There are few more important issues to Edinburgh right now than housing. We are seeing an ever increasing strain on our housing stock and demand for land from developers grows and grows, while the Tory government implements damaging economic and welfare policies – such as cutting housing benefit and removing it altogether from 18 to 21-year-olds – which drive more people into poverty and make rents increasingly unaffordable.
Decisive action is needed – and that is exactly what the SNP is doing.
Since 2014, we have ensured that nobody in Scotland has to pay the hated Bedroom Tax through our mitigation efforts – and we will work to abolish this as soon as we have the power to do so.
In the Programme for Government, the First Minister outlined that we are making it a national objective to end rough sleeping on our streets – backed by a new £50 million investment. Nobody should have to sleep rough in a rich country like Scotland. It is only the SNP that is taking the action to make this ambition a reality – with the National Audit Office last week confirming that Tory welfare policies are driving the increase in homelessness in England.
Our action on homelessness goes hand in hand with our aims to improve existing housing and develop new, affordable homes during this parliament. We have a target to build 50,000 affordable homes by 2021 – and we are determined to ensure that more people, whether renting or buying, can afford their homes without having to make difficult choices elsewhere.
Our work now follows decisive action throughout the last decade, with legislation passed to give councils the power to cap rent increases, improved security for tenants, and the abolition of Right to Buy which protects our remaining social housing stock.
The experience of my grandmother is a clear example of how much things have changed in recent decades because of Right to Buy, and it will be a familiar story for many. Shortly after I was born, my gran moved into a brand new council home. She lived there for 40 years before she passed away. That home offered her security and stability, and it did the same for the next tenant who made it their home.
Experiences like this are few and far between these days because of decisions made by the Tories in the 1980s and 1990s to sell off social housing without giving councils the ability to replace housing stock. To illustrate this point, the number of people living in council houses across the UK fell from 42 per cent to eight per cent between 1979 and 2014.
We are feeling the impact of Right to Buy now more than ever as house prices and rents go through the roof. We have seen rents in Edinburgh skyrocket by 20 per cent over the past five years, and house prices are forecast to rise by 23 per cent over the next four years.
Of course, Right to Buy benefited many people who were able to buy their own homes for the first time. But with so many of these former council houses now in the hands of private landlords, they are now part of the wider issue of rising rents and house prices, making it nearly impossible for people, even on above average salaries, to find somewhere to live in cities like Edinburgh.
Despite the SNP’s strong action over the last ten years, there is only so much that can be done to right the wrongs of the previous 30 years. The decimation of our social housing stock, the lack of planning to build new houses to meet demand, and an obsession with home ownership which is not everyone’s aspiration, while abandoning the needs of renters, have got us where we are today.
The SNP is doing all it can to create a housing system that benefits all.