How many of us have shuddered as the latest headline proclaims all is well with the world because we seem to be on the cusp of the latest cycle of house price inflation?
Nothing better reveals the gulf between the newsrooms of the country and the housing experience of most people than the obsession with house prices. While Oxfam Scotland’s Wellbeing Index put affordable decent and secure housing at the top of the priority list, our national narrative is still disfigured by pitching homes as tradable commodity on the roulette wheel of land values.
That’s a narrative that means nothing to the 900,000 households in rented housing (except higher rents) or would-be first time buyers, or families stuck in overcrowded homes. But, they don’t matter do they?
Except of course, they do matter. As director of a housing charity, I would say that, wouldn’t I? But actually it matters to us all, because our economy cannot work effectively while so much wealth is tied up in bricks, mortar and land; our aspirations for health improvement are stunted when over 300,000 homes are affected by dampness or condensation; and our enthusiasm for money circulating in local economies is stymied by the exorbitant prices charged by the fuel corporations for the 647,000 households living in fuel poverty.
Getting housing policy right, in other words, is quite literally the foundation stone for a better, fairer, more prosperous Scotland. That’s about delivering 10,000 socially-rented homes a year; offering greater stability to the increasing numbers of people renting privately; and driving up standards of repair and energy efficiency to meet our ambitions on both fuel poverty and carbon reduction.
And here’s the best bit. In following such a programme, we’d find that the strains on our welfare systems which cause such frothing in certain quarters would be much eased – hence a permanent end to the offensive bedroom tax, reduced pressure on housing benefit and an approach to universal credit that is genuinely about dignity not cutting costs.
For now, the housing outlook for tens of thousands of people is bleak. That it need not be so makes it doubly tragic.