The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-06898, in the name of Mark Griffin, on the cost of living: mortgage rescue scheme. I invite members who wish to participate to press their request-to-speak buttons now or as soon as possible, or to put “RTS” in the chat function if they are joining us online.
We are tight for time, so I encourage members to stick to their time allocation.
I call Mark Griffin to speak to and move the motion. You have around six minutes.
This past month, Parliament used its powers to support renters who are struggling with the cost of living by freezing rents and banning evictions, which provides a lifeline to thousands of families this winter. Because it is our job to prevent a tidal wave of repossessions, homelessness and financial misery, we are calling on the Government to revamp its mortgage to shared equity scheme, thus supporting homeowners with mortgages.
Thirty per cent of all Scots—half of homeowners—still have a mortgage. Prices for energy, food and fuel have gone through the roof for them, as they have for everyone else. Now, homeowners face a Tory premium on interest rates too. The Scottish Government should not need convincing that more help is needed to keep people in their homes. To its credit, it has kept open its mortgage to shared equity scheme, which could help.
Evidence from Citizens Advice Scotland—which the Government cited in support of the Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Act 2022—shows that, by last June, views of its “What to do if you can’t pay your mortgage” web page had increased by more than 1,600 per cent in a single year.
It is not just people looking for advice when fixed-rate deals end. For the estimated 200,000 Scottish homeowners on variable rate mortgages, this will have been a terrible year so far, and that pain is not over. Just last week, the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasted that effective rates on existing mortgages would rise to 4.3 per cent by summer 2023.
Shelter Scotland and Crisis put the cost of rehoming a household at around £50,000, with escalating costs for those households with greater support needs. However, the cost to families’ livelihoods, their wellbeing and mental health, and the impact on children of losing their homes are far greater.
The mortgage to shared equity scheme is a scheme of last resort. It is the final option for a family that is at risk of losing their home, after all other options have been exhausted. The family can reduce their monthly costs by asking the Government to take a stake in their home, which can be bought back when their finances allow.
However, the scheme is not delivering—it does not serve home owners in today’s market. There has not been a successful application to the scheme since 2016, and property thresholds have not been updated since 2017. Applications to the sister mortgage to rent scheme took at least a year to process in the past financial year, with only 41 per cent being successful. All the while, ministers have renewed budgets of millions that have gone unspent for years. It seems to be a slush fund that is to be raided for wider budget pressures each year.
The cabinet secretary’s amendment notes that the scheme is demand led, which is absolutely true. However, the scheme itself seems to design out demand. We propose that the mortgage to shared equity scheme be overhauled to deliver a true safety net for those who are at risk.
The member is well aware that we are reviewing the fund, including the eligibility rules for the mortgage to shared equity and mortgage to rent schemes. Therefore, the very issues that he raises are already being looked at. Does he not accept that?
I fully accept that there is a review, and I will come on to talk about that in a minute. However, in that case, and given that the review has been going on since the summer, I suggest that it should be fairly simple for the Government to accept our proposals and expand that safety net. We propose that the mortgage to shared equity scheme be overhauled—it needs to be overhauled urgently—to deliver a true safety net for those who are at risk of losing their homes amidst the Tory economic crisis.
When circumstances change, so must the policy, and those circumstances have most definitely changed. Ask anyone out there and you will find out how stretched family budgets are.
As an absolute minimum, the overhaul needs to cater to a wider group in today’s market. You would be hard pressed to find a single property in the Lothians, the Highlands or rural Scotland—the areas with the highest price-to-income ratios—that could get help under the scheme. First, property value thresholds must rise. The Government’s existing thresholds, which are based on house size, are complex. If they cannot be revised quickly, the scheme should instead rely on median house price data for each local authority.
Secondly, the equity requirements exclude far too many. The minimum of 20 per cent means that just 58 per cent of mortgages would be eligible. A revised scheme must ensure that recent first-time buyers who have far less equity and who might be rolling off their very first fixed rate can still access support.
Thirdly, the scheme must be resourced to be responsive and turn around applications in two months, not years. People have already lost their home by that time.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. In her amendment, the cabinet secretary misjudges the level of financial trauma that is already taking place across Scotland. It is not just the households with the lowest incomes that are struggling. The system needs to be ready to deal with people’s financial hardship.
The review has been on-going for months, so I hope that the Government will set out the scope of that review and the deadline for implementing changes and rule out a closure of the mortgage to shared equity scheme.
The Tories absolutely need to fix the mess that they have made, but it is not enough for the Government to just criticise from the sidelines. We need to use the powers that we have in Scotland to help families to keep their homes.
That the Parliament notes the increase in mortgage costs due to the sharp rise in interest rates following the UK Government’s disastrous mini-budget; believes that, combined with wider cost of living pressures, higher mortgage repayments will push some households into poverty and that action is needed to prevent a spike in arrears and homelessness; recognises that the Scottish Government’s Mortgage to Shared Equity scheme has not had a successful application since 2015-16, and calls for the Scottish Government to relaunch and revamp the scheme so that it is not limited to only those with existing high levels of equity, that eligibility thresholds reflect true house price values and that there is a maximum application turnaround time of two months.
Thank you, Mr Griffin. I apologise, but, as ever with these debates, we are tight for time, so members will need to accommodate interventions broadly within their speaking allocations. I call the minister to speak to and move amendment S6M-06898.2. Mr Macpherson, you have up to eight minutes.
As Mark Griffin mentioned, we are living through a cost of living crisis exacerbated by the impacts of United Kingdom Government decisions and policies including Brexit and the economic mismanagement through the summer, which are resulting in soaring inflation and interest rates, including on mortgages, which is affecting many home owners. In that context, we welcome today’s constructive debate and the fact that Labour has chosen to use its time for it.
Our demand-led home owner support fund is the only such scheme in the UK. It provides support to low-income householders who have fallen behind on their mortgages and face repossession. The fund consists of the mortgage to rent and mortgage to shared equity schemes, which sit alongside advice services and legal aid support for home owners. I clarify that, as has been mentioned, it is a scheme of last resort. Every application is carefully considered to offer tailored support, which allows us to provide the most suitable option to home owners who are experiencing financial difficulties.
