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Housing

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 4th December 2013.

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Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative

Perhaps I will give way later.

The arguments about the right to buy cannot change the basic fact that Scotland faces an acute housing shortage. Surely too often overlooked in this respect is the fact that there has been a 44 per cent increase in those seeking to live alone and we have an ageing population. All too easily, we customarily talk of the issues arising from an ageing population in terms of health and the consequence for health budgets, and rightly so, but the consequences extend way beyond health. Based on the old three-score-years-and-ten rule, most of us have known only an era in which the aspiration that most people continue to share begins with a starter home, leading to marriage and partnership and a family home, and then in due course for some downsizing, or for others the hope that they will end their days in their family home so full of memory and personal attachment.

However, our housing model has depended on houses becoming available to the market and—speaking frankly—on people dying. A radically different society, in which people consciously aspire to live alone and in which at least one adult of a couple may live on to great age, makes that model increasingly unsustainable. If larger family homes do not become available as regularly, and if affluent singles occupy sizeable properties, we have an even more acute crisis ahead of us.

It seems to me that we have to recognise now that, if we are collectively going to live much longer and to an age when we are more frail and less able to manage a larger property, we need to evolve a model of living that actively anticipates that it is a natural transition, rather than an exceptional one, to expect to vacate a substantial family property for more suitable accommodation in order to enjoy the new fourth era of life, great old age, with as much self-sufficiency as possible. We need to plan for that by recognising that the spread of new-build housing must focus much more directly on the building of properties that make that possible—not building ghettos for the old where they will be isolated from life and from the people they knew, but using a significant planning requirement to provide within new developments properties that are specifically designed for independent living in greater old age.

If housing policy does not plan now for an ageing population, not only will we have the challenge of the huge demographic change to meet in our health service, we will be compounding it by having those in great old age living in completely unsuitable properties, however suitable they may once have been, suffering falls and incurring huge and unnecessary maintenance bills beyond their means. By doing so, we will have even more families unable to find the homes that they desperately require.

I look at all the facts, promises and claims by one side or the other to have the unique recipe for housing salvation—a wave of the independence wand or a simple change of Government or the renouncing of past policy. It is a delusion to imagine that any of those will transform our position. If we worked with a greater sense of purpose and one free of rhetorical legislative flourishes that see barely a brick laid as a result, and if we accept that we need a hugely mixed model and one that requires bold, visionary planning, thinking and financing for the future, underpinned by wider political co-operation, we might just make some progress.