Blog: Holyrood 2016: Housing at the heart of the Scottish general election?

By Adam Balfour

Election fever is nearly upon us again and it will soon be time for the Scottish electorate to debate the direction of its next government. At Shelter Scotland we think politicians’ attention should be set squarely on housing.

We know that the Scottish Government needs to fund at least 12,000 affordable homes per year to meet demand. This number is required so we can begin to tackle the backlog in demand for affordable housing and provide safe, secure and affordable homes for future generations.

Encouragingly, it seems our politicians are listening.

At the Scottish National Party’s conference in Aberdeen Nicola Sturgeon pledged to build at least 50,000 affordable homes over the course of the next Parliament – including 35,000 for social rent.

Shelter Scotland has been campaigning for a step change in the supply of affordable housing for many years. We are glad that our calls have been heard and welcome the First Minister’s pledge to help tackle Scotland’s housing crisis.

Support for increasing the delivery of affordable housing has also received cross-party support in recent months. The Scottish Liberal Democrats raised our recent research report on the need for affordable housing in the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Labour held a debate on the findings of the Commission on Housing and Wellbeing.

Of course this needs to translate into bricks and mortar. Each political party’s proposals need proper scrutiny to ensure they can deliver a real step change in the supply of affordable housing. What we need is a house building programme that brings hope to the 150,000 households currently on waiting lists for a home and the almost 5,000 children who will wake up homeless across the country tomorrow. In fact, this was the subject of a fringe Shelter Scotland held at the SNP conference, alongside the Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland and the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations.

Adam speaking at the SNP Conference fringe
Adam speaking at the SNP Conference fringe

The First Minister’s announcement totals £3bn over five years – a considerable increase in cash terms of around £1.3bn on the last five years’ affordable housing supply budget. 50,000 affordable homes over five years is up 20,000 on the previous Scottish Government targets and, of these, 35,000 are pledged to be social rent which would represent an increase of around 15,000 over the lifetime of the next Scottish Parliament. This increased investment would, without doubt, be positive for the many thousands of people on housing waiting lists.

As ever, further detail is needed. How will the 35,000 homes for social rent be funded? Where will they be built? Will they be in Scotland’s hotspot housing markets, such as Aberdeen and Edinburgh, where private renters’ household finances are stretched to breaking point just to meet rent payments?

Will increasing the grants housing associations receive to build socially rented housing be enough to deliver affordable housing on this scale? How much will need to be borrowed to make this stack up?

These are all things Shelter Scotland and our partners across the housing sector will continue to collaborate on while we attend party conferences and await manifestos with finer details to pour over.

But, for now, it is highly encouraging that housing seems to be getting the attention it so desperately needs and may well be front and centre of the Holyrood elections in 2016.

  • Adam Lang is head of communications and policy at Shelter Scotland.
  • @shelterscotland

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