What. A. Year.

2021 has been another rollercoaster in many ways, and for housing, it is no different. The ongoing realities and effects of the pandemic have exacerbated the housing emergency, highlighting like never before just how important a safe home is.

We know for tens of thousands of households across Scotland, their human right to adequate housing is still far out of reach. Scotland has a strong housing rights framework, yet we know that for many people these rights are not always delivered in practice – because of a lack of homes, a lack of resource at local authority level, gaps where the right to housing isn’t protected in Scots law, and issues around access to justice preventing individuals from always being able to exercise what rights they do have.

The good news – and who doesn’t need good news in 2021 – is that there have been two huge commitments from the Scottish Government which would go far to realise the right to housing.

We welcomed the landmark commitment from the Scottish Government to deliver enough homes to finally start to reduce affordable housing need – 110,000 affordable homes in the next ten years, of which 70% must be social homes. But we know there are challenges to ensuring these quality homes are delivered in the right places: the Scottish Government must continue to prioritise and support this important programme.

And to strengthen the rights framework, the government has committed to introduce a new human rights bill in this parliamentary term, incorporating the right to adequate housing as part of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights and three other conventions. The implications for this are ground-breaking. But – like everything else – the devil is in the detail. We need to ensure that the implementation gap that we see in other areas of housing and homelessness is tackled. And we need rights to be cemented in a strong legal framework, we need the system to work right – first time – so that the onus isn’t on individuals to have to challenge authorities when their rights aren’t followed through on – whilst ensuring that in instances where this is necessary, people know their rights and feel able and confident to enforce them.

Today, on Human Rights Day Shelter Scotland are publishing a paper by Tatora Mukushi, which looks at the existing legal framework in Scotland and the ways in which it currently incorporates the right to adequate housing – as well as identifying gaps, for example around access to justice. It explores the recommendations of the National Taskforce for Human Rights and how they might be realised in the housing context – the role of the Scottish Housing Regulator, how we can encourage participation, how we monitor outcomes, the importance of allowing organisations with sufficient interest to bring cases on issues that are in the public interest or to support victims or classes of victims in bringing cases forward, and so on. An international comparison explores how Finland, South Africa, Colombia, Portugal and the Netherlands have incorporated the right to housing, and highlights lessons we should learn from each approach.

Crucially, the report covers what can be done now, in advance of any new statutory framework introduced by a Bill including that “elements such as Human Rights Budgeting and the institutionalisation of a human rights-based approach need not be delayed”.

The intention is that this new report assists the policy makers in the housing sector and beyond on how to take the next steps to incorporate the UN human right to housing, in the coming months and years, until we reach the point that everyone in Scotland has a safe home.

The report, Housing as a Human Right: Realising the human right to housing in Scotland, by Tatora Mukushi, will be published on Shelter Scotland’s policy library.