ETF Housing Blog

A pebble in the pond or igniting the fires of change?

At Scotland’s celebration of International Human Rights Day at the Scottish Parliament in December 2016, tenants in Edinburgh took centre stage talking about human rights in housing.

Heather Ford, a tenant from West Cromwell, Citadel and Persevere Courts Residents Association (WPCRA) in Leith introduced a film in which local residents spoke about their right to adequate housing.

You can watch the film below.

The film makes a powerful statement.

It shows how housing conditions impact on individuals’ lives; their health, wellbeing and self-esteem.

What was unusual at this human rights event was that housing was at the centre. Housing is not usually talked about in human rights terms. And especially not in the social housing sector in Scotland.

But maybe it should be.

As part of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights “everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate housing.[i]

Our housing rights in practice project has taken action practically… to reframe housing as a human rights issue.

The project is about making human rights real for people in their own homes. It aims to empower residents, increase participation and improve housing conditions.

At the Parliament event, MSPs, Ministers and the Chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) talked about building a human rights culture in Scotland; where all public authorities, organisations, businesses and communities build human rights into their work and lives.

For that to really happen we all have a job to do. Every single one of us.

Introducing a human rights based approach explicitly into tenant participation work is a way tenants can hold landlords to account for their housing conditions and participation processes.

This joint project with ETF, the SHRC, Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR) is the first of its kind in Scotland to use a rights based approach in tenant participation. However ETF has always worked for the right to adequate housing. If you look to the roots of the tenants’ movement across Scotland, improving housing conditions have always been at the forefront of tenants’ work.

What is different about the approach of this project, is that tenants in WPCRA are learning how to use a framework in which international human rights standards monitor progress of rights issues in order to achieve change.

Tenants are not just the bankrollers for their landlord’s housing stock – they are the rights holders, and they have a right to hold landlords to account, through international treaties and Scottish legislation.

And that shift in thinking – with empowered tenants really at the heart of framing what matters in their communities, transforms tenants from being ‘service users’ or ‘customers’ to rights holders. This shift can work brilliantly for communities. But it can also be transformative for public authorities and social landlords, as they move into territory that really puts people at the heart of change and improved service delivery.

Whether this project is seen as a pebble in a pond or as igniting the fires of change in the long run, the conversation about housing as a human rights issue in Scotland has now begun.

Written by :

Clare MacGillivray