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Housing is a human right

scottish housing estate in header
Lisa Borthwick
Written by Lisa Borthwick

“They treated me as if it was my fault for being homeless. They didn’t treat me with any kind of respect. They treated me like scum to be honest.”

Sarah’s words, speaking to my colleagues at Shelter Scotland, show that the right to housing is often not realised for people on the sharp end of the housing emergency. Sarah was pregnant at the time, and she was still denied the right to a safe and affordable home.

Even though housing is a human right, specifically in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the law in Scotland does not recognise this right in the same way. Shelter Scotland still has work to do, to make sure that this right is fully realised, and to make sure that everyone has access to a safe, secure and affordable home.

But, earlier this month, Scotland came one step closer to recognising this right to a home, when plans for a new human rights bill were announced. Of course, this is still subject to the outcome of the Scottish parliament election, but the potential for this new Bill in strengthening the housing rights framework in Scotland is huge.

The proposed Bill will incorporate four United Nations Human Rights treaties into Scots Law, which include the right to housing as well as many other rights. It also includes further enhancing the rights of women, people with disabilities, and people of colour.

At Shelter Scotland, we support any Bill that strengthens the human right to housing in Scotland. In fact, in our 2019 ‘Are you with us?’ campaign, this was the outcome we fought for. Many of you will have joined more than 10,000 people in signing our petition in 2019, demanding that the government make this law. We’re so delighted that you have been listened to!

We know that one new law isn’t the end of the story. But by putting all these rights, and especially the right to adequate housing, into law, there is further protection for people’s individual rights and communities have a stronger foundation to defend their housing rights when the system doesn’t work. It sends a clear message to everyone that we should all have a home which is safe, secure, and affordable.

This is the first step in a long journey – we don’t know who will be in power post-election, and the specific Bill has not yet been written. But there’s much to be positive about: the National Taskforce on Human Rights Leadership has made many recommendations for what this Bill should look like, and the current government has fully accepted these recommendations. We’ve also recently seen that the message that housing is a human right is being used as a driver for Scotland’s new long-term housing strategy – ‘housing to 2040’.

There is plenty of work to be done to ensure that any new law helps to combat the housing injustices we see every day and to ensure that this new law makes its way through parliament. But for now, it shows that when we work together, we can truly make progress.

About the author

Lisa Borthwick

Lisa Borthwick

Lisa is the Senior Policy Advocacy Officer at Shelter Scotland.