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Housing: Long-Term Plan

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:26 pm on 9th February 2016.

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Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cities) 5:26 pm, 9th February 2016

I am glad to be able to contribute to this debate on housing, because it is a clear example of a tale of two Governments and of the positive effect that the different approach taken by the SNP Scottish Government is having on housing provision in Scotland.

I read with interest the Liberal Democrat motion before us today, for the Liberal Democrats’ record on housing under the coalition Government was not great. They continually voted with the Tories in favour of the bedroom tax, and even voted against exempting social tenants who were carers or had disabilities. The SNP in Scotland has been working to mitigate this catastrophic policy and its effects on vulnerable people. The Scottish Government have committed £90 million since 2013 to mitigate the impact of the tax on 72,000 households in Scotland.

In Glasgow alone, £18.8 million has been spent providing community care grants and crisis grants from the Scottish welfare fund to mitigate the welfare reforms brought in under the coalition, with £8.3 million in discretionary housing payments to combat the bedroom tax specifically. The SNP has helped the most vulnerable, and I feel deeply for every household in England that struggles on unaided. The recent court cases demonstrate the deep injustice of this policy— many of those who had had their homes specially adapted for their needs have now lost their

“decent, affordable home to live in”.

In Scotland, too, the Lib Dems’ legacy on housing is very poor. Their motion talks of under-delivery by successive Governments, and how right they are. In coalition with Labour, the Lib Dems in government in Scotland built all of six council houses in a full four-year term in Parliament. Those were all in Orkney and Shetland. I see that Mr Carmichael is not in his place. Since the Scottish Government took office in 2007, 162 council homes have been provided in that constituency—a 2,600% increase. That is a good record for us in Orkney and Shetland at least.

In Scotland we are doing all we can to increase housing stock, having already exceeded our five-year target for building 30,000 affordable homes. Figures released on 1 December last year show that 30,133 affordable homes have been built since 2011, which is 133 more than our target. Since 2007, the Scottish Government have seen the completion of 54,186 affordable homes. Social rented completions have also exceeded our target of 20,000. At the end of October last year those stood at 400 more than our target. The target of 5,000 council homes has been exceeded by 292. The Scottish Government have already invested over £1.7 billion in affordable housing to achieve this target, despite a 26% real-terms cut to Scotland’s budget since 2010. The Scottish Government are not stopping at that, however, and if re-elected in May, an SNP Government will press on with an even more ambitious target of 50,000 new affordable homes, a £3 billion investment that will help to create 20,000 jobs per year.

The Liberal Democrat motion notes the increase in training and apprenticeships that home building can bring, and, in that, it is absolutely correct. We have invested in apprenticeships in Scotland, and many of the developments I saw in my eight years as a councillor had significant apprenticeship programmes. Community benefit clauses have also been brought in as part of housing projects, which is really important for the local communities involved.

Investing in housing is particularly important in areas of deprivation, creating a virtuous circle that gets people out of poverty. The investment in affordable housing in Scotland over the current parliamentary term is creating an estimated 8,000 jobs per year.

In contrast to England, where the right to buy has been extended, the Scottish Government have increasingly restricted the scheme. In 2013, they confirmed that they will abolish it, and that will take effect soon. In July 2013, Nicola Sturgeon announced that they intended to do that to prevent the removal of properties from the social rented sector. She said:

“we can no longer afford to see badly needed homes lost to the social sector…That is why I am today announcing the final stage of the abolition of the Right to Buy—a decision that will safeguard Scotland’s social housing stock for the benefit of citizens today and for our future generations.”

In 35 years, the right to buy has resulted in the selling of about 2 million council properties in England and just shy of 500,000 in Scotland. In Scotland, more than 160,000 replacement homes were built—leaving a huge deficit in social rented housing. By scrapping the right to buy, the Scottish Government are keeping up to 15,500 homes in the social sector for the next decade.

The UK Government’s proposals involve selling off at least another 113,000 council properties to fund the selling-off of housing association properties, while so many people still languish on waiting lists. Conservative Members talk about people’s right to own their own home, but they forget completely about the rights of the people on these waiting lists, who sit in accommodation for the homeless and do not have the right even to rent, never mind to buy.

The maddening thing is that this obsession with the right to buy does not even save money for the public purse. Often, these homes do not end up being lived in by the purchaser. Figures presented by the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations in evidence to the Communities and Local Government Committee inquiry into the right to buy show that 40% of the properties purchased under the right to buy end up in the private rented sector, incurring higher rental costs for tenants and higher rates of housing benefit than if they had remained in the social rented sector. SFHA estimates that that equates to £324 million per year in Scotland alone.

The Government’s obsession with homeownership is resulting in the continuing depletion of social housing stock in a way that is unsustainable given the continued high levels of need. The proposals in the Housing and Planning Bill, which talks of pay to stay, ending secure tenancies, extending right to buy to the hard-pressed social rented sector and enforcing rent reductions on housing associations, all speak of a Government who do not recognise the significance and importance of being able to rent a decent home. Some people cannot afford to buy; some do not want to buy and are happy to be in social rented housing.

I hope the Liberal Democrats are moving towards improving their previous position on social rented housing. If they are, I welcome that. I also hope that they will look to Scotland and follow the SNP Government’s lead.