Today I spoke in a debate regarding the housing Scotland bill which is making its way through parliament.
Although the bill contains many provisions which I support, I made it clear to the government that I believe the most important challenge we face in housing is the lack of appropriate and affordable houses in Scotland. I would therefore like to see a commitment made to building 10,000 new homes a year over 5 years.
As a councillor, the biggest case load that I ran always related to housing issues. As an MSP since January, I have found that the biggest case load that I have now, in dealing with constituents’ issues, also relates to housing. The fact is that we have a major housing crisis out there, which needs to be tackled. I will come back to that.
I welcome what is proposed in the bill. I congratulate Maureen Watt and the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee on the work that they have done, because the recommendations that they have made look to bring about improvement.
I was pleased to hear Jim Eadie talk about the Shelter Scotland proposals on removing from the bill the possibility of social landlords discriminating against future tenants based on age. In Fife, there are local letting policies and local area committees are able to determine them locally, which seems most appropriate. I would certainly support Jim Eadie in bringing forward that proposal.
On temporary accommodation and strengthening the existing protection for families with children, two Decembers ago, I heard from a family—a young mum and three kids—who were stuck in temporary accommodation above a pub for two months coming up to Christmas, which was totally unacceptable. I am told that that would not happen again in Fife, but we should ensure that it does not happen and that young families have the opportunity to question such things.
Picking up on Bob Doris’s point, we need ambition for housing. Rather than simply telling people that they are adequately housed when they are stuck in a flat, we need some flexibility. I hope that the minister will take on board Bob Doris’s valid points. I was born and brought up in a council house. For years, it was my mum’s ambition that we would move further down the street into a cottage in Kelty, and eventually we did. That was the reality then. There should be choice for council tenants, and not simply a position of last resort.
I welcome the proposals in the bill and the debate that has taken place today. With regard to the private sector, it is not enough for local authorities to have discretionary powers to intervene. I have dealt with many cases over the years involving private landlords. Although I have no doubt that there are good private landlords out there, many landlords leave their houses in an unacceptable state. I meet families who have to live in such conditions. Local authorities need the powers to act, and to recover any moneys from private landlords if they are forced to get the necessary work done on those houses. I appeal to the minister on that point.
Having said all that, the bottom line is that, when people come into my surgeries with housing issues, as they will tomorrow, I know that there is not enough housing to go around. That is why I support Shelter’s campaign for an additional 10,000 social rented houses to be built each year. It is important that we build houses—in Fife, the authority was able to work with tenants and raise the funds, and it now has a plan in place for 2,700 houses to be built in Fife over the next five years.
We need partnership with local authorities to build more houses. At the end of March 2013, there were 151,000 people on the waiting list in Scotland. Almost 32,000 households were accepted by the local authorities as homeless, and there were more than 18,000 children in households accepted as homeless. That is the crisis that we face in Scotland.
I know that the Scottish Government has set a target in its manifesto for 6,000 affordable homes, but it was originally talking about 6,000 social rented homes. That is a fundamental issue. We welcome the bill and some of its provisions, but we should imagine what could happen if we could build party unity and real ambition across Scotland to tackle the housing problems that exist. If we build new houses, it will create a chain and free up housing so that people can have their specific housing needs met.
We need to have an ambitious national housing programme for Scotland, sign up to Shelter’s campaign for 10,000 social rented houses per year and put in the resources to do that. We need to start moving forward and tackle housing needs in Scotland.