Scotland’s housing crisis demands emergency action

Walter Baxter / Langlee Housing Estate, Scotland / CC BY-SA 2.0

There is a large scale housing crisis in Scotland. A number of factors have coalesced, including continued local government cuts, the cost of living crisis and decisions taken by the Tories in Westminster, that mean that an already precarious position is on the precipice of breaking point.

In answer to this, three local authorities have taken the unprecedented step of formally declaring a ‘housing emergency’; Argyll and Bute, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Argyll and Bute cite a post-pandemic increase in demand for housing, and a diminishing availability of housing choice.

The situation is even more acute in Scotland’s two largest cities. Edinburgh declared their emergency in November last year and reported that around 5000 households were in temporary accommodation.

It was also stated that around 200 bids were made for each socially rented tenancy that becomes available, highlighting the massive shortfall in the number of tenancies required to move households in to permanent accommodation. The availability and cost of private rented accommodation is out of control in the city, with rental inflation at 13.7% – the highest in the UK.

Glasgow followed suit in later in November last year. Glasgow declared it had around 5200 open homelessness cases in the city. As with other local authorities, Glasgow has a significant post-pandemic increase in demand for homelessness services, in tandem with the broader societal cost of living crisis. It is estimated that this increase is around 25%.

Homelessness services were already under significant strain, and last year UNISON and GMB submitted a workload grievance on behalf of their members as a consequence of the overwhelming increase in their work- load as a consequence of this.

Rough sleeping in the city has increased significantly, consequent of a cut in emergency accommodation funding by the Scottish Government in late 2022.

These ‘housing emergency’ declarations are a cry for help. Local authorities in general are at breaking point due to over a decade of Tory austerity, which has been largely passed on by the SNP and Greens at Holyrood.

The most recent Scottish Government budget does not go close to offer- ing resources to address the problem. Some money was set aside for homelessness, but falls significantly short of what is needed, and does not come close to mitigating existing shortfalls in funding.

Significantly more alarming is the decision taken to cut the affordable housing budget by £200m, around 26% of the overall budget. The vast majority of houses built by this fund are socially rented tenancies, and therefore an intrinsic requirement to address the country’s housing crisis.

Homelessness charity Shelter summed up this decision: “Instead of rising to the challenge of ending Scotland’s housing emergency, the Scottish Government has chosen to make it worse.”

The Tories recent decision to accelerate their asylum decision making process has dire financial consequences for asylum dispersal cities, such as Glasgow.

By speeding this process up, a significantly increased number of positive asylum cases will require emergency accommodation, and also permanent accommodation. This accelerated pro- cess comes with no additional funding from the Home Office. Glasgow alone estimates they will have an additional 1000 households, at a costs of tens of millions of pounds, devastating the HSCP budget.

Glasgow has a proud reputation as a city that welcomes asylum seekers, and has been enriched culturally over the years by this fact. The Tories callous and reckless approach to asylum decision making, and asylum seekers in general, leaves those seeking refuge in the city vulnerable to the far right and the Tory press who may seek to exploit the situation.

Capitalism has no answers 

The truth, of course, is that the political choice to embark on a planned and sustained attack on public spending has led to services being drastically underfunded and an alarming shortfall in the resources needed to tackle homelessness for the working class in this country, and asylum seekers alike. A united working class struggle for homes for all led by the trade unions is needed to cut across racism.

Capitalism has no answers to this crisis. The chairman of NatWest highlighted the fantasy-like world the bosses live in by declaring that it’s not that difficult to buy a house in the UK today. Ordinary people face a choice of paying eye watering sums for private lets, paying a significant deposit and increased mortgage rate for a house, or adding their name to a waiting list for a socially rented home, often waiting several years to be made an offer. For many, there are in fact no real choices at all. The solution to the housing problem lies with socialism.

End all cuts and fund needs budgets to local authorities, combined with a mass programme of quality, affordable council house building to provide enough homes for all.

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January 2024