Age critical

Young people are getting a raw deal at the moment.

I say that with the slightly sad realisation that alas, I am no longer ‘young’. Not in the way the media, politicians or popular culture means anyway.

But with the current direction of travel, that’s probably a good thing:

I’m not derided as a feckless yob, I’m not locked out of the housing market altogether, I’m not facing the threat of losing my benefits even though I’m struggling to find work…. Oh and I can wear a hooded sweatshirt any time I want.

And that’s just for starters. The list goes on of how government policy and society at large is turning its back on ‘youth’ in favour of those contented generations who have lucked out on the astronomical increase in house prices over the past few decades, and are increasing leaning to the right of the political spectrum. Oh and who vote.

Another such example is contained within the Housing (Scotland) Bill which is currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament. The bill tackles a range of issues across all tenures. From the lauded abolition of Right to Buy, to the provisions to establish a Housing Tribunal to deal with housing issues in the private rented sector.

It is perhaps because the Bill covers so much, that one seriously problematic proposal has made its way into the draft without many people noticing.

The Bill proposes that the current ban on social landlords being able to take the age of an applicant into account when allocating social housing should be lifted. Shelter Scotland feels strongly that this throws open the door to discriminatory practices and on current evidence, it is young people who will once again bear the brunt.

Currently, social housing is Scotland is allocated based on the principle of need. This means the characteristics of the household dictate their priority with government guidance on how to apply that in practice. Gone are the days of getting a house because you were pals with the local councillor, or getting the house next to your mum and dad because everyone knows them in the area.

And this proposal seems to signal a worrying change of direction from the principle of ‘need’. Fundamentally, your age should not help or hinder your chance of being allocated a home – why should it? It is not a need category, some 60 year olds are more fit and active than some 20 year olds I know, a 17 year old with a new born needs accessible housing for a pram as much as a 50 year old with no mobility concerns.

Shelter Scotland has formed a coalition of organsations working across Scotland who are opposed to this proposal asking the Housing Minister Margaret Burgess to remove this from the bill.

There is a very real potential that this proposed legislation could allow for discrimination against young people, older people, middle aged people – in fact anyone based on their age.

Opening this door is a radical departure from fair, transparent allocations and it begs the question – what next?

The architects of this proposal, the CIH Scotland says that this is a progressive measure which would help social landlords to make common sense allocations and that Shelter Scotland and others should have a bit more faith.

Well, we do have faith, and we know that many social landlords will be as horrified as we are at the thought of discrimination in their practices. But just to be sure, we need something a little more concrete than a gentleman’s agreement that this won’t be used the wrong way.

Read more about the proposals and download the letter to Margaret Burgess MSP.

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Fiona King

Fiona King

I’m Campaigns & Public Affairs Manager at Shelter Scotland and have been part of the team since 2010, previously having been a policy nerd. Our campaigning work takes me all over Scotland and beyond and I work closely with politicians and stakeholders across Scotland to get housing up the agenda. Outside the world of policy I like to eat and drink, ideally by the seaside and I am an office sweepstake enthusiast.