We will, of course, cover that in the review that the cabinet secretary mentioned. However, to maximise the support, we are currently considering eligibility rules and property value thresholds, and we will conclude those considerations in the spring.
I clarify that the scheme also relies on the co-operation of landlords, lenders and those undertaking conveyancing. That is really important to Labour’s suggestion of a two-month turnaround, which is unachievable regardless of resourcing or funding from the Government because it relies on other partners, particularly the legal profession, which has had high pressure on it in recent years because of the demand in the housing market. That wider context is important.
Our priority is to help the people who are most in need. Evaluation of the help-to-buy scheme showed that 80 per cent of participants would have been able to purchase a property that met their needs without financial assistance. With regard to the Conservative amendment, which we urge the Parliament to reject, cuts to financial transactions by the UK Government mean that reopening the help-to-buy scheme would have to be at the expense of delivering other affordable housing. That is not a choice that we are willing to make.
What is more, we recognise the huge pressure that the cost crisis is placing on households who rent their homes. That is why we took action as a Government through our emergency legislation, which Parliament supported. As members know, the Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Act 2022 provides a temporary rent freeze and moratorium on evictions. It protects tenants by putting in place measures to stabilise immediate housing costs and enable them to stay in their homes.
I am a bit pushed for time, but I am sure that Mercedes Villalba will be able to speak in the debate.
Moreover, for many households who are struggling to meet their housing costs, discretionary housing payments are a lifeline that the Government funds by providing £86.6 million to local authorities this year. That provision mitigates the benefit cap and the bedroom tax. We wish that we did not have to undertake those mitigations, but we take that action to support people, and we have done for several years with regard to the bedroom tax. The fact that we have to invest that money at all shows that the UK Government’s welfare system continues to be badly designed and wrong-headed. That is why we continue to push for it to reverse those policies and stop putting people at risk of homelessness.
In contrast, Social Security Scotland is now successfully delivering 12 devolved benefits, including seven that are available only in Scotland and not elsewhere in the UK, among them the Scottish child payment. From next year—February 2023—our 13th benefit, our new winter heating payment, which will be backed by £20 million, will provide around 400,000 people on low incomes with a reliable annual £50 towards the costs of heating their homes in the winter. That is part of the allocation of almost £3 billion in this financial year to help to mitigate the increased costs of living, with over £1 billion of that support available only in Scotland.
The Government welcomes the debate and looks forward to listening to the contributions from members.
“Home Owners’ Support Fund is a demand-led mortgage rescue programme to support low-income homeowners facing difficulty meeting payments to stay in their property through moving to either a rent or shared-equity scheme; notes that the Scottish Government is already reviewing the eligibility criteria of the Fund in light of the cost of living crisis; acknowledges the actions taken by the Scottish Government to also support people in the rented sector during the current cost crisis through the actions in the Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Act 2022 and through up to £86.6 million in Discretionary Housing Support; calls on the UK Government to ensure that there is an adequate social security net to support people in time of hardship, including homeowners with mortgages; believes that the current nine-month wait for loan-only support with mortgages within Universal Credit is too long, and agrees that this is one of the many areas where Universal Credit is not fit for purpose.”
I thank the Labour Party for bringing this debate to the Parliament today. I always welcome the opportunity to debate housing policy, and, given the housing crisis that we face in Scotland, it is clear that we need action from the UK and Scottish Governments to support home owners and people who seek the dream of home ownership.
Like other countries around the world, the UK faces a profound economic challenge as a result of President Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and the recovery from the Covid pandemic. That seems to have been overlooked in the Labour motion and in the minister’s speech, which is disappointing.
The fact is that this SNP Government has failed to address Scotland’s housing crisis, which has made it harder for people to get on to the property ladder. The Scottish Government’s most recent housing statistics reveal that housing completions across all tenures in Scotland are still below pre-Covid levels. We are not building the homes that Scotland needs. We should all be concerned about that.
At the same time, SNP and Green ministers have closed off two crucial support schemes for first-time buyers by scrapping help to buy and the first home fund. First-time buyers in England can still access support and shared ownership to help them on to the property ladder. That is important.
Ben Macpherson said that around 80 per cent of beneficiaries of help to buy would have been able to purchase a property without Government support. Given that, is Miles Briggs saying that we should take money out of the affordable housing supply programme, which helps people who could not afford to buy their own home or rent a home, and put it into help to buy? We need clarity from Miles Briggs on that.
I do not have time. I have only four minutes.
We need the Government to look at the situation. It used to support helping Scots to get on to the property ladder, but it has changed its mind and turned its back on the very people it used to support.
Scottish Conservatives want home ownership to be affordable for every Scot. That is why we are proposing a rent-to-own scheme, which will help people to save for a deposit by giving them a percentage of their rent back when they decide and are ready to purchase their own home.
It is clear that more and more potential first-time buyers in Scotland are being priced out of the market, especially in the capital. Scottish first-time buyers must be at the heart of a Scottish Government housing strategy. It is sad that the Scottish Government seems to have forgotten about them.
That is why my amendment for today’s debate calls on the Scottish ministers to reinstate help to buy and to develop a new rent-to-own scheme. We need a bold new initiative to help people to get on to the property ladder in Scotland. Rent to own can do just that.
A generation of potential first-time buyers are at risk of being completely left behind by this SNP-Green Government. That is not acceptable.
It is also clear that we are starting to see the unintended consequences of the SNP-Green-Labour Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) Scotland Act 2022, as they filter through into the social rented sector. Members who meet the sector are seeing how it is redrawing financial plans, scrapping business plans for new socially rented homes. Ultimately, fewer homes will be available. That will be the legacy of this SNP-Green Government.
I am sorry, but I do not have time. I have only a few seconds left.
That is why members on the Conservative benches think that it is time to take forward new schemes to provide the support that our tenants of socially rented properties need. For too long, such tenants have been neglected.
