I’ve never felt the importance of having a comfortable, safe home more than I have over the past 18 months – and I am sure I am not alone in that. Not all of us had somewhere to call home though. There was a huge effort, between Local Government, Scottish Government and third sector organisations working together to help people move from rough sleeping to safe accommodation. We still have many people in temporary accommodation, waiting for a suitable home to become available for them. A combination of COVID related backlogs of repairs and upgrades, supply shortages of materials, and in some areas workforce absence mean this is incredibly challenging, but we are doing all we can to find people homes. Our wellbeing is so dependent on where we live, and we need to continue focusing on helping people into homes they can really call home, and feel a sense of belonging in their community.
We’ve been trying hard to work with our tenants, and our wider communities, to understand their priorities for recovery. We published the Local Government blueprint back in September, and one of the key themes was around wellbeing – we know that our health is heavily influenced by the places we live and the opportunities we have. Good housing can be game-changing in tackling child poverty. We need to ensure it is high quality, affordable – including the costs to heat, and good links, within easy reach schools, workplaces, shops and other amenities. People should feel safe in their communities, have a sense of belonging and ownership of their local area. For this to be truly realised, we need to make sure that they are involved in the decisions around service design and delivery, which is why the innovative approaches councils have taken to community empowerment in recent years is important. Things like participatory budgeting, where communities make decisions about the way money is spent locally, and working with our tenants and residents forums and groups help us to work together to improve the places people live.
Earlier this year, ALACHO (Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers) published a report which posed the question: are we focusing on what matters when it comes to our right to adequate housing? It looked at how we define adequate, how we measure that, and to what extent we are or are not managing to deliver on that. It looked wider than council housing, and highlighted to me all of the factors we need to consider about making our local areas, and housing (of all types) more than adequate – but places people want to live, grow and be part of communities. We take seriously our responsibility to ensure that our tenants feel that the houses they live in are places they want to spend time in, which has been so important over the last year and a half. As well as providing housing for council tenants, Local Government is the anchor in our communities, delivering essential services, and therefore has a key role to play, working with partners to improve everyone’s wellbeing. We are always learning from our tenants and wider communities about needs and ambitions for their homes and local areas, which is why community empowerment is so important in improving the homes, services and places they live in and access.
Today’s Scottish Housing Day theme is the Climate Emergency. With Glasgow hosting COP26 this year, we have a real opportunity to drive change in Scotland. The Scottish social housing sector is already leading the way when it comes to energy efficient homes, minimising heat loss through insulation and working with tenants on ways to maximise warmth in homes. The Zero Emissions Social Housing Taskforce published recommendations on how we build on this – highlighting the importance of a Just transition – one that ensures we tackle fuel poverty alongside climate change – important in our ambition to end child poverty. The recommendations recognise the importance of national leadership, but also the need for locally empowered delivery, building on the existing strengths and developments within the social housing sector over the past months and years. This aligns with the Local Government Blueprint, in our recovery from the pandemic, and in delivering on our ambitious climate change targets, we must also work to strengthen local democracy. Scotland is a diverse country with vibrant communities who want to work together to overcome the challenges we are facing. What works for our cities may not work in our rural communities, or for our islands. There are great benefits to ensuring locally empowered delivery – we know that countries with truly empowered councils and communities have been shown to produce better outcomes and to be more effective at protecting and improving wellbeing. This matters in the context of everything I’ve written about already – tackling child poverty, delivering on the right to adequate housing and allowing our communities to thrive – and of course in our work on climate change.
Another of the key principles underpinning the Zero Emissions Social Housing Taskforce recommendations is collaboration – we need to work together, with our citizens, because this is not just about social housing – all households, Governments, organisations and businesses have a role to play in creating greener Scotland. Councils have a key responsibility here, we bring together education, social support, community services, environment and employment services and many other important areas alongside housing, reaching into all aspects of our lives and bring together all of the key organisations and groups locally – with the people who live there at the centre.
As the COSLA Spokesperson for Community Wellbeing, I can see how all of these factors relating to social housing come together and might appear challenging, especially as we recover from the pandemic. But I can also see how we can weave them together into opportunities to build empowered, safe and sustainable communities, with good quality social housing central to this.
Councillor Kelly Parry, COSLA’s Community Wellbeing Spokesperson.