For our politicians, the first day back after the summer recess is the starting klaxon for the new session of parliament – a return to spin, debate, party politics and early rhetorical wins. From Twitter it is clear that a small but perfectly formed group of political/policy commentators (including us) across Scotland, get excited about the ‘first day of term’ and most importantly the new ‘Programme for Government’.
For Shelter Scotland, the 2017/18 Programme for Government last year was a high point if taken as a barometer for where housing sits on the political agenda. With commitments and financial backing for new homelessness initiatives in the shape of the Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Group (HARSAG) and recommitment to the delivery of an ambitious affordable homes target, it finally seemed that the housing crisis was getting the attention it so badly requires.
Today’s PfG is, by comparison, more modest. In terms of housing there is very little in terms of new homes, new money or new ideas. ‘Home’ is not the golden thread connecting all the social policy agendas that we would like to see, it is still seen as separate to the ‘education’, ‘health’, ‘justice’ and ‘economy’ agendas, despite the fact that our Commission on Housing and Wellbeing showed the integral connectivity of housing to nearly all of health and wellbeing in its broadest terms.
But there are commitments and ideas to welcome in the programme, the headline increase in funding for mental health services is vitally important. Considering the new statistics released today that show targets missed on child mental health care services, increased funding and services across schools, further education and communities is timely. Our frontline services are reporting the increased mental health needs of people seeking out our services and we know there is more to be done to join up services to better meet people’s needs.
In addition, the announcement that the new Social Security agency will be making its first payments this week is positive and the rollout of new payments and benefits is welcome. The commitment to put people and dignity at the heart of the service is one that Shelter Scotland strongly supports and we will continue to work with the Scottish Government to ensure people are getting the services and benefits they are entitled to.
The PfG is wide-ranging, and it will take time to digest the full implication of all it contains. One of the most interesting things for the housing sector is the newly announced consultation on ‘Housing Beyond 2021’ and a ‘wider vision for housing in 2040’ and we look forward to engaging fully with that process. Shelter Scotland is committed to tackling the housing crisis and would urge the Scottish Government and partners to consider ways to redefine the housing systems and structures to ensure they work for everyone and that we close the gap between the housing ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.
So, there are new things but importantly there is also a reiteration of the good commitments that have already been made. And maybe that’s the challenge for all those working in housing, that delivery may not be as energising as new Bills but it is arguably the most important aspect of any political commitment. We don’t need the Scottish Government to perpetually chase the shiney new thing: the legislative framework for housing and homelessness is strong and remains world-leading. But rights enshrined in legislation are not always realised. At Shelter Scotland we helped thousands of people last year all struggling to find or keep a home or to access the services and support they were entitled to. So even in delivering what is already on the books, there remains a lot to do.
If this programme is about driving home existing housing commitments, it is incumbent on all partners across housing and beyond to deliver.