The 2022 act will also mean that there are fewer privately rented properties. Here, in the capital, that will be a total disaster. All parties in this Parliament who supported the rent controls legislation should take responsibility for that.
I move amendment S6M-06898.1, to leave out from “following” to end and insert:
“due to Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic; welcomes the billions of pounds in cost of living support packages announced by the UK Government to support the most vulnerable households during this difficult period; recognises that Scottish Government decisions have contributed to the cost of living crisis by failing to address the housing crisis that exists in Scotland; condemns the Scottish Government for scrapping the Help to Buy scheme that helped prospective homeowners to get on the property ladder, and calls on the Scottish Government to reintroduce a Help to Buy scheme and develop a Rent to Buy scheme.”
I am pleased to speak for my party in this important debate and I congratulate Mark Griffin on securing time for it.
It is undeniable that the cost of living crisis is having a huge impact on the budgets of households throughout the country. The Conservative Government’s disastrous mini-budget under Truss and Kwarteng brought chaos to the markets and exacerbated the crisis at the worst possible moment.
It is left to ordinary people to pick up the pieces and pay the price. Dreadful Conservative mismanagement of the economy has caused mortgages to skyrocket. Recent estimates—we heard some today—suggest that a typical family will see a staggering annual increase of around £3,000 in their mortgage payments when they come to renegotiate their deals.
Struggling households face a crippling triple whammy in the form of rising food costs, energy bills and housing costs, particularly for mortgages. This month, a poll revealed that home owners are worried about defaulting on their mortgage payments or being forced to cut down on food, while one in four even fear losing their homes due to unpaid bills. It is hard to overstate the toll that that sort of worry must take.
When people are struggling so much that some even face the threat of homelessness, it is appalling that we are, yet again, in the middle of an unwanted independence merry-go-round. Instead of making sure that vulnerable Scots make it through the winter with their homes and health intact, the SNP-Green Government is yet again wasting its energy and our time and focus on more failed attempts and efforts to break up our United Kingdom. That is tedious, arrogant and morally indefensible. The people of Scotland are trapped between Tory incompetence at Westminster and SNP-Green disinterest at Holyrood. People need to know that they can heat their homes, feed their children and afford their bills. We should offer them some help by extending the reach of the home owners support fund to ensure that it is fit to address inflation and the rise in interest rates.
I know that the member does not like independence and would not vote for it, but does he accept that an independence referendum would give people a choice to escape from the policies that he criticises?
The great snake oil that the SNP tries to sell us is that independence would somehow be an antidote to all the problems that we face. It would compound all the misery and economic cost to hard-working families across the country. It is well past time that the UK Government brought in a proper windfall tax on the banking sector’s profits. We, along with others, successfully dragged the UK Government to the point where it levied a windfall tax on the super-profits made by oil and gas producers. We must now look to the banking sector because, at a time when people are at risk of losing their homes because of the mortgage repayments that are being exacted on them by the banks, the UK Government has initiated a tax break of £18 billion through a cut to the bank levy on those profits. That is unconscionable and should be reversed.
That is how to pay for the measures that we have been calling for since October last year, but the UK Government has not gone far enough. Instead of making sure that banks pay their share, they are happy to impose years of painful stealth taxes on ordinary families.
People deserve much better than that. We, in the Parliament, are duty bound to ensure that our focus is squarely on the issues that make a material difference to the lives of the people who we are here to serve. That is why Liberal Democrats believe that all those who have seen their mortgage payments increase by a significant amount should be able to access a welfare support fund for grants to help cover some of the cost of that rise. That would protect families from falling into arrears or losing their homes, and it is the right thing to do.
We again find ourselves debating the cost of living crisis. It is critical to people across Scotland and it is the most important topic of conversation, bar none. It impacts on each and every one of our constituents, regardless of their financial circumstances, but there can be no doubt that the poorest and most vulnerable will be disproportionately affected.
We have an economy that has flatlined, a Government that has run out of ideas and a UK policy landscape that takes us back to George Osborne’s austerity agenda. As we look set to embark on austerity 2.0, it is important that we consider what that will mean for our economy and our people in the years to come.
The OBR estimates that the measures that were outlined in the chancellor’s budget last week will result in a 7 per cent drop in household incomes over the next two years, culminating in the biggest fall in living standards since records began, which is six decades ago. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development predicts that the British economy will contract by 0.4 per cent of gross domestic product next year and that it is already in recession. It also predicts that Russia will be the only advanced economy in the world to perform worse.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has issued a stark warning that, next year, some people in the UK could be up to £538 worse off than they are this year. There have also been warnings that unemployment could be about to surpass half a million by the end of 2024, with the economic and social consequences that that will have for our communities.
The worst part of it all is that we have already tried austerity economics; the Tories embarked on it in 2010 only for it to deliver flatlining growth and stagnating productivity while eroding the wages and conditions of working people. We know the human impact that it had, too. We saw it first hand in Glasgow, with recent research from the University of Glasgow and the Glasgow Centre for Population Health concluding that more than 330,000 excess deaths could be linked to the austerity programme that was pursued by the British Government during its 2010 to 2017 agenda. That is a grotesque failure of public policy that cannot be allowed to be repeated.
We are also in the, frankly, perverse situation in which those who lauded the tax-cutting, high-spending mini-budget of Truss and Kwarteng are the exact same people who are triumphantly applauding the tax-raising, austerity-imposing autumn budget of Sunak and Hunt. It is politicking at its most cynical, and voters will not forget it.
Labour has proposed a series of alternatives for our economy and a policy platform that stands in direct contrast to the one that has been outlined by the current Conservative Government. We want to see a publicly owned energy generation company, which both the Tories and the SNP have failed to implement despite having more than a decade to do it. We want to see the threshold for the top rate of income tax in Scotland dropped from £150,000 a year to £120,000 a year, which the Government has yet to agree to. We want to see a return of the mortgage to shared equity scheme, to which today’s motion refers.
