Scottish Government set to declare a national housing emergency

Scottish Government set to declare a national housing emergency

Social justice secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville

The Scottish Government is set to declare a national housing emergency later today.

Social justice secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville will use a Holyrood debate this afternoon on Scottish Labour’s motion on the housing crisis to make the announcement.

According to reports, Ms Somerville will highlight external factors for the crisis including a decade of UK austerity, soaring inflation, increased cost of living, and labour shortages down to Brexit.

Scottish Labour’s second attempt to push MSPs to acknowledge the extent of the crisis in housing across the country comes after West Dunbartonshire Council became the fifth local authority to declare its own housing emergency.

Last year Argyll and Bute, City of Edinburgh and Glasgow City councils all declared housing emergencies.

Fife Council made the same move in March amid unprecedented pressure on housing and homelessness services.

In declaring a housing emergency itself, the Scottish Government will formally recognise the crisis and will call on the UK Government to reverse cuts in Scotland’s capital funding settlement.

Shirley-Anne Somerville said that a “joint approach” will be needed to combat housing problems.

She said: “Too many people in Scotland are struggling to make ends meet due to housing costs – or struggling to find suitable housing at all.

“We will continue to do everything we can with the powers at our disposal to make progress – but truly tackling the housing emergency will rely on a joint approach between UK, Scottish and local government.”

The social justice secretary added she wanted MSPs across the Holyrood chamber to “unite with one voice to demand a change in approach and an end to austerity which has caused untold harm to people across the country”.

Ms Somerville also said she would use all the powers at her disposal to try and address the housing situation, which she called “one of the defining issues of a generation”.

Scottish Conservative’s shadow housing secretary Miles Briggs MSP said the SNP’s announcement is a “long overdue acceptance of reality”.

He added: “The Scottish Conservatives have repeatedly called for a national housing emergency to be declared, but these calls fell on deaf ears until now. SNP ministers have also ignored the calls from charities, as well as five local councils declaring emergencies in their own areas.

“This situation is entirely of the SNP’s making. Shirley-Anne Somerville has typically tried to blame Westminster but the SNP have received a record block grant and it is them who shamefully slashed £200 million from the affordable housing budget.

“They - along with Labour - also backed the Greens illogical rent freeze policy which has instead hit tenants with soaring rents and has put the pause on much needed housing developments.

“The SNP’s record on housing during their 17 years in office is one of woeful failure. A record number of children are having to live in temporary accommodation and homelessness levels are at disgraceful levels.

“Finally declaring a housing emergency must be more than lip service from the SNP. We must see ministers now reverse their deeply damaging cuts and take the urgent action required – including bringing thousands of empty properties back into use – to tackle Scotland’s housing crisis.”

CIH Scotland said it hoped the announcement is the start of the political response needed to tackle Scotland’s housing emergency.

Callum Chomczuk, national director of CIH Scotland, added: “Back in March CIH Scotland declared its solidarity with the local authorities across Scotland that had declared a housing emergency. We called on the UK government to provide increased capital spending and for the Scottish government prioritise the building of affordable housing, including the front loading of affordable housing budget so social landlords can keep building.

“Since then, the context has arguably got worse with two additional local authorities declaring housing emergencies and data showing that affordable housing supply approvals and starts are at 10-year lows.

“The declaration of a housing emergency is a start. But we need an emergency plan and funding for delivering the social homes Scotland needs to address our housing and homelessness emergency.”

The amendments to Scottish Labour’s motion confirmed cross-party support for a declaration of a housing emergency.

Shelter Scotland, which has led the campaign for local authorities and the Scottish Government to make the declaration and deliver an urgent action plan to end it, welcomed the support for its calls.

Director Alison Watson said: “I’m delighted to see that there is cross party support for the deceleration of a housing emergency; this could be an important moment in the fight for housing justice in Scotland.

“We recognise that there are a range of factors driving the housing emergency; more than a decade of austerity, a cost of living crisis, and cuts to the social housing budget in Scotland have all contributed.

“The Housing Bill currently before parliament might make a difference in a few years, but there are 10,000 children in Scotland with nowhere to call home that need to see change right now.

“It’s vital that politicians back their words with actions; I call on all parties across Holyrood to work together to urgently deliver the social homes we so desperately need, to ensure that people can keep the homes they have, and to finally bring this devastating housing emergency to an end.”

Open letter to MSPs

Before news of the Scottish Government’s announcement, Shelter Scotland was one of a number of organisations from across Scotland to urge MSPs to back the motion.

An open letter to all MSPs signed by representatives from Scotland’s housing sector, local government, and the trade union movement urges politicians to come together to declare a housing emergency and commit to taking action to end it.

Alison Watson said: “There’s no question that Scotland is in a housing emergency; 45 children become homeless every day, local homelessness services are cracking under unprecedented pressure, and housing costs are out of control.

“This is a real opportunity for our politicians to show they understand the daily struggles facing the communities they represent and that they’re determined to act.

“That so many organisations have united behind our call to declare a housing emergency sends a clear message to everyone in Holyrood; it’s time to take the lead, come together to declare a housing emergency, and take the action needed to end it.”

STUC general secretary, Roz Foyer, said: “It is simply unsustainable for the Scottish Government to keep burying its head in the sand over the housing emergency gripping every corner of the country.

“With more and more local authorities literally on an emergency footing over the lack of housing available, we need to see the proper funding allocated to our councils so they can provide for those most in need.

“Housing is a human right. The new First Minister has our support in his aim of reducing poverty throughout Scotland but, simply put, this cannot be done on a shoestring budget. The Scottish Government must seriously look again at their devastating £200 million cut to the Housing Budget and pull on every economic lever possible to ensure our local authorities are properly funded and resourced.

Councillor Jane Meagher, the City of Edinburgh Council Housing, Homelessness and Fair Work convenor, said: “I am proud of the work that we have done across the sector, both to declare a housing emergency, and to work on responding to the challenges ahead of us. Unfortunately, the facts that led us to declaring a Housing Emergency in Edinburgh namely; soaring rents, limited supply and high numbers of homelessness presentations, remain the same. It is astounding that the government haven’t recognised this as an emergency yet.

“I would urge them to listen to what we are showing them, to take the opportunity to demonstrate that they understand the challenges that people in this country face and give us the support required to help rectify the systemic issues we see.

“To declare a housing emergency on a national level would show the priorities of government were in the right place; forward looking, progressive and supportive to those who most need it.

“We have the expertise, and experience, having declared a housing emergency, and would be delighted to work with the government in doing the right thing and listening to the ever growing voice that is saying housing has to be its priority.”

SFHA chief executive Sally Thomas said: “All the evidence makes it abundantly clear that Scotland is in a housing emergency.

“With homelessness at its highest ever level and a record number of households trapped in temporary accommodation, including nearly 10,000 children, now is the time for action.

“Beyond today’s declaration, our politicians must commit to delivering the affordable rented homes Scotland desperately needs- and that means reversing last year’s hammer-blow cut of almost £200m to the affordable housebuilding budget.

“Up to 20,000 children are kept out of poverty in Scotland because they live in a social home; delivering more social homes is the best route out of our housing emergency and is also a crucial step in eradicating child poverty.”

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