In September 2015, Scotland joined 192 other countries and adopted a set of 17 ‘sustainable goals’ which then came into force in January 2016. The vision – and commitment – is that over the next 15 years “countries will mobilize efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind”.
This hugely ambitious agenda has been embraced in Scotland and has high-level, cross-party buy-in as an approach which can help drive forward change. Because that’s what this is: an enormous global klaxon signalling a need and desire for structural changes to reduce inequality and deliver a more just, more equal and more sustainable world. Big ambition for big problems.
And in terms of closing the gap between the haves and have-nots, there is nowhere better to start than housing. Looking through the 17 goals for Scotland, it struck me how many relate directly or indirectly to housing. We can only eradicate poverty, close the attainment gap, end hunger or reduce inequality in this country if everyone has a safe, secure and affordable home.
And the numbers speak for themselves: last year there were 28,247 homeless households in Scotland, there are currently 137,100 households on council waiting lists and 6,041 homeless children living in temporary housing waiting for a home. The housing crisis across Scotland is affecting all of us, not just those who are homeless: from those who cannot match steeply rising house prices to buy a home, to those struggling in the private rented sector with insecure tenancies, and those who simply cannot find a home.
The notion that no one should be left behind is a powerful one. Scotland is a rich, vibrant country and yet the inequalities – including housing inequalities – are startling. While the average house price in Edinburgh is currently £268,670 with prices growing at a faster rate than anywhere else in the UK, our winter night shelters for homeless people across our cities are already at capacity and handing out sleeping bags to those with no options at all.
At Shelter Scotland we know that housing is fundamental. It is a basic need and human right but also a necessary building block if we are to achieve the kind of society and communities we all want to see. While the 21,000 people who came to us last year for help did so through the prism of a housing crisis, when we unpick each case we see issues of poverty, lack of access of opportunity, inequality, the impact of welfare reform, failings in public services and chronic mental and physical health needs. So while housing sits under Goal 11, I could just as easily be writing about Goal 1 to end poverty, Goal 3 around good health and wellbeing, or any number of others.
And there is an increasing body of evidence to reinforce that fact and to identify solutions. In 2015 the Commission on Housing and Wellbeing published its landmark report ‘A Blueprint for Scotland’s future’ which provided an independent, evidence-based review of housing policy in Scotland and how it contributes directly to the nation’s wellbeing. The report made 47 recommendations across 5 themes:
Housing as ‘Home’
Neighbourhood and Community
Health and Education
Since the publication of this report there has been significant progress and housing is slowly rising up the political agenda. But for those facing the trauma of homelessness, those who are sleeping rough, and those who continue to struggle with bad housing, this is simply not happening fast enough. More could be achieved faster if agendas were lashed together at a strategic level, if silos were broken down and if we focused on individuals and outcomes rather than budget lines, outputs and KPIs.
So, if the Sustainable Development Goals ambition seems huge, that’s because the scale of the challenge is too. But we should take heart. There is so much already in play – research done, solutions developed and partnerships made – that Scotland is well placed to play a leading role in striving to achieve these goals. The interconnectivity of these issues is both the thorny problem but also the root of the solution; we look forward to working with all partners towards these goals with good housing as the foundation.
Fiona is the Campaigns & Public Affairs Manager at Shelter Scotland.