Scottish housing associations can lead on building “a new Scotland” and striking a balance between compliance and cohesion to revigorate their social purpose.
“You can’t change something by fighting existing reality,”social scientist Berry Knight told delegates at Housing Scotland 2019.
“We need to work on the society we want – not the problems we don’t want,” he said.
In an address to the SFHA annual conference in Glasgow, Knight challenged delegates to redefine poverty beyond “product based answers”.
Use of the word poverty had, he said, been consumed by the “shrill absolutism” social debate in the UK had descended into.
And where concepts of poverty proved divisive, associations, he said, can lead on a people focussed approach to building “a new Scotland – the Scotland they want” because it was stuff of which associations organise around.
Association chief executives on salaries of around £100k could balance “personal and professional” discomfort in setting such sums against social purpose by not “sitting on guilt” but making excess resources work, Knight said.
Earlier at the conference, Prof Sir Harry Burns – Professor of Global Public Health at Strathclyde University and former Chief Medical Officer for Scotland – urged associations to take a “stuff the job description – just do it” approach to tackling poverty and related issues.
In his keynote address, Prof Burns stressed frontline staff knew what policy makers didn’t – questioning whether the emphasis should be on compliance or cohesion in identifying issues.
Even in the context of data regulation, there were “things happening in the community” that associations needed to pull data together on with other authorities, said Prof Burns.
“We have not thought of social cohesion as a function of social housing policy,” he said.
Prof Duncan MacLennan, Professor in Public Policy at the University of Glasgow, told delegates that if housing associations were a movement then that movement needs a mission.
And that mission, he said, lay in associations being “the local agents for disruptive housing policy change”.
SFHA chief executive Sally Thomas urged delegates to take back the now notorious austerity phrase “all in this together” and turn it into a rallying cry against poverty.