Homelessness is a problem faced by too many families and children and cold, damp hostels riddled with bed bugs should not be tolerated in 21st century Scotland, writes Kezia Dugdale.
Have you put your Christmas tree up yet, or sent the children’s gift list to Santa? What about ordering the turkey, or stockpiling the Baileys?
For most families in the city, the festive season is full of joy: excited kids; toasty living rooms; a few too many at the work party.
But what if you don’t have a Christmas tree because you don’t have a home to call your own? And you can’t send a gift list to Santa because you know there will be no presents for your children this year.
And Christmas Day dinner won’t be a feast, but the same rations you put in a microwave in your hostel each week? Homelessness is a blight on our society all-year round, but it’s particularly heart-breaking at this time of year.
More than 14,000 children were in households assessed as homeless in 2017/18. Over half of all applications were due to relationship breakdown or being asked to leave. As a result, thousands of families, often single parents with young children, find themselves in temporary accommodation – bed-and-breakfasts and hostels.
Last week, in parliament, I told MSPs about the real experience of one man here in Edinburgh. He first came to my constituency surgery back in April. He was living in temporary accommodation with his baby and had been living there for two months. He is a recovering addict who has been clean for nine years, and he has custody of his child because the child’s mother still has addictions.
He came to see me because there had been no hot water for three days and the single microwave oven that he shared with the 89 other residents in the hostel was broken.
His room was filthy and his bed was riddled with bed bugs. When my office checked with him last week to ask whether it was OK for me to share his experiences with MSPs, he asked me to tell them that he had slept in “crack and heroin dens that were cleaner than the hostels and B&Bs in this city”.
This is the reality faced by scores of our fellow residents in our city this Christmas. There will be children waking up on Christmas morning in a cold, damp hostel room, with no presents to open and no food to eat. How can this be happening in 21st century Scotland?
In the past year, 600 families have been in temporary hostels or B&B accommodation in Edinburgh – 466 of them for more than a week.
Councils can place people in temporary accommodation if there is nothing else that is suitable, and under current Scottish Government plans it will be 2023 before we get better standards for temporary accommodation in the city.
I could write those standards now: a clean room, a kettle in the room and access to kitchen facilities for six people or fewer. Why does it have to take five years to produce a set of minimum standards for such people?
My constituent now lives in a flat in Lochend – a private-rented sector flat that he can barely afford.
Last week, the Evening News highlighted how private rents have soared in the capital.
One and two-bedroom properties are up by around 40 per cent since 2010.
These rents are rocketing because there is a housing shortage. Landlords realise they can make more money by letting their properties to tourists on Airbnb, and we aren’t building anywhere near enough new homes for social rent.
That costs money. And every time the SNP Government cuts council budgets it makes the situation worse, while the Tories’ Universal Credit roll-out will compound the problems that already exist on the ground.
Here’s what I want from Santa this year: for everyone in government – north and south of the border – to get serious about the scandal of homelessness.
Unlike Ukip, Hearts fans tell Robinson he’s not welcome
Well done to the Hearts fans who handed out anti-fascist leaflets and protested against hate-peddler Tommy Robinson before Sunday’s game against Rangers.
Robinson, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, stayed away from the match after it was made clear he wasn’t welcome at Tynecastle. Stay away for good, Robinson.
As a Hibbie, I don’t see eye-to-eye with my Jambo pals Ian Murray MP and Lord George Foulkes when it comes to football. But we are as one when it comes to standing up against prejudice and bigotry, and I applaud the efforts they made to ensure the views of the overwhelming majority of Hearts fans were heard.
Hearts isn’t the only club that Robinson has tried to target. He likes to visit grounds across the UK to promote racial hatred on the terraces. He was convicted in 2011 following a fight between supporters of Luton Town and Newport County. Organisations like the English Defence League that Robinson founded have used social media to spread their poison in a way that wasn’t previously possible, which is why protests like the one outside Tynecastle are so important.
But while Hearts fans have told Robinson to get lost, he has been welcomed with open arms by new UKIP leader Gerard Batten, who appointed him as an adviser. When even Nigel Farage is disgusted by that, it tells you what a colossal error of judgement Ukip has made.
Mr Batten survived a no confidence vote in him at the weekend, but voters will send their own message to him loudly and clearly at the next election. What has Scotland’s Ukip MEP David Coburn had to say about this? He is indifferent to Robinson’s involvement. Shame on you Mr Coburn.
Overcrowding at the Christmas Market is not the only problem for families
The overcrowding at the Princes Street Christmas Market has rightly caused security concerns.
It’s great that our city attracts so many people to its festivities – both residents and tourists. Edinburgh Waverley was mobbed at the weekend as visitors flocked to see some of the best winter attractions in the world. But the authorities have a duty to ensure that those attending are kept safe, and the stories from last week make for worrying reading. I hope the city council and Police Scotland closely monitor the situation and urgently explore improvements.
Yet, while it’s disappointing that the overcrowding ruined the experience for some, I’m sure the vast majority of people attending the market will have a great time. There is so much on offer – but visitors will also need to have deep pockets.
I was stunned to discover that the cost of riding the big wheel is £9 for an adult. While the views from the top are spectacular, that’s a steep price that is unfair on many families. There is a 20 per cent discount for local residents, but that still leaves it too high in my opinion.
The big wheel has become a permanent fixture at festival and winter time, and I hope that remains the case. But perhaps the council, before granting a licence next year, could revisit the price list.