For all the reasons that we have discussed—many of which I think the majority of us agree on—we need tangible action in both the short and longer term. For too long, we have looked at our economy as though we are accountants, by shifting money from one portfolio to another portfolio without any real understanding of the economic impact and the economic multiplier effect that some of our decisions have.
We need a focus on public sector investment that will produce long-term growth and innovation. It is abundantly clear that more of the same economic austerity and doom loop of decline that has been handed down to our communities for too long simply will not work. It has never worked, it will not be accepted by working people and it should not be accepted by the Parliament. It is time to say that enough is enough.
The uncertainty and fear caused by the disastrous Brexit that Scotland did not vote for and the catastrophic Tory mini-budget have had numerous financial consequences across the UK. Inflation has now risen, yet again, to 11.1 per cent, up from 10.1 per cent last month, which is the highest that it has been in my lifetime. The Bank of England has raised the base rate of interest by 0.75 percentage points to 3 per cent, which is the single biggest increase in over three decades, and not only did the budget crash the pound sterling, it put pensions at risk and, as we are here to discuss, sent mortgage payments sky high.
Not for the first time, the Scottish Government has had to enact policy to mitigate the ways in which the UK Government has hit the most vulnerable in society. Free prescriptions, free higher education and free concessionary bus travel—which now includes under-22s—free school meals and the recent Scottish child payment are all examples of Scottish Government policies that have helped those who need it most.
The Scottish Government’s home owners support fund scheme is another such scheme, which is unique to Scotland. The fund helps home owners who run into financial difficulty and are at risk of losing their homes. Under the mortgage to shared equity scheme, the Scottish Government buys a stake of up to 30 per cent of an individual’s property, which allows the home owner to reduce their secured loan. The scheme is dependent on the applicant meeting the eligibility criteria but, as the cabinet secretary said, the Scottish Government is looking at reviewing the fund, including those criteria.
I do not think that I will have time. Sorry.
In addition to those supports, the Scottish Government is investing an additional £12.5 million to provide free advice services to help people with income maximisation and welfare and debt advice.
In the short time that I have had so far, I have only scratched the surface of the ways in which the Scottish Government is doing everything that it can to help those who are affected by the cost of living crisis but, unfortunately, it is evident that Scotland does not currently have the independent fiscal powers that are required to address this crisis more appropriately.
To build a more prosperous Scotland and a fairer future for the country, independence is not only desirable but essential. That is where I completely disagree with Alex Cole-Hamilton.
One of the reasons why I have not taken any interventions—though I will see whether I have time when I get close to the end of my speech—is that I want to spend the rest of my time paying tribute to some of the amazing local charities and individuals in my constituency who are working to help people deal with this Tory-imposed cost of living crisis. It is important that we come to the chamber and do that, so my thanks go to Julie and her team at Cool School Uniforms; to Angela and her team at the Coatbridge food bank, in conjunction with the Xaverian Fathers; to Mags and all involved at the Moodiesburn food bank; to Father Kane and those involved in the St Augustine’s stay connected project and the pantry; to Willie and all those at the Kirkshaws neighbourhood centre team; and to Theresa and her team at Glenboig Life Centre.
Those services provide food, clothing, support activities and even warm hubs, and all those organisations tell me that they are getting more and more referrals but, ironically, fewer donations. What is important in the context of the motion is that they are getting more and more people who are struggling with mortgages and more and more people who are in employment and in poverty—in working poverty.
I appreciate that the member will have many constituents who are struggling with their mortgages. Does he think that those constituents who are struggling can wait until the review, which runs up until the spring, finishes to get any help?
I appreciate Mark Griffin lodging the motion, because I think that it is important.
I think that the Scottish Government is doing a lot. I have already listed just some of the things that it is doing. However, it feels as though all that this Parliament is doing at times is mitigating what the Tories are introducing. Labour should be standing beside us at every opportunity and calling them out.
That brings me to my final points. I want to thank all those organisations that I mentioned, but they should not need to do that work. The Tory Government is taking us all for granted, relying on the Scottish Government, councils and kind-hearted charities and individuals to pick up the mess that it has created. I will end exactly where my colleague before me did and say that enough is enough.
Once again, we come to Parliament to discuss a vital issue. It is right that we are spending a great deal of time on it, because it is the matter that is uppermost in the minds of our constituents as we move into the winter.
I agree with much of the Labour motion—something needs to be done and the SNP-Green devolved Government has not done enough to help people in Scotland. In fact, its latest rent freeze will add to the problem, as social landlords put their capital plans on hold.
We would all much prefer to see the focus of the Government being on the cost of living and not on the grievance politics of independence. We can always tell a Government’s focus by its budget priorities. In Westminster, we have a Government that is investing in health, education and capital projects. In Scotland, we have a Government that sets money aside for independence and fake foreign embassies.
Our UK Government is focused on protecting the most vulnerable people, protecting services and ensuring that the tax burden is shared among us all, but is borne most by the highest earners, so I welcome the measures in the autumn statement.
I will if there is time later.
The key to helping mortgage payers in Scotland is to bring down inflation, to build growth and to ensure stability in our economy. That is what Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt are focused on and that is what the autumn statement demonstrates.
Inflation is rising across the world. The UK’s latest inflation rate is 11.1 per cent. That is lower than countries including the Netherlands, where the inflation rate is 16.8 per cent; Belgium, where it is 13.1 per cent; Germany, where it is 11.6 per cent; and Italy, where it is 12.6 per cent. In fact, the European Union as a whole has an inflation rate of 11.5 per cent, according to Euro indicators that were published last week. Of course, the nationalists do not like to hear that inflation is a global problem; it suits their separatist agenda to tell people that it is a UK problem and that only separation is the answer.
Douglas Lumsden is right about the nationalists and their record, but he has to acknowledge the consequences of gilts going up to 4.5 per cent and what that rise has done to mortgage rates, which is a direct result of Liz Truss’s decisions. I believe that he supported her in the Conservative Party leadership race.
I accept part of that, but what Daniel Johnson has to admit is that interest rates and inflation rates are rising all around the world, so to try to lay the blame at the foot of Downing Street is just not on.
Of course, part of the issue with rising house prices and rising rents is the SNP Government’s abject failure to ensure an adequate supply of new housing in our communities. When I was leader of Aberdeen City Council, we launched the biggest council house building scheme in a generation, while the SNP Government missed its targets year after year.
More must be done—and the devolved SNP-Green Government has the powers to help. After today’s Supreme Court ruling, it has an extra £20m in next year’s budget to help.
I do not have any time.
From its launch in 2013, the help to buy (Scotland) scheme was used by thousands of new home buyers and in June 2020—only two years ago—the then housing minister Kevin Stewart announced that the Scottish Government was pledging a further £55 million to assist in a further 2,000 home purchases. However, when the news broke that the scheme was to be scrapped, Nicola Barclay, who is the chief executive of Homes for Scotland, described the move as “devastating”.
All we hear from the Government is blame politics: it is always someone else’s fault. Apparently, independence would solve all of our ills as well as the cost of living crisis. That is living in cloud-cuckoo-land. Housing is a global problem that requires Governments to work together to solve it. The looming crisis in our housing sector comes after years of neglect by the SNP Government, so the failed SNP-Green coalition of chaos must do more. It must start investing in Scotland, our housing stock, our local communities, our hard working local government, and in the future of Scotland as part of the United Kingdom.
I am pleased to speak in the debate about the Westminster-imposed cost of living crisis. It is a time of great concern for many of my constituents who are struggling to get by and to provide the basics for their families.
The Tories’ disastrous mini budget, which it called on the Scottish Government to copy, has created a terrifying situation for many people. That budget made a difficult financial outlook even worse. As the motion points out, the situation is putting immense pressure on people in households with a mortgage. Recently, I spoke to a constituent who has a variable-rate mortgage. She described the fear that she experiences each time a letter from her mortgage provider arrives. Of course, those letters never have good news—it is always bad, and there are a few options available to assist her.
We must do everything that we can to help people who have mortgages, which is why I welcome the fact that the Scottish Government is already reviewing the eligibility criteria for the home owners support fund. The support for mortgage interest scheme from the Department for Work and Pensions does not provide adequate help to people who are on universal credit. It is welcome that the Westminster budget statement announced that the waiting period for universal credit claimants before they can make claims will be reduced from nine months to three months. The removal of the earnings bar for making claims is also welcome. However, none of that is due to happen until next spring. It makes no sense to wait until spring to do that, when home owners need our help now.
I call on Labour and Tory members to join me in calling for the changes to be brought in immediately, which would allow help to be accessed now.
No. I have a lot to get through.
The budget statement should have done so much more; it was a missed opportunity to provide the help that is needed to mitigate the cost of living crisis. Instead, it kept the five-week waiting time for universal credit, which is forcing people to go into debt. Millions of pounds need to go towards mitigating the two-child policy, the Tories’ abhorrent rape clause, the bedroom tax and the benefits cap. Instead—to just give one example—the budget should have matched our Scottish child payment. The Child Poverty Action Group said:
“If the Scottish Government can make this kind of serious investment in protecting our children from poverty, then so too can the UK Government.”
However, it was more of the same from the Westminster Government: no compassion and no radical game-changing policies. In fact, Torsten Bell from the Resolution Foundation said that the Tories had delivered a budget with the “policies of Gordon Brown”.
My party is usually accused of saying that there is no difference between the Tories and Labour; we are seeing evidence that that might be true. We know that the cost of living crisis has been made worse by Brexit. The extreme Tory Brexit, which is now a policy of the Scottish Labour Party, is an unmitigated disaster for our country. Scotland’s economy has been hammered by Brexit, which is hitting people’s pockets badly. Just last week, MPs were told by a member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee that Brexit has added 6 per cent to food prices. Back in June, respected think tank the Resolution Foundation said that the average worker was on course to suffer more than £470 in lost earnings each year by 2030.
That is what the Tories and the Scottish Labour Party have to offer in the cost of living crisis—further misery and hardship, fuelled by their Brexit policies. The UK economy is in crisis and the new age of Tory austerity is on its way. Scotland deserves better than that, which is why Scottish independence is now essential.
The cost of home ownership is severely out of kilter with reality when it comes to the money that people earn and the amount that they are able to save.
Over the past year, the Bank of England base rate has increased from 0.1 per cent to 3 per cent. That is the sharpest increase in a generation and the highest rate since the 2008 financial crisis. When interest rates were briefly 14.8 per cent, in October 1989—also under Tory economic mismanagement—the average Scottish home cost around £35,000. That figure is now £195,000, but average weekly wages have barely doubled over the same period.
At the same time, individuals who have inherited wealth or property have seen their net worth accumulate at pace without property values being taxed, which has led to ever-higher prices, despite there being depressed wages. That has embedded wealth inequality and means that, especially in rural areas such as the Highlands and Islands, the prospect of owning a home—or even renting one affordably—has become ever more distant for young people.
For years, Labour and Tory Governments have insisted on fuelling buyer demand while failing to address the severe reality of the housing crisis by building more affordable homes, which has pushed house prices to record highs. If we add in the inflationary effects of years of cheap buy-to-let mortgages, banking deregulation and the decimation of social housing that was caused by the disastrous right-to-buy policy—which is, thankfully, now ended in Scotland—it is not hard to see why house prices have spiralled.
I do not have time to give way. I am sorry.
If we factor in inflation, low wage growth, wealth inequality and rising rates, the outlook becomes even more bleak.
The pain that has been caused by skyrocketing bills, soaring prices, record inflation and the reckless Brexit that Labour and the Tories support is just starting to be felt in people’s wallets when they go to the shops, consume energy in the home or fill vehicles up with fuel. It is bad now and it will, sadly, get worse.
I am sorry, but I need to keep on.
In Scotland, with Greens in Government, we are choosing a different path. As well as the recently passed Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Act 2022, which supports renters, we are addressing the housing crisis through discretionary housing payments to mitigate the financial triple whammy that is faced by people on low incomes as a result of the unfair bedroom tax, reductions in housing allowance and the introduction of the benefit cap.
We are also looking to the future, with our ambitious commitment to build 110,000 homes by 2030—with 11,000 in rural areas, and 70 per cent of the total being affordable—and to provide support for homeowners to reduce their fuel bills through energy efficiency measures.
I welcome the Scottish Government’s review of eligibility for the fund, but we must all acknowledge the sad reality that, as more homeowners come to the end of fixed-rate deals, the impact of the Tory Government’s reckless behaviour and financial illiteracy will only increase.
It is clear that Westminster is not working for Scotland or our economy and that, without the full fiscal levers of an independent country, we can barely begin to challenge the enormous social inequality that the housing and fiscal policies of Labour and Tory Governments have created.
I have heard a few misguided statements in this debate. For example, Marie McNair attacked Labour, but she seems to forget that, when Labour was in power, it lifted more than 2.5 million children and pensioners out of poverty. If she goes back and looks at that record and Labour’s approach, she will see that there was a greater redistribution of wealth in that period than occurred at any other time.
It is easy to stand in the chamber and make comments attacking other people without talking about the facts, but we should focus on the facts, because, out there in the real world, the big issue today is not Scotland’s constitution but the fact that people are sitting worried and terrified about how they are going to get through this winter and the cost of living crisis.
Talking about being deluded, I note that Douglas Lumsden made deluded comments that completely deny the situation that we find ourselves in. The crisis has been created by the Tories in Downing Street. They crashed the economy with a budget that was clearly going to drive up interest rates, is driving up mortgages and is frightening people. That is why Labour is saying that we need action now, not in the future.
Shona Robison said that her Government is conducting a review, and Ben Macpherson also referred to that. That is great, and I hope that the Government will include other parties in that discussion. However, we do not have months and months to wait for a review—we need to take action now. If those people who are sitting terrified reach the point at which, as Mark Griffin said, their only option is to lose their house, that is the point at which we should step in.
The review is on-going; it is already under way and will be concluded in the spring. It is important to get it right to make sure that it will actually help that wider group of people who might need help over the coming months.
I agree that it is important to get it right, but I hope that the cabinet secretary will agree that there is a certain urgency to that.
If the Scottish Tories really want to do something to stand up for the poorest in Scotland, they should reject Tory austerity, because we have not got over the last round of Tory austerity, which led to many of the problems that we have in Scotland.
We are talking about housing, and we are not building enough houses. I am sure that I am not the only MSP who has people coming to their office week after week, unable to get housing. Is that not heartbreaking? We need to build far more houses. We need a national house-building programme for Scotland. That would be helpful—
The Mental Health Foundation sent a briefing that every MSP should read. People are frightened and concerned. We need this Parliament to come together, not to put counter-motions and amendments, but to start talking about what the immediate priority should be in Scotland. The priority should be that nobody loses their house. Part of that was addressed through Mercedes Villalba pushing for the rent freeze, which has been put in place, but the next part is the proposal that Mark Griffin has put forward. Let us work together to ensure that nobody is evicted this winter and that nobody loses their house because of failed Tory economic policies.
The motion talks about the challenges that many people are facing, including higher mortgage repayments, as well as challenges in relation to social rented properties, first-time buyers and home support funds. It also points out, quite rightly, that the Scottish Government should be using every lever and power at its disposal to help people through many of those challenges. Along with my Conservative colleagues, I have been clear that the cost of living crisis must be tackled from all directions and is a responsibility for all levels of government.
Last week, the UK Government set out its plans for how it will continue to support people through the crisis. I am sure that members on all sides of the chamber agree that countries around the world are facing significant challenges in the current economic climate and are having to take difficult decisions as a result.
In spite of those challenges, last week’s autumn statement showed us that the UK Government is continuing to do what it can to provide further support.
As my party’s—
As we have already heard today, inflation is an international issue, and inflation in other parts of Europe and across the world is higher than it is here, in the United Kingdom.
As I said, I am sure that we all agree that we are facing significant challenges and have decisions to make. The autumn statement showed that the UK Government is managing matters as we go forward.
As my party’s spokesman for older people, I echo comments made by Age Scotland that there is much to welcome in the autumn statement. The pensions triple lock will bring much-needed security to households. People rely on state pension income, and the further cost of living payments to all pensioner households will also provide key support.
It should also be welcomed that the energy price guarantee has now been extended to April 2024. Although the price of energy over the coming years remains somewhat uncertain, current estimates predict that extending the support will cost to the tune of around £12 billion. Such universal support is closely monitored, and we will have to see what happens as we move forward. As the economic situation continues to develop, it will be important for the UK Government to keep an eye on that support and keep it under review, and I look forward to ensuring that that is the case.
I have already made clear that the SNP Government should also be using every power at its disposal to ensure that people receive support. It is welcome that the Scottish child payment finally includes all eligible children up to the age 16 at the new higher rate of £25 per week. That payment will be a great support to many families over the coming months, which is why it was supported by all parties in the chamber.
However, it is clear that more can still be done on the part of the Scottish Government. A further cost of living support fund for the most vulnerable families could be a great help to many over the winter. It could, no doubt, be funded in part by the £20 million that is earmarked for an independence referendum.
It is clear that the solution to this on-going crisis will be one that sees both Scotland’s Governments working together—and they need to work together. The Scottish Government has no shortage of powers to lean on, and, as we have heard today, there is no shortage of ideas when it comes to ensuring that individuals are supported. People across Scotland expect those powers to be used to tackle the issues that really matter to them, and it is high time that their expectations became a reality.
I thank Mr Griffin for bringing this debate to the chamber on what is an important issue. However, let me say at the beginning that the motion seems a strange one for the Labour Party to lodge at the Scottish Parliament, which has no locus over mortgage interest rates, which are a reserved matter. The Parliament can only offer very limited support to home buyers within a severely constrained budget.
Perhaps members would benefit from a quick refresh of the history of where this crisis really started. The current situation that is faced by mortgage holders lies in the disastrous financial crash that was presided over by the Labour Party from 2008 to 2010. Gordon Brown, as a long-serving UK Chancellor of the Exchequer and later as Prime Minister, followed a Tory-style laissez-faire attitude to the nation’s finances, and allowed unbridled greed and naked rapacity to run amok and unchecked. The result was inevitable: a financial crash, which we the taxpayers bailed out at huge expense.
In 2008, the national debt stood at £800 billion, and by 2010 it had risen to £1.2 trillion. It now stands at £2.4 trillion. The Tories, who took over from Labour, failed to focus on economic recovery. Since then, we have faced tough austerity measures, as a result of which many across the country have suffered.
However, let us be clear: the Tories have only built on the foundations that Labour laid. Economic incompetence has been prevalent under both Labour and Tory Governments to an extent that is breathtaking. That is why we are here today: that is why households are being pushed into poverty with sky-high mortgage interest rates and having to make tough decisions between heating and eating this winter.
I emphasise that Scotland does not have the full financial powers that it needs, but it is still doing more than any other Government in the four nations in the UK to offer the best support to low-income households. It offers the home owners support fund, which is the only scheme of its kind in the UK. The fund supports those who face difficulties paying their mortgage or who face repossession. I welcome the Scottish Government reviewing the fund, including the eligibility rules, in light of the cost of living crisis.
Just recently, the Scottish Government again lead the way when it increased its Scottish child payment, which is available only in Scotland, to £25 a week for eligible households. Anti-poverty campaigners described that as
“a watershed moment for tackling poverty in Scotland, and the rest of the UK should take notice.”
Unfortunately, it appears that the chancellor chose to ignore those calls in his autumn statement. That shows a clear choice not to help the most vulnerable households, which is an incredibly cruel decision.
This year, the Scottish Government has committed almost £3 billion to mitigate the burden of the cost of living crisis on household budgets. Those measures have been taken at the same time as maintaining free prescriptions, free school meals and free concessionary bus travel, which was extended to the under-22s this year. Households in Scotland benefit from the most generous social contract in any part of the UK.
Scotland should not have to suffer because of the damaging choices that Labour and Tory Governments have made over too many years. It is only with full fiscal powers that the Scottish Government can tackle the cost of living crisis fully. It is clear now more than ever that Scottish independence is the only viable option to ensure that we put a complete end to the destructive path that this UK Tory Government is leading us down, ably assisted by its Labour Party acolytes.
I thank Labour for bringing this debate to the chamber, as I believe that the public wants us as a Parliament to concentrate on the issues that matter most to them. Undoubtedly, the cost of living is the biggest priority, as was set out in the research that the David Hume Institute published yesterday.
I say that in the middle of a two-week period of parliamentary business in which I understand that concerns have been expressed on all sides about the lack of Government statements on crucial issues such as the teachers’ strike, ambulance staff and two-tier NHS dental provision. I also say that on a day when, yet again, the focus has been on the constitution. Therefore, even if my party has vastly different political views from those of the Labour Party, we support it in bringing this issue to the chamber.
Several members have rightly expressed their concerns about the current state of affairs with regard to the economy. The OBR has been blunt in its analysis of the fragility of the economy, particularly when it comes to the erosion of living standards and the projections of low growth and productivity, and about the fact that, sadly, there is little optimism that the situation will be short lived. The chancellor has also been blunt in his analysis—I welcome his honesty in comparison with previous budget statements—and he is clear that there must be a completely different focus so that those on the lowest incomes are protected and that a greater tax burden is placed on those with broader shoulders. I do not find that easy to say as a Conservative, but I believe that that is the right thing to do.
I think that Alexander Stewart commented on the cautious welcome that was given to that focus in the autumn statement by Age Scotland, particularly when it comes to retention of the triple lock and the energy price guarantee being extended to 2024.
It is fair to make the point, as I think that Fulton MacGregor did, that the Scottish Government has uplifted the Scottish child payment to address issues. He is absolutely right, as doing so can be extremely helpful.
However, on the perspective of Labour and the SNP in this debate—particularly that of Alex Rowley for Labour and Marie McNair for the SNP—I say that the interest rates aspect of the cost of living situation is not solely down to problems with the UK Government. As I acknowledged in the previous cost of living debate, those problems are part of the issue, but they are not the sole problem at all.
The interest rates are down to global trends, which stretch back to the early part of—
If the member does not mind, I will just finish this point. They are down to global trends that stretch back to the early part of 2021, when the central banks in many emerging markets made clear that they were not going to do anything other than raise their interest rates. They were followed by the more advanced economies in the latter part of 2021.
I know that the member will have looked at the International Monetary Fund analysis that clarifies that point. It is not solely down to the UK Government that we have this problem. It is a global situation. I give way to the member.
I am very grateful. However, the member would have to acknowledge that gilts at the start of this year were up 1 per cent, they spiked to 4.5 per cent, and they have not yet come below 3 per cent for five years. That is a major component of the cost of mortgages, and it is exclusively an issue for the UK.
I acknowledged that in this debate and also in the previous debate. It is part of the issue, but it is not the sole issue, and I think that it is incumbent on the other parties in this chamber to recognise that it is not the sole issue, because this is a global situation. When we look at all the economic analysis, which Mr Johnson and I have plenty of opportunity to do in the Finance and Public Administration Committee, it is very clear that these inflationary pressures were not made just in this country—that is not true at all.
I just want to finish on this point. This is a serious issue. I believe firmly that the public want us to be focused very much on this problem. However, let us keep it in perspective given the facts that are available and the economic analysis that we have to hand. This is not just a problem that has been made in the UK—far from it.
Let me first welcome this debate, and ideas from across the chamber. Alex Rowley was quite right to call for us to work together where we can, and I will certainly attempt to do that, whether on this issue or others.
I will start with the record on affordable housing delivery. The Scottish Government has, according to all the available facts, led the way across the UK, with almost 113,000 affordable homes having been delivered since 2007. That is important, because all the poverty bodies that analyse these things say that the key reason why child poverty levels are lower in Scotland is the delivery of affordable housing. More than 79,000 homes have been delivered for social rent, including more than 19,000 council homes. A £3.6 billion package of investment has been made available this parliamentary session for the delivery of affordable homes, so that we can continue the important work that we started in 2007. We have also helped 19,000 households into home ownership since 2007.
The overall supply is important. Daniel Johnson will be aware that part of the issue is that the post-Covid recovery of the construction sector, inflation and interest rates all impact on all sectors of house building. That makes it really difficult to ensure that we get as much value from that £3.6 billion, which is, of course, grown by registered social landlords and local authorities in making that package go further.
However, it is an understatement to say that the Tories lack credibility in this area, with their total denial of responsibility. Clearly their briefing sheets for this debate said something like, “Talk about global issues and global factors. Shift the blame.” Well, the blame cannot be shifted. Whether because of their responsibility for soaring interest rates and what that means for mortgage holders, or because of the UK Tory Government’s delivery of affordable housing, the truth is that they have no credibility in this area. This is a Tory-caused cost of living crisis and people will have to pick up the pieces.
In just a minute—I will let Miles Briggs in once I have outlined what his Government has been delivering on affordable homes. In the past four years, Scotland has seen 62 per cent more affordable homes delivered per head of population than in England where the Tories are in power. Nine times as many social rented homes have been delivered in Scotland per head of population. That situation has led to some terrible cases being raised recently about appalling housing conditions in England. If Miles Briggs wants to explain why that is, in comparison with the record of delivery here, I will let him in on that point.
When it comes to appalling housing standards, the cabinet secretary should start looking in the mirror because, here in the capital, we have a record number of children living in temporary accommodation. That is on her watch, and she should hang her head in shame for that alone.
Let me tell the cabinet secretary what the UK Government is doing. We have provided £1.5 billion in additional money for public services. We have protected the triple lock and we are increasing benefits in line with inflation. We are raising the national living wage to £10.42 per hour and capping energy bills until 2024. That is a record to be proud of. The cabinet secretary should start thinking about her own responsibilities.
As for investment, inflation has ripped £1.7 billion-worth of investment out of the Scottish Government’s budget availability. Miles Briggs talks about investment in affordable housing and temporary accommodation, but he wants to take money out of the affordable housing supply programme and put it into helping the better-off to purchase their homes. He needs to explain to people in this city why he wants to do that at their expense, because essentially that is what will happen.
At the beginning of the debate, I was reflecting with my colleague Mark Griffin that it was somewhat more even-tempered than the previous one. However, it livened up towards the end, and rightly so, because there is no more important issue than housing. Much of what we do here ultimately hinges on access to affordable housing.
I can think of no better contribution to which to point members than that of Alex Rowley, who gave an impassioned statement of why the issue is urgent. People are facing real pressures, and for many people they are new. We brought the debate to the Parliament because the cost of living crisis is affecting all sorts of people, including people who might not have expected to face the challenges that they now face. I have to say that, when I returned home yesterday, I found to my horror that my smart meter was registering £12 for my total utility charges for the second day running, because of the effect of the weather. I can afford that, although it is not pleasant or something that I look forward to. However, that situation is being replicated all over the country. What does it mean in terms of people keeping a roof over their heads?
We have an opportunity, because we have a ready-made policy that is sitting on the books and can help people but that right now is doing nothing. As Mark Griffin pointed out, the mortgage to shared equity scheme has not had a successful application since 2016. I appreciate the constructive comments from Ben Macpherson and Shona Robison about our proposition, but I ask them to act with more urgency. I say that for the simple reason that, based on Bank of England data, it seems that, in the next two quarters, approximately 60,000 Scots will see their two-year fixed-rate mortgages come to an end and will have to remortgage. That will mean 60,000 people suddenly facing the reality of increased utility bills and increased mortgage bills.
Those people need help urgently, and they might not be able to wait until the spring. We absolutely need a review, but a review has been going on since the summer. We could make changes right now that might be able to help those people, which is what we are asking for today.
I have to say to the Conservatives that, although I appreciate the candour of some of their comments, they really need a reality check. We have listened to some members banging on about inflation, and I accept that there are global issues around inflation, but let us look at the facts, as Alex Rowley asked us to do. Yields for five-year gilts spiked by the largest single daily increase since black Wednesday. That cost of borrowing directly impacts on the ability of mortgage providers to provide products, which is why almost 1,000 mortgages were taken off the market on the day of the mini-budget.
We have heard a lot about the autumn statement, but we have not heard so much about the mini-budget, and I think that a little bit of contrition from the Tories would go a long way, because I would like to praise them for doing some things. Miles Briggs was absolutely right to talk about total housing supply. To be frank, we have struggled to achieve the levels that we were achieving consistently in Scotland prior to the financial crash, when there were between 27,000 and 28,000 completions per year. Quite simply, we have never achieved those levels since then. We saw some signs of encouragement before Covid, but the issues relating to housing supply existed before Covid, and we must look at supply in totality.
Like me, the member will be speaking to housing associations across the region that we represent. Due to the rent control legislation, they are now looking at their investment portfolios and taking affordable housing out of their future capital projects. That will result in fewer homes for our constituents. Does the member acknowledge that that legislation was a mistake?
Fulton MacGregor was absolutely right to mention local charities in his constituency. I have had those same conversations with food banks and even with local football clubs. They are seeking to provide direct financial advice because they recognise that people need it, and we are often talking about people who have not had to seek such advice previously. Therefore, the situation is urgent.
However, I gently say to SNP members who offer independence as a solution that, if we were independent, in relation to mortgages that were held in sterling, our new currency would face an immediate devaluation. The SNP’s own advisers are saying that that is a real risk. How would that help with the affordability of mortgages?
We need realistic propositions, not fantasy ones. We need action now, not in the spring.