Jim Eadie: Governments are streets apart on housing policy

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A SAFE, secure and suitable home, which allows people to fulfil their potential, while also allowing them to be a part of a strong, vibrant local community should be available to everyone.

Investment in housing is critical in enabling individuals to achieve good health, access educational opportunity, provide care for older people, and to ensure economic wellbeing through employment and income. Good quality affordable housing can also help society to achieve its ambitions in the areas of environmental sustainability and building strong and cohesive communities.

And the SNP is committed to ensuring that everyone in Scotland can afford to live in a good quality home.

I share this aspiration and believe that it lies at the heart of the Scottish Government’s own approach, which is demonstrated not least through its commitment to spend £1.7 billion in this parliamentary session on its ambitious housebuilding programme.

However, while our record on this is a good one, it has been proven that when it comes to social housing in particular the Scottish and UK governments are streets apart.

Over the last five years, 20,400 new housing association or council homes have been built in Scotland – that’s 400 more than the target of 20,000. This has contributed to the Scottish Government meeting its overall target of 30,000 new affordable homes ahead of schedule and means council house building is at record levels – in fact, it is at a 25-year high.

In England, latest figures show that the number of new social sector homes has slumped to a record low while the Tory government has accelerated the sale of council houses and is extending the scheme to housing association homes under the right to buy policy.

Almost 500,000 homes in Scotland have been sold under this policy. That massive diminution in council housing stock coupled with councils being unable to spend capital receipts on modernising existing housing stock, or build to replace those homes sold, clearly illustrates why the Scottish Government was right to end it.

But we know that there is much more still to do.

Around 50 per cent of all households renting in Scotland receive financial support with housing benefit spend in Scotland around £1.8bn, which is now the main mechanism to help low-income households meet their housing costs. Housing policy has shifted over the past 30 years from predominantly subsidising social house building to providing income-related subsidies to tenants in rented accommodation.

How we bring about a shift back to subsidising bricks and mortar is a challenge that we must address, but such a shift is only possible if we continue to expand our housing supply and therefore help to make rents more affordable.

However, we know that public finances are tight – indeed, the latest announcement from George Osborne means that six per cent of the day-to-day budget that pays for public service will be slashed.

Shelter Scotland, along with other housing organisations, has long been campaigning for a step change in the supply of affordable housing in Scotland. I am pleased therefore that, if re-elected, the SNP will invest at least £3bn to deliver a further 50,000 affordable homes over the next five years and continue to deliver quality affordable homes in Scotland.

On housing, as on many other issues, we are delivering progressive policies that will build a fairer Scotland – in stark contrast to a regressive Tory government that places no value in social housing.

Jim Eadie is SNP MSP for Edinburgh Southern.