DEVOLVING social security and housing benefit could allow Scotland to tackle much of what is wrong with the current system for helping people with their housing costs, according to two major housing bodies.
A Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) Scotland and the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations report says that the current conversation on the future of Scotland could present an opportunity to overhaul a major part of the benefits system.
The authors of the Devolving Housing Benefit discussion paper say devolving social security and housing benefit could enable a move to a fairer, more continental-style social security system.
The two housing bodies have been critical of the UK government’s Welfare Reform bill, in particular the so-called bedroom tax, which will dock housing benefit to people who have a spare room.
Around 70,000 tenants in Scotland could lose up to £22 a week under the new rules, which will be imposed despite the fact that there is a shortage of smaller properties in Scotland.
The report argues that just devolving Housing Benefit alone within the existing constitutional framework would not work, as there would not be the funding to create a fairer housing benefit system.
David Bookbinder, head of policy and public affairs at CIH Scotland, said: “Ever since devolution in 1999 there has been a mismatch between the way Housing Benefit works and the housing policies of the Scottish Parliament.
“That mismatch is becoming particularly acute now that the Coalition Government’s cruel and unjust welfare reforms are getting nearer to being implemented.
“CIH Scotland believes that as the various independence-related options are considered over the next two years, the opportunity for Scotland to create a fairer system of help with housing costs is one that should be taken very seriously.”
Dr Mary Taylor, chief executive of the SFHA said the issue of welfare reform highlights the current constitutional tensions between Edinburgh and London.
“This report is an important contribution to the current debate on constitutional arrangements and the powers that Scotland needs to improve fairness and social justice – a stated aim of all the political parties,” said Taylor.
“Coming hot on the heels of the Coalition’s damaging changes to the system of welfare, including housing benefit, this report shows the need for a completely fresh approach.”
The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations and voluntary organisations, including Capability Scotland, SAMH and ECAS, gave evidence this week to a new influential Scottish Parliament committee.
The Welfare Reform Committee was set up to investigate ways for Scotland to soften the impact of the reforms.
The round-table session heard from a variety of voluntary organisations on the general implications of the welfare reforms.
The witnesses said that the implications for the income of vulnerable people in Scotland are potentially severe, and in particular looked at the impact on housing, the economy, the voluntary sector and local authorities.
Richard Hamer, director of external affairs at Capability Scotland said: “We, and the other disability organisations represented, wanted to ensure that the Committee was fully aware of the significant effect of the Welfare Reform Act on disabled people. I think we were successful in this.”