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Scottish Housing Policy Conference 2019 - Housing and Inclusive Growth: Revitalising Connections

On 24 April 2019, the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE) and Policy Scotland co-delivered the Scottish Housing Policy Conference 2019, the theme of which was ‘Housing and Inclusive Growth: Revitalising Connections’.

Professor Duncan Maclennan - Housing, Income, Wealth and Inclusion: Continuing Challenges for Research and Policy

The morning session began with Professor Duncan Maclennan (Policy Scotland), who gave a presentation entitled ‘Housing, Income, Wealth and Inclusion: Continuing Challenges for Research and Policy’ in which he outlined how changes in major policies were implicated in the rise in inequality in the last 40 years – including the effects of financial deregulation, downward pressure on infrastructure and lack of investment in housing as well as a general shift in patterns of investment which favoured middle to upper income groups. Major investment in urban centres, lack of investment in other places had resulted in spatial imbalances as well as income imbalances. Duncan also highlighted the importance of housing as a store of wealth during this time (as opposed to limiting the view of housing to its use value) and argued that there was a need to understand the housing system as a central component of the economy.

He used a measure of ‘rent to income’ (housing costs to income) in order to show that lower income households are impacted more by rising rents (relative to stagnating incomes) and argued for inclusive growth as a way to allow economics to ‘rediscover redistribution’ as both a key concern and as a growth influencer. The decision to own or to rent should be one of choice – with all choices open to all which is not currently the case.

Uzma Khan - Delivering Inclusive Growth: The Critical Role of Housing in Rebalancing Scotland’s Economy

Uzma Khan (Deputy Director Economic Strategy, Scottish Government) focused on ‘Delivering Inclusive Growth: The Critical Role of Housing in Rebalancing Scotland’s Economy’ and defined inclusive growth as ‘growth that combines increased prosperity with greater equity: that creates opportunities for all and distributes the dividends of increased prosperity fairly’ (Scottish Government definition). She argued that inclusive growth had to be place-based (all parts of Scotland equally) and not top-down and that it was necessarily multi-dimensional and dependent on context.

She outlined the 5 key outcomes as opposed to the traditional measures of economic success: economic performance, labour market access, fair work, people and place and these were benchmarked for specific areas against Scotland as a whole with the aim of looking at what was constraining growth. The next part of her presentation looked at how housing affected inclusive growth including affordability issues (particularly for younger people and others in the private rented sector and the impact that this has on disposable incomes. She concluded that there was a need for whole systems thinking in policy, exploring how housing impacts on all other economic areas.

Sarah Boyack - Re-imagining the Wider Role of Housing Associations

Sarah Boyack (Scottish Federation of Housing Associations) gave a presentation on ‘Re-imagining the Wider Role of Housing Associations’ in which she outlined the response of HAs to the financial crash, when private developers largely drew back from building and HAs often partnered with developers which served to shore up the house building sector. Going forward, she said that the SFHA wants to look at re-framing the housing market as a property democracy and a key priority is in making the connection between inclusive growth and social justice. This requires a long-term vision – not one that fits with the term of a parliament and therefore requires buy-in across the board.

Richard Cairns - Housing, Inclusive Growth and the City Region Deal

Richard Cairns (West Dunbartonshire Council) gave a talk on ‘Housing, Inclusive Growth and the City Region Deal’ which focused on the potential to need to drive up inclusive growth (and drive inequality down) by decreasing the relative cost of living, including the cost of housing. Whilst he stressed that there was enough land (theoretically speaking) to house a growing population, the gap between availability of land and land where it is practical to build on was a concern. Focusing on housing completions in Scotland he highlighted that no area ever reaches the number of completions actually needed (or forecast). He argued that there was a need to utilise land more effectively, understanding how sectoral growth is a threat to overall inclusive growth, in that growth in high earning jobs in particular sectors drives overall growth but this is not inclusive!

Parallel Sessions one: How Can Housing Providers Enhance Inclusion in Communities?

Four brief presentations by housing practitioners in housing associations and community development groups demonstrated the breadth and quality of work that was going on to try to address inclusion among their tenants (including increasing access to wi-fi internet use – which had proven to be a great success particularly for older residents who were geographically separated from family.

Parallel Session 2: Markets and Wealth: Reinforcing Exclusion?

Stephen Boyle (Head of Analytical Unit, Enterprise and Skills Strategic Board) gave a brief presentation on the need to see the housing system as a complex one which is part of a wider social system. He outlined how housing (paying for housing / inheritance) can be a barrier to inclusion and can also amplify exclusion (by increasing inequality – e.g. through unearned inheritance). He argued that there was a need to see that policies which look like they have nothing to do with housing actually impact on housing policy. There was a lively discussion about the role of tax as a distributive mechanism and the role of policies such as ‘help to buy’ which advantage middle and higher income groups at the expense of lower income groups. The increase in buy-to-let was also implicated in enriching a small number of landlords at the expense of rising rents which impact more on younger people with no family wealth with which to enable them to get onto the housing ladder.

Professor Ken Gibb - Inclusive Growth and Housing in Scotland: Policy Systems and Forward Agenda

The afternoon sessions opened with Professor Ken Gibb (Director of CaCHE) who spoke about ‘Inclusive Growth and Housing in Scotland: Policy Systems and Forward Agendas’. Ken gave a brief overview of ‘systems thinking’, a theoretical perspective which looks at the social world in complexity terms, taking account of interactions and amplifications. At the heart of systems thinking is the interdependence and relationships between elements as well as emergent properties (properties which didn’t exist before things interacted). Thinking about housing in this way means that there is a need to challenge how housing is treated as an asset, as well as looking at the impact of social housing on tenants’ ability to manage the changing working environment more easily than other tenures. He argued that there was a need to look at a cost benefit analysis debates about housing which aim to see housing as an investment for government and a need to have a long-term vision for housing which is greater than any parliamentary term.

Thomas Aubrey - How can policy drive inclusive growth?

In his presentation entitled ‘How Can Policy Drive Inclusive Growth?’ Thomas Aubrey (Centre for Progressive Policy) challenged the orthodox economic approach to growth which focuses on GDP and other ‘economic’ indicators, which he said was out of step with human needs. He said that one answer to addressing the impact of housing costs was an increase in incomes but also that there was a need to see housing as integrated with other services including transport and that housing policy needs to be considered on a regional basis as there were different needs in different areas.

Des McNulty - Developing a collaborative approach

To round off the day, Des McNulty (Deputy Director, Policy Scotland) made a short presentation entitled ‘Developing a Collaborative Approach’, which focused on how housing needs to be seen as a public good, just as it was 30 plus years ago. The importance of the role of housing in broader social policy in the intervening years was also stressed and he argued that there were good economic and policy reasons why it should be regarded as important again. He outlined the economic consequences of inadequate housing and the effect on economic growth (or lack of).

 

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This article was written on 18 May 2019. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.