What might prevent the desired outcomes being achieved?
Our aim is for Housing to 2040 to advance equality of opportunity and housing outcomes between those who have one or more protected characteristics and those who don’t. Due to its cross-cutting policy focus, the factors that will influence the delivery of Housing to 2040 are wide-ranging. We, however, anticipate there will be three key factors that might impact on our ability to deliver the ambitions set out in the Housing to 2040. These include the adverse impacts resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the negative effects of EU Exit and the policy and investment choices made in future. These three factors are set out below in more detail.
The impact of Covid-19, both immediate, medium-term and long-term, are as yet still unfolding but we expect there will be significant implications that we must respond to in seeking to achieve the Housing to 2040 desired equality outcomes. The Economic Impact of Coronavirus Led Labour Market Effects on Individuals and Households paper[i] anticipates that, as a result of the current health crisis, the following groups will be hardest hit financially: low earners, young people, women, minority ethnic people, disabled people, those living in deprived areas and lone parents. The report also suggests that a number of these groups overlap, for example the vast majority of lone parents are women that live in more deprived areas and young people. Women, disabled people and those of minority ethnic backgrounds are all more likely to be low earners.
The unequal consequences of the COVID-19 crisis are also evidenced in the Scottish Government’s report on the Impacts of COVID-19 on Equality in Scotland[ii] published in September 2020. The paper argues that, while the pandemic and associated restrictions initially led to a twin public health and economic crisis, it is becoming evident that its impacts have transcended far beyond. Emerging evidence suggests that COVID-19 has exacerbated many pre-existing inequalities (such as income, wealth, living standards, labour market participation, health chances and education), and had a disproportionate impact on certain population groups. The pandemic has also highlighted the effect of deprivation as a driving force for multiple inequalities and poor outcomes. Many experts also suggest that, without appropriate Government intervention, the COVID-19 crisis is likely to widen health, economic and other inequalities in the short, medium and long-term, with some groups of population being more likely to be negatively affected than others in many different areas of their life. These areas include but are not limited to employment, future career prospects, educational opportunities, social outcomes and health and wellbeing.
The disproportionate adverse impact of COVID-19 on some groups within our population across the UK was also outlined in a report by the Royal College of Physicians[iii], highlighting that the economic and social response to COVID-19 has the potential of exacerbating existing health inequalities. This, in particular, applies to groups already experiencing health inequalities, such as people who are socio-economically deprived (e.g. unemployed, low income earners, those living in deprived areas), and people with protected characteristics and vulnerable groups (e.g. people experiencing homelessness; Gypsy, Roma and Travellers; Sex workers; migrants; prison leavers).
The Scottish Government’s report on the Impacts of COVID-19 on Equality in Scotland[iv] mentioned above also explores how the UK’s exit from the EU, combined with the adverse impact of the pandemic, might negatively affect certain groups of the population. It is anticipated that the post-transition period will result in further adverse socioeconomic, legal and other impacts.[v] Some population groups, such as those on low incomes, older people and disabled people, may be more likely to be disproportionately affected. The report concludes that, the combination of pre-existing inequalities, layered with the impacts of COVID-19 and EU Exit, could potentially result in challenging legacies of inequality if appropriate action is not taken to overcome this. It further concludes that, drawing on multiple evidence sources, it is anticipated that the following groups will be disproportionally impacted by COVID-19 and EU Exit: socio-economically disadvantaged, children and younger people, older people, disabled people, people of minority ethnicities, women, lone parents and men. Similarly to the Economic Impact paper mentioned above, the report also highlights that an intersectional approach is essential as many of the groups and disadvantages overlap.
The adverse impacts of COVID-19, combined with the effects of the UK’s exit from the EU, on employment, housing supply, health and wellbeing and other factors could impact our ability to achieve the Housing to 2040 vision. We are also aware of the unequal impact of COVID-19 and EU Exit on people with protected characteristics. The existing evidence available at this time suggests that the impacts of the pandemic on some of the groups with protected characteristics are more acute and significant, placing them at a higher risk of poverty, homelessness and other negative outcomes.
Delivering the Housing to 2040 Vision and Principles and route map will also be influenced by the policy and investment choices Scottish Government and others make in housing and the infrastructure that supports it. This will be influenced by, among other things, the missions of the Scottish National Investment Bank, innovation in the house building sector and skills development in digital, low carbon and other relevant technologies. It also includes the delivery of Scottish Government policies and programmes with an impact on housing, such as those on energy efficiency and net zero emissions, place and the new National Planning Framework and efforts across government and its partners to eradicate child poverty and homelessness, embedding equalities and human rights.
While the Scottish Government will do all it can to deliver the Housing to 2040 Vision and tackle inequality, a number of important levers to do so remain reserved to the UK Government. For example, we will continue to work to mitigate where we can the worst impacts of the UK Government’s welfare cuts but we do not hold all of the powers with responsibility for around 85% of social security spend in Scotland retained by the UK Government. That is why it is absolutely essential that the UK Government announce that they are keeping the £20-per-week uplift to Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit and to extend it to legacy measures benefits. We also call upon the UK Government to retain other support measures, including the increase of Local Housing Allowance rates to the 30th percentile – enabling more individuals on lower incomes to meet the costs of local rents. Urgent action must also be taken to abolish damaging welfare reforms including the bedroom tax and two child limit. We will continue to call for these changes to be made, and will provide support for people in need, including through the Scottish Welfare Fund and Discretionary Housing Payments, and funding provided to local authorities.
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