Pauline McNeill: After 50 Years, Shelter Is Still Needed

Shelter has become a household name through necessity, mainly because of the life changing work it does on homelessness. Most politicians have encountered Shelter Scotland during the course of their Parliamentary careers, as housing has remained one of the most commonly raised issues by constituents over many years.

But it is sad that 50 years after being established, we still need an organisation like Shelter Scotland more than ever.

We are now living through an acute housing crisis which is exemplified by the disturbing sight of people sleeping rough on the streets of our cities. Is it any wonder that housing and homelessness have rightly risen to the top of the political agenda?

I said at the Scottish Labour Party conference that a warm and decent home is a human right. Housing might not be identified as such in the articles of the Convention on Human Rights, but it should be. Richard Leonard our new leader said the same this year that housing is a human right as part of his impassioned pledge to put housing at the heart of a future Labour government.

What does this mean in practice? In my opinion it means that we have to recognise the central role housing plays in relation to poverty and the critical role it plays in health and wellbeing.

Labour has set out to develop a serious policy to expand the socially rented sector and provide decent housing choices to all those who want them. The public sector should not simply be a safety net or last resort for people on low incomes, but should be a positive choice anyone can opt for if they see the benefits of renting.  A new strategy for renting in the public sector is also needed and it must have quality homes and affordable rents at the heart of it.

Renting public housing should become the choice of a more diverse range of people. Only by a radical expansion of the social rented sector with good quality homes can we provide a genuine choice beyond private renting and home ownership.

Labour will use the next two years to consider ways of ensuring that land and investment is available to social landlords and local authorities so they can grow the sector.

We are already looking at a blueprint housing policy which plans for a mixture of different types of housing. We are committed to making ten per cent of new affordable homes accessible or wheelchair friendly. We will also work with the third sector and disability groups to see how this can be achieved.

Last, but certainly not least, the time has come to take action to ensure affordable rents in the private sector. It’s not surprising that Shelter Scotland says a disproportionate number of complaints to them come from people renting in the private sector.

The Mary Barbour law announced by Richard Leonard could shape up to be a critical tool to give tenants in the private rented sector fairness and help ensure they can sustain their tenancies. I have taken the first steps at the Scottish Parliament to take forward a Member’s Bill which would be the Mary Barbour Law.  The proposal would legislate to give tenants the power to challenge unfair rents and ensure properties meet proper standards for health and safety and energy efficiency.

Shelter Scotland continues to provide vital services to the homeless and those with housing problems. The organisation is also a reliable source of housing data and analysis. I am however sure that the head of Shelter Scotland, Graeme Brown would take it in the right spirit if I conclude by saying, in the nicest possible way, that I hope Shelter Scotland does not reach its 100th or even 75th anniversary.


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