Here at Shelter Scotland we campaign for more social housing in order to reduce “affordable housing need”. But what exactly does that mean? And why do we do it?

What is the problem we are trying to address?

In Scotland there is a growing housing emergency with thousands of families and individuals struggling with their housing. Many of these households are on low incomes or they are coping with short term and insecure employment contracts.

People are struggling with their housing for many different reasons, but most are related to not being able to find a permanent and affordable home in the area they wish to live. Some families can’t afford to rent privately as rents are so high, and they can’t afford to buy their own home. Many are stuck in overcrowded homes, or in poor-quality private rented housing, and are on very long waiting lists for a social home.

The devastating impact of the housing emergency can be seen in the increasing numbers of households who have reached crisis point and have become homeless. Every 18 minutes a household becomes homeless in Scotland, and we have nearly 14,000 households currently living in homeless temporary accommodation and that includes over 8,500 children.

So, when we talk about affordable housing need, we’re talking about all these individuals, families and children who need a decent and permanent home which they can afford.

What’s the solution?

To reduce this affordable housing need, we need to urgently provide the truly affordable homes that people who are homeless or are struggling with their housing require.

We do however need to provide the right type of affordable housing to address this housing emergency and that means building and buying more social housing and it must be in the right places.[1]

So, what is social housing and why is it so important?

Social housing is built, owned and managed by councils or housing associations, also known as registered social landlords.

There are different types of affordable housing, but social housing is the most affordable housing in Scotland which provides a permanent and stable home for tenants. In 2021/22 the average weekly social rent was £85.36.[2] 

In the private rented sector the Scottish Government data shows that for a privately rented 2-bed property the national average rent during September 2021 was £693 a month or £173 per week.[3]  However, this average figure conceals very wide geographical variations. For example, people renting privately in the Lothian area had a substantially higher average at £942 a month or £235 per week, with people in Dumfries and Galloway paying a lower private rent at £477 or £119 per week.[4] 

It should also be noted that the other so called “affordable housing” such as mid-market rent or shared equity homes are well out of the financial reach for people on the lowest incomes.

In 2017 the majority of social tenants (68%) were earning below £20,000 – with 29% earning between £10-15,000.[5]

Mid-market rented properties are aimed at households who are employed and on modest incomes, which is set between £20,000 to £40,000 and the rent levels average around 20% above social rents. 

For shared equity homes where people are supported to buy a home, but don’t have to fund the entire cost, people who bought a home through the most affordable shared equity scheme had an average income of £24,000.[6]

This is why we have said in our Scottish Housing Emergency Action Plan that the priority must be to build the social homes first for the people who are struggling the most and have no other options.[7]

We’re calling for 38,500 social homes to be built by 2026. If this is achieved, we will start to see affordable housing need reduce.

However, if this target isn’t met, then we will see affordable housing need increase and the housing emergency will get worse, impacting on even more households.

We know it’s a big challenge. Tough choices must be made with ever-shrinking budgets, but if the Scottish Government is serious about ensuring everyone in Scotland has their right to a suitable home realised, then they need to make the right choices now and deliver these social homes.


[1] Independent academic research outlines the requirement for a transformative affordable housing programme and details what is required – Affordable Housing Need in Scotland Post 2021 




[4] It should be noted that the private rented datasets are limited as they are largely based on advertised rents, so they don’t cover rents of existing tenancies