Will SNP Government punish Edinburgh for being Edinburgh again? – Susan Dalgety

For politicians who spend time in Holyrood and Charlotte Square, Edinburgh can seem like a wealthy city but, in areas like Wester Hailes, some people rely on food banks and council services, writes Susan Dalgety.

Monday, 3rd February 2020, 6:00 am
Many families in Wester Hailes, Granton or Leith are forced to visit food banks just to survive (Picture: Neil Hanna)

Fifty years after it was first built, Wester Hailes remains, stubbornly, one of the most deprived areas in Scotland.

The latest edition of the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, ­published by the Scottish Government a few days ago, shows that the ­housing estate is, yet again, in the bottom five per cent of poor communities. It is not alone. Muirhouse, Granton, Restalrig, Bingham and parts of the Great Junction Street area are also suffering.

As if to underline the income inequality that divides our city, Stockbridge is the least-deprived area in the country, with Marchmont, Blackhall and Morningside not far behind.

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Edinburgh's Stockbridge is 'least deprived' area of Scotland

Edinburgh is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Forty years after I moved here, my heart still skips a beat when I catch a glimpse of the Old Town’s historic skyline. I will always dream of owning a Georgian garden flat in the New Town.

But, with average rents in the city now at £946 a month for a two-bedroom flat, and house prices growing faster than any other city in the UK, Edinburgh is fast becoming unaffordable for all but the wealthiest.

Artisan butchers or food banks

The city has always had two sides. Living in Wester Hailes for nigh on 15 years during some of its most turbulent times opened my eyes to the worst aspects of urban poverty. It also taught me the importance of ­community and people working together to make their lives, and those of their neighbours, better.

As community activists, we had some notable successes, not least the demolition of uninhabitable high-rise flats, and as the economy grew from the mid-90s, unemployment fell. The years since the great crash of 2008 have been tough, not for the bankers who live in Marchmont or Blackhall, but for people on minimum wage or Universal Credit.

While the good folk of Stockbridge have a choice of artisan butchers, bakers and shops selling hand-dipped, organic soy candles, many families in Wester Hailes, Granton or Leith are forced to visit food banks.

For thousands of residents, particularly those living in the city’s poorer areas, Edinburgh City Council is their lifeline. They depend on it for schools, social care and leisure services like Craigmillar’s Jack Kane Centre.

Yet, like many households, the city council has seen its income shrink in the last decade. The Scottish Government has imposed cuts on our capital city, which has led some observers to suggest Edinburgh is being punished for, well, being Edinburgh.

If you spend your time hanging around Holyrood and Charlotte Square, I suppose it is easy to think that everyone in Edinburgh makes a killing renting out their second home on Airbnb, and that every child goes to an ‘independent’ school.

If the Finance Secretary Derek Mackay cuts Edinburgh’s council budget again this Thursday, then it is not the good folk of Stockbridge who will suffer. It will be the good people of Wester Hailes, Niddrie and Restalrig who will feel the brunt of the SNP’s austerity.