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Home  >  Features  >  Looking Back: The Housing Crisis

Looking Back

Friday December 13 2013

Looking Back: the Housing Crisis

The Life and Work editorial from December 1953.




As we travel by train or bus across the country just now we see new houses springing up almost everywhere. “They’re getting their houses now,” we say. But are they? It depends on who “they” are. If we think that the housing problem in Scotland is well on the way to solution we need to be reminded of a few facts.

In Glasgow alone 40,000 families are without a home of their own; and 65,000 families are living in conditions unfit for human habitation – over 100,000 families without the basic necessities for home life in a city with perhaps 300,000-350,000 families in all.

In Scotland as a whole 32 per cent of the population is housed in buildings of one or two rooms. In England and Wales the figure is only 15 per cent. As far back as the survey of 1935 one house in every four in Scotland was found to be overcrowded – in England it was one in twenty-four. We have in Scotland a legacy of neglect which is now creating a situation of national emergency.

Has the Church of Scotland anything to say to the nation about this? Has it any authority, any right?

We have the right derived directly from the Bible, which has over one thousand references to the word “house” in its pages. That is some indication of its realism. The prophets of the Old Testament set down as one of the marks of a country obeying the will of God that every man would dwell in his own house. “Thine own house,” “Their own house” – that word “own” recurs again and again, as if it were written for these 40,000 families in Glasgow which have nowhere “of their ain.” And in the New Testament, by the saving power of Him who had “not where to lay his head,” the house is raised up to become the true temple of the Lord, the basic unit of His Church – “the church which is at thy house.” That is the value set upon housing by the book of our Faith.

We are commissioned by our Lord’s command to “teach all nations”; and this is plainly one of the things that we are to teach. Then what are we to say as we face the houseless and the evilly-housed in Scotland to-day?

One thing we must confess. We cannot speak our Lord’s word about family life and ignore conditions which make family life impossible. The dignity of Christian marriage?-in houses where adolescent boys and girls are sleeping in the same room as their parents? The home as a training-ground in the Christian life?-where “home” is the place you can’t all be in at the same time? The home as a “unit of Christian fellowship”?-when it is the place which incites to tension? The home as the basis of a child’s confidence?-when there is no certainty that the father and mother will be able to live together under the same roof? The home as the place of healing?-when it concentrates the squalor and disease which we would not permit in our streets?  If we are to teach about the Christian family we must teach about the conditions which deny what is essential to it.

But what are we to do now? We must give those in authority no rest until this issue is lifted out of the region of party politics and made a national concern – as it would be if it were something affecting the war effort in a time of military crisis. We must make it plain that, in the matter of housing, when we say “this nation” we mean Scotland; for this human tragedy in our midst is certainly due to the failure to recognise the special circumstances of the Scottish situation.

And we can set ourselves the task of teaching this nation, not only what evil housing means, but what good housing implies – how a man’s dwelling-place can speak to him, by its very form and structure, of the things that belong to the depths of his spirit, and, by its very setting besides the dwellings of others, can speak of the community in which he is to find the fulfilment of the commandment that he shall love his neighbour as himself. His house, his “own house,” is the promise of God to him. It is pledged to him as the place where he will learn to love God and to be a fellow-worker with Him in the creation of His family. When the pledge is unfulfilled it is because we who are given the power to fulfil it have not yet learned to do as we are bidden.


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