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Affordable Housing: What is the need?

Red house with '53,000 affordable homes' and a 2021-2026 calendar on it. Scotland still needs more affordable homes. SFHA, CIH Scotland and Shelter Scotland logos.
Adam Milne
Written by Adam Milne

Mathematical modelling can be akin to alchemy, turning base data into predictions of the future, a form of gold to some. When the data is based on long-term trends and robust evidence it offers valuable insights into where we are heading and, in this case, the level of housing need.

This week saw the publication of a report in which Shelter Scotland, CIH Scotland and SFHA are calling on the Scottish Government to build 53,000 affordable homes over the next Parliament (2021–2026) and to commit to a capital investment programme of at least £3.4 billion over five years.  

Five years ago, our joint research set out the need for 60,000 affordable homes to be delivered between 2016 and 2021 – a target designed to address our housing crisis during this Parliament. That research informed the Scottish Government’s current ambitious affordable homes programme, with a target of 50,000.

The pandemic raises many unique challenges, but all the existing housing-related issues have not disappeared. To the contrary, the pandemic has expanded and exacerbated these fault lines and the rumblings are beginning to be felt.

Government measures are keeping these issues at bay… 8.7m jobs are currently furloughed[1]… Evictions have been banned up until September this year… 1.5m claims to Universal Credit, 6 times more than the same period last year[2].

Why now?

It could be perceived as tone deaf to simply be calling for the building of more social housing in the light of a public health emergency. However, the message has been simple, stay home.

Housing and having a home has been central to the response to the pandemic and access to appropriate housing that enables social distancing has been central to the safety and health of the public.

Despite record levels of investment in building more affordable housing over the last four years, waiting lists remain high and homelessness is again on the rise.  The depth of Scotland’s housing crisis can’t be addressed by one Parliamentary cycle; the challenges are too great and require more than five years of targeted investment. 

With 120,000 on housing waiting lists and local authorities losing 500,000 homes through the right to buy before it was abolished in 2016, these are homes that are desperately needed by families and communities across the country. 

What can a new programme achieve?

A recently published Audit Scotland report states that the Scottish Government expects the economic output associated with the 50,000 target of the current affordable housing programme to be £1.4 billion per year and that it will support about 10,000 additional jobs. 

The anti-poverty charity Joseph Rowntree Foundation reported that the scale of our social housing programme has been a significant factor in slowing down the rise of poverty in Scotland compared with England. 

Industry body, Homes for Scotland reports that 4 jobs are created for new every home built and that there are 80,000 jobs associated with home building in Scotland.

Recent local and national government pandemic measures have greatly reduced rough sleeping but, without long-term investment and commitment to increasing housing supply, government at all levels will be playing a role in making people homeless if these measures are not secured in the long term.

This progress can be secured through an affordable housing programme, providing the means to help stop homelessness.

This programme will do more than put a roof over people’s heads. It will help to reinvigorate our economy, society and our communities for years to come.

Going back to the way things were before the pandemic isn’t an option and it will only disproportionately affect many of the very people that we now refer to as essential workers. The building of 53,000 homes the country needs will send a clear message that there is a real commitment to real change. Scotland deserves nothing less.


[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/hmrc-coronavirus-covid-19-statistics

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/universal-credit-29-april-2013-to-9-april-2020/universal-credit-29-april-2013-to-9-april-2020