housing market is expected to be under increasing pressure as the city grows at a faster pace than elsewhere in Scotland.
So how do we create a housing system which means that everyone can have a home they can afford to live in? Is this not a fundamental Human Right?
For a start, we must recognise that a house is somewhere to live, not a commodity to be traded for profit. The latter view has fuelled an obsession with home ownership which has only led to an explosion of house prices, shattering the ‘dream’ for many, especially the young.
Couple this with burgeoning demand for a home as a result of population growth and we have an impossible situation, again especially in the Capital.
The solution is to increase the supply of good quality homes for rent which someone in low-paid employment or on a limited fixed income can live in and bring up their kids and enjoy satisfactory levels of health and wellbeing.
This needs a significant social housing programme.
The Council has signed up, committing to build 20,000 homes during the next decade. This is one of the largest council-led housebuilding programmes in the UK and an investment of around £3billion is expected to deliver over 4,000 permanent jobs, as well as bringing wider economic benefits.
This will make a significant contribution to the Scottish Government target to deliver 35,000 new social-rented homes by 2021.
Social rent levels can only be achieved by substantial capital subsidy from the Scottish Government.
This has been called ‘a grant’ (ie a free gift). It is not. It is an investment.
Because these new homes will be owned by the Council or local, not-for-profit housing associations then they are assets which will contribute to the wealth of the whole nation, both now and in future.
And, more than anything else, they will be available for those who need them most at a price they can afford.
I’d encourage everyone to have their say on this important issue by getting involved in our latest call for evidence at the Edinburgh Poverty Commission website.