By Bob Gillespie
John Harris (February article in The Guardian): 13% of people in work in the UK are in poverty, but in Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, 34% are in poverty. 2 years ago, 2.4 million children were living in poverty: the pandemic has increased that figure greatly. The current welfare system is failing, but most of all it is failing those most in need of support.
Housing is a key factor in people’s poverty: social housing stock sold under Thatcher has never been replaced and there is a severe shortage of affordable housing since then which has become greater as time has passed. Housing Associations fill only some of the lost stock and otherwise people who cannot afford to buy are reliant on the private rental market, where regulation and control of rents are minimal. Homelessness has become commonplace in Glasgow and elsewhere, and in 2021 Scotland it is a disgrace. We desperately need far more social housing, especially council houses from local authorities. But even in social and public housing, rents have been rising faster than inflation and housing standards have deteriorated.
The Scottish Government and Scottish local authorities need to do much more. We need independent control of both quality and rent levels so that people can live in safe, warm and healthy homes at rents they can afford. We need a points-based system of rent controls linked to the quality and amenities of the property, not just market rates; a new Scottish Rent Affordability Index to peg maximum rents at levels tenants can afford; and a new Scottish Living Rent Commission to oversee the practice and provide expertise and regulation in the Scottish housing market (public, private and third sector housing). The Commission would be accountable to a Board, at least a quarter of which would be tenants’ representatives.
The points should be awarded based on the size, quality (including energy efficiency and environmental standards) and location of the property: the points awarded would determine the maximum rent which could be charged: similar systems are used in Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands. Amenities might be a garden, patio or balcony; parking availability; the size and quality of kitchen and bathroom; access to shops and local transport links. Points could be deducted if the property was in disrepair or fell below the Scottish Housing Quality Standard.
Appealing to the Commission would be available free of charge to tenants feeling their rent was too high and seeking a re-assessment, not only – as at present – to local rent officers who have no data (such as the above Index would provide) on which to make a judgement. Landlords would thus be given incentives to improve their property, either to maintain the rent level or even to increase it.
The Index would be produced by the Commission and rents, rather than increasing with or above inflation levels, would reflect the actual costs incurred by landlords and the financial pressures faced by tenants. The Commission would make this Index (of rents throughout Scotland) a publicly-searchable database, something not currently available, to provide evidence for policy, debate and judgement.
While the above covers what Scotland needs, Glasgow could be the first in Scotland to set up its own Rent Affordability Index and empower its rent officers to use it to impose maximum rent levels, without having to wait for legislative change from the Scottish Government. We owe such change to our Glasgow residents: a home of good quality for all at a rent they can afford. Glasgow City Council needs to deliver a decent home life for all in the city!