Depressing historic first for our city - Ian Murray

There is an unprecedented housing emergency in Edinburgh. Earlier this month, the council overwhelmingly voted to recognise this, in what was a depressing historic first for our city.
The number of rough sleepers is on the rise (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)The number of rough sleepers is on the rise (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)
The number of rough sleepers is on the rise (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)

Homelessness has reached close to 5,000 families a night in the capital despite a huge amount of preventative work by charities, the council, and its partners. The Labour administration in the City Chambers is to be commended for increasing Edinburgh’s homelessness budget, but demand for homes far outstrips supply.

It’s one of the largest contributors to my postbag. Edinburgh may be a wealthy city on the surface, but look closer and too many of whose we share this amazing city with are in crisis.

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As we approach Christmas, there is the horrifying prospect of thousands of children needing to live in temporary accommodation because of this housing shortage. They will wake up on Christmas Day without a family home. That is why the council declared this emergency.

The reason for doing this was to make it clear to the Scottish Government that it needs to urgently provide extra resources to help meet this challenge.

As Shelter Scotland director Alison Watson said: “Scotland is facing a housing emergency, which is at its most acute in the capital… People in Edinburgh are struggling through this housing emergency, and they expect action to be taken at every level of government.”

Given the unprecedented nature of this, it would be natural to assume the government would listen. Sadly, that isn’t what has happened.

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After Edinburgh took action, Scottish Labour tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament which declared a housing emergency across Scotland. My MSP colleagues highlighted a record-breaking 15,000 Scots who are homeless or in temporary accommodation, with the number of rough sleepers on the rise. But the SNP and Greens voted this down.

How have they so become detached from reality that they can’t see this emergency?

Shame on them for failing to help so many families in dire need this Christmas. Yet this emergency hasn’t suddenly appeared overnight – it is the result of failures in government.

The number of homes built under the SNP social homes programme this year has plummeted by a staggering 26 per cent compared with 2022-23. And while there has been a lot of private housebuilding in south Edinburgh in particular, this has happened without requiring the necessary public facilities to be built at the same time, piling pressure on the NHS, schools and social services.

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We have had the Tory mortgage bombshell which saw average mortgage repayments increase by up to £190 a month, with an estimated 60,000 homes at risk of repossession. And Scotland has also seen a shocking rise in private rent prices – higher than any part of the UK outside of London. Not to mention the student housing crisis.

Average rents for two-bedroom properties, the most common size of property in the Scottish private rented sector, increased by 14.3 per cent to September 2023. And, tragically, the number of estimated homeless deaths in Scotland has reached more than 200 for the fourth year.

We cannot allow this to continue. If it is not an emergency now when is it? We need to declare a housing emergency in Scotland and work with charities and councils to ensure we confine homelessness to history.

Ian Murray is Labour MP for Edinburgh South and Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland