As an MSP I have found that the issue that people come to me most about is housing or I should say a lack of housing, affordable housing, suitable housing and it is the biggest issue in terms of the case load my office deals with. The fact is there is just not enough housing for rent whether that is council housing or housing association and whilst there has been a doubling of private sector renting in the last decade this is a much more expensive option and often poorer quality.
I therefore used a debate last week in Parliament on social and economic prosperity for all of Scotland to once again highlight the fact that we have a housing crisis in Scotland. Crisis is a word that is commonly used by politicians to describe circumstances but in the case of housing, it is Shelter Scotland amongst many third sector organisations who are using the term to describe Scotland’s housing position.
There are over 150,000 people/families on local council housing waiting lists with over 10,000 households in temporary accommodation. But for me it is not the shocking figures it is the numbers of people that come to my surgeries, the real life stories that are so heart-breaking that has driven me to continue to highlight the housing issue again and again in the Parliament and in the press. This week I was therefore pleased to bring forward proposals from the Scottish Labour Party for inclusion in our manifesto that commits us to building over 5 years 60,000 affordable houses of which 45,000 will be for rent in the council and housing association sectors described as social rented housing.
My main point to all the political parties in Scotland is that we have the powers here in Scotland through the Parliament to begin to address the housing crisis and to do so now. It is about setting priorities and making choices. It is simply not good enough to continue to blame others for the state we are in when we have control over the levers to do something about it. Another point I made in the debate is that the construction sector is flagging up that we have a skills shortage of brickies, plumbers, electricians, joiners and so on and yet we have massive cuts in college budgets and young people not able to access apprenticeships. None of this makes any sense, it is not rocket science it requires political will, leadership and a partnership at the regional level between government, councils and house builders to plan and drive a house build programme that creates jobs and apprenticeships.
It was jobs that I put at the heart of the debate as I am determined we need a far greater focus from government along the lines of regional strategies for all people to be able to access the training, the skills and the jobs. The Parliament will have greater control over welfare and for me social security should be there to provide a minimum income for people who cannot work but if you can work you should be working in a job that pays a fair pay. So whether it is the Amazons of this world, the care sector or in retail we can bring about a living wage and an end to poor conditions and zero hours contracts. But ultimately our goal must be a high skills, high wage economy which will be achieved by a focus and investment in education, training and