Housing

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:10 pm on 9th April 2019.

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Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 6:10 pm, 9th April 2019

The Scottish Government’s house building record has been excellent. We have a target to build 50,000 new homes during this term of the Scottish Parliament, and houses are being built right across the country. The hon. Gentleman will remember from our time together on the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee how well the Scottish housing sector was spoken about by those who came to give evidence to us. [Interruption.] Luke Graham should pay no attention to his colleague Kevin Hollinrake, who, as he often does, has his own axe to grind on all this.

It is widely recognised that the Scottish Government are leading on housing policy. Our legislation on secure tenancies and in other areas has given renters in the private rented sector huge security. Ensuring that everyone has a safe, warm and affordable home is central to the Scottish Government’s vision of a fairer and more prosperous Scotland. People cannot get on in life if they do not have a secure tenancy, a warm home and a roof over their head.

The SNP remains on track to deliver on our target of building 50,000 affordable homes during the lifetime of this Scottish Parliament, which is backed by more than £3 billion of investment in the sector. There were 18,750 new build homes completed across all sectors in the year ending September 2018, an increase of 4%, or 635 homes, on the previous year. The latest statistics show that the Scottish Government have delivered nearly 82,100 affordable homes since 2007, which is significant. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire chunters from a sedentary position, but things are not going nearly as well in England. We are building proportionately more homes, more quickly, and he would do well to listen to us about this.

That is all in the face of the challenges of austerity. Housing associations tell me they are deeply concerned about the Government’s social security policies. For example, the roll-out of universal credit has negatively affected both tenants and landlords due to the major increase in rent arrears. I hear that from housing associations in my constituency and across Scotland, and my hon. Friend Drew Hendry could tell the House how housing debt has soared astronomically and how the Government have not learned the lessons.

A report this month from the Scottish Government shows that in East Lothian, for example, 72% of social housing tenants claiming universal credit are in arrears, compared with 30% of tenants overall—that is happening across England, too—and with a trebling of evictions for non-payment of rent over the year since universal credit was rolled out.

Some 88% of local authorities expect an increase in homelessness as a result of welfare reform over the next two years, and 75% expect that the roll-out of universal credit will increase homelessness. We are doing what we can in Scotland, and we have introduced a full mitigation of the bedroom tax, which people in England still have to pay. Without that, 70,000 individuals would lose, on average, around £650 a year. We also provide additional funding for direct mitigation of welfare reforms, direct support for those on low incomes and advice and other services.

Further, concerns remain on the UK Government’s right-to-rent scheme. There is a lack of clarity on what will happen with the scheme, and the Scottish Housing Minister, Kevin Stewart, has been in touch in light of the recent High Court ruling. What is actually going to happen with the right to rent? We need to know for the security and safety of our tenants in Scotland.

We are still waiting on the courts to see whether Serco’s lock change policy in Glasgow of August 2018 is unlawful. The policy has led to huge distress among those in the city of Glasgow with insecure immigration status, and we need to know the answer so that those affected have some certainty.

In Scotland, we are also taking a range of actions to bring empty homes back into use. There are many empty homes that could provide people with good housing and a secure future. Since 2010, the Scottish empty homes partnership has been instrumental in bringing more than 2,800 empty homes back into use, each and every one of them hugely valued both by communities that do not want empty homes and by those now living in them—the homes are no longer going to waste. Empty homes partnership funding is to double from £212,500 in 2018 to over £400,000 in 2021 to bring those empty homes back into productive use and to make homes for people who need them very much.

We have also created an ending homelessness together fund of £50 million over the five years from 2018-19 to support the prevention of homelessness and to drive sustainable change. Scotland has some of the world’s strongest rights for homeless people, but we are not resting on our laurels.

We are doing much more to tackle rough sleeping. We have a national objective to eradicate rough sleeping, and we have established a homelessness and rough sleeping action group chaired by Jon Sparkes, the chief executive of Crisis. The group has developed 70 recommendations on the actions required to end rough sleeping and transform the use of temporary accommodation. The Scottish Government accepted those recommendations and are now taking them forward. Jon Sparkes has said he is

“very pleased the Scottish Government has given in principle support to all of the recommendations on ending rough sleeping from the Homelessness &
Rough Sleeping Action Group. The members of the action group have gone above and beyond to dedicate themselves to bringing forward the right recommendations that will have the biggest impact on the way people sleeping rough can access and receive services.”

In that light, we have been piloting Housing First. This is hugely important, and it will have a huge impact on reducing homelessness.

The Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Mrs Wheeler, has been to Scotland to hear about what is happening, and she has noted that she is pleased with what Scotland is doing—she said so at Question Time, so I assume she still is.

A recent documentary visited various cities, and the connectedness of services in Scotland—different services speaking to one another and taking action—was well commended, but we do not rest on our laurels. When there are still people sleeping on the streets of Glasgow, we must do more to ensure rough sleeping is ended, and ended soon. The Scottish Government’s strong direction of travel is key. We need to prioritise that, but it takes a lot more than warm words and things said in statements and manifesto pledges to make that happen.

Before coming here, I was reflecting on the number of housing developments in my constituency in the past few years. Off the top of my head, new houses have been built for social rent in the Gorbals, Pollokshields, Govanhill, the Toryglen transformational regeneration area, Oatlands, Calton, Bridgeton, Dalmarnock, the city centre, Anderston, Kinning Park and the Laurieston transformational regeneration area. None of them happened by accident. They happened because of the work of community-based housing associations, which strive to develop, build more and house their local communities. That comes on the back of the Scottish Government supporting them in everything they do and ending the right to buy to ensure that their investment is sound and can continue. The UK Government would do well to learn from what has happened on housing in Scotland, because our record is a good one.