I have worked in the homelessness field so have some experience of the horrors that homelessness brings. It is one of the saddest things in the world seeing a homeless person bed down in a doorway or a derelict building. I am also very thankful that I am lucky enough to be able to provide a home for my family within the social housing sector.
Now one of the areas that is supposed to help with this problem is that very social housing, Shelter describe social housing as ‘Social housing is let at low rents on a secure basis to those who are most in need or struggling with their housing costs. Normally councils and not-for-profit organisations (such as housing associations) are the ones to provide social housing. ‘
Social housing is affordable housing
A key function of social housing is to provide accommodation that is affordable to people on low incomes. Limits to rent increases set by law mean that rents are kept affordable.
Well is it affordable? Home In Scotland have sent me my rent increase choices for the next year, now a choice would start at no rise but not with Home In Scotland. The choices are 3.2%, 3.7%, 4.2%. Now public sector workers have received a pay increase of just 1% over the last four years while Home In Scotland have increased their rents by 5.6% in 2012/13 and 3.1% in 2013/14. At what point does it become unaffordable for working families who are not entitled to any help.
The average monthly mortgage payment in Scotland is £424, now I can tell you that my rent is not very far from that, we are talking a few pounds at best per month. Housing in this country is a mess, Government after Government have not invested in social housing, but if you continue to increase rents above salaries then what you are going to do is squeeze more and more people, so where is the incentive to work, where is the incentive to do your best, to set an example to your kids. The reason I never wanted a mortgage is I didn’t want to be a part of the rat race, I believed that you could live in decent housing if we all demanded a better social housing sector from government. But when the price of your rent is the same as a mortgage what are we doing, are we trying to force people to become part of the rat race, get them to pay a mortgage while using their taxes to subsidise high social housing rents. This is not the answer, this is not fair neither decent.
The SNP talk about the social contract and I agree with that. Labour will bleed you dry if they get half a chance, their agenda is to keep you poor and on benefit so you vote for them, but a social contract in society is vital if we are all to make things work, but there is no social contract in social housing if you are in the middle. The very provision that is supposed to be a part of that contract is in real danger of breaking it making people like myself who have tried their best, tried to be honest and decent, to think that disengagement and apathy is the way to go.
The bedroom tax is wrong in every shape or form, it creates hardship and poverty, but above the board rent increases to the few who are fortunate to work is increasingly wrong also. Continuing to attack the poorest and the middle will result in a breakdown of the social contract and a further development of the us and them society which does none of us any good. How can we encourage and support the man and woman on the street to better themselves, to find a home, to get back into education and employment when all they see is a rat race within the very sector supposed to support them.
We have everything so wrong in this country, no matter what happens next year with the vote, if we don’t change and see that there is value in the social contract, there is value in valuing people then the decline in this country will continue to accelerate and nothing will stop it and we might wake up one day and walk to the poor house. Johan Lamont said that she wanted to end the something for nothing culture, well I can tell her that within social housing it has never been there and I think very few people would agree with her. I’m not saying I don’t want to pay my fair share, I already do, probably a lot more as a percentage of my earnings than the wealthy, but I do want to be treated fairly. In social housing rent increases should not increase by more than the average pay rise within the public sector, any increase more than that is a breaking of the social contract.