Alister Steele: Let’s make our city a fairer place

By 2050, rough sleeping must be a thing of the distant past. Picture: John Devlin
By 2050, rough sleeping must be a thing of the distant past. Picture: John Devlin
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My vision of Edinburgh in 2050 is a fair city, a place where success is shared with all its residents and where there are no longer unacceptable levels of inequality and poverty.

Central to this vision is that, 33 years from now, everyone should be able to find suitable, good quality and affordable housing in the city, and have the means to live comfortably in their home. Is that achievable?

Alister Steele

Alister Steele

Looking back, 33 years ago I had just graduated to embark on a career in social housing.

All the evidence suggests that despite economic growth and significant investment in the city, inequality and poverty are as much of a challenge now, if not more, than they were in the 1980s.

Housing in Edinburgh is expensive and becoming increasing unaffordable for many. Edinburgh has the highest average house prices, the highest average private sector rents and the highest council housing rents amongst cities in Scotland. As rents and house prices increase, earnings for poorest households have fallen in real terms by 30 per cent between 2008 and 2016.

A recent report from Shelter showed that the number of people sleeping rough in Edinburgh has increased and will rise further unless action is taken. This will involve not only providing accommodation but supported pathways into employment. By 2050, rough sleeping must be a thing of the distant past.

The city’s housing fabric is very much connected to its history. The inner city areas of Victorian tenements not only play a vital role in the local housing system, they are part of what makes Edinburgh vibrant and unique. By 2050, this housing will be well over 150 years old and with mixed ownership difficult to maintain and repair. Its preservation must form part of future planning.

Increasing inequality is undoubtedly an international feature. Strategic efforts by national and local governments over past decades to ‘close the gap’ have failed to deliver a fairer society. If we are going to deliver a vision for Edinburgh to stand out as fair place to live and work we need to match a shared vision with strong leadership, clear actions and targeted interventions.

Alister Steele MBE is chair of Our Power, the not-for-profit low-cost energy provider