On the 2 November, there was another rally in Glasgow’s George Square for Scottish Independence. However, in the same place two days prior, there was a smaller, but no less important, protest against Glasgow City Council’s housing policy.
Shelter Scotland are currently taking legal action against Glasgow City Council. Shelter Scotland claim Glasgow City Council have illegally denied temporary accommodation to thousands of homeless applicants over the last two years. Shelter are seeking a review of the situation. The Guardian has a good article explaining the situation in more depth.
The SUWN were invited to speak at this event which took place on the 31 October. The text of the speech is reproduced below.
Article 25 of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights states: ‘Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care.’
Psychologists have long asked a simple question: What are the essential needs for human well-being? Food is pretty crucial, as is clean water, and a safe environment. A place to live, a shelter from the weather, is also pretty fundamental.
This is why the United Nations Declaration is so important. In one short document, it defines our needs as human beings and lays them out as human rights for each and every one of us. Human Rights are not a gift from on high, they are a collective responsibility. I cannot just look out for myself and think that is enough. Where we see other people’s rights abused or attacked, we must act.
This is why we can support the legal case Shelter Scotland has recently bought against Glasgow City Council. In denying the homeless that crucial first step of temporary accommodation, Glasgow council have failed in their duty to help the most vulnerable.
The legal case is not a decision that Shelter Scotland will have taken lightly. They are a widely respected professional organisation, not given to political or legal stunts. The Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network have often referred clients with housing issues onto them. I would like to put on public record my thanks for Shelter’s help during my own housing-related difficulties eighteen months ago. I will be following the case with great interest.
The Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network has, always been in favour of an independent Scotland. And not passively either. During and since the 2014 referendum we were out on the streets actively pushing for that goal. We still are.
In two days’ time, there will be a rally for Independence in this very Square. Rumour has it that Nichola Sturgeon will be speaking. We will no doubt hear the call for another referendum. But, what good is a referendum on independence, if we do not address the failings in the system using the powers that we have now? It pains us that we have to criticize an SNP-led council, but we are fond of quoting Alasdair Gray / Dennis Lee: ‘Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.’ It is no good just saying that independence will solve all our problems, if we fail to look at the problems we can address now.
These are issues that run much deeper. The SUWN’s main work continues to be working with benefit claimants. During our stalls outside Jobcentres we have seen the direct impact on the most vulnerable of UK Tory welfare ‘reforms’. In particular, the introduction of Universal Credit has been a disaster.
Under the old system Housing Benefit was paid separately. It was also paid direct to the landlord. Tenants could be sure that whatever happened, at least the rent was being paid. It gave tenants security of accommodation, and landlords security of income.
Under the new system claiming Housing Benefit means doing so under the Universal Credit system. Payments are made not to the landlord, but to the claimant’s bank account. Claimants are forced to budget for rent.
Shockingly, because it falls under Universal Credit Housing Benefit is sanctionable. And then, what next? Being forced to choose between feeding yourself or paying the rent? What happens if another crisis emerges? If the washing machine or boiler breaks down – what then? The temptation is to dip into to the rent money. This is why both landlords AND tenants have criticized Universal Credit. It takes away the security of knowing the rent will be paid. Another concern is that tenants may be forced to take out high interest loans in order to pay the rent.
These are not ‘just’ the views of some easily dismissible radical leftist organisations, but they have been repeatedly raised by establishment politicians in both the Scottish and Westminster parliaments. These issues have been raised by housing associations, and even Shelter themselves.
The system needs changed. Universal Credit needs fighting, not just because it is flawed, but because it is actively working against the wellbeing of claimants. In both the welfare system and the accommodation system, housing policy must be looked at again. That is what we are demanding. Fairer treatment of the most vulnerable, means a better society for all.