Earlier today I did an interview on the Bedroom Tax on Good Morning Scotland. I explained that the policy is both unfair, but also unworkable, because of the lack of alternative smaller housing for those affected.
In the week beginning the 17th of June there were 23 one bedroom homes available for let in Edinburgh. The lowest number applications for any one property was 45. Several properties attracted between 100 and 200 applications, and four over 200. Even if all those affected by the Bedroom Tax got priority (which they don’t) that would prevent the many single applicants with no house from securing any accommodation at all. Many in this group live in more expensive temporary accommodation or in the private rented sector and, if eligible for Housing Benefit, will be costing the Government more than is saved if those who are allegedly ‘under-occupying’ are moved!
One way the SNP Scottish Government could help is to put more money into new-build housing. But the reality is that starts of council and housing association housing are DOWN by half over the last four years. Completions obviously lag behind starts, so Scottish Government figures below paint a bleak picture for the next couple of years:
New-build has the additional advantage of creating jobs in construction. But as both the public and private housing markets still slow, we can expect continuing high unemployment among building workers in the next couple of years.
Another option for resolving some of the most acute problems would be for councils like Edinburgh to buy properties on the market where costs are no higher than new build. In many parts of the city such properties are being sold into the private rented sector and often being occupied by people who need and want the security of a low rent council or housing association property. For many, including many in low paid work, this means higher Housing Benefit payments going out.
It is not enough just to blame Westminster. It is time for the Scottish Government to come up with solutions.
Sheila Gilmore is the Labour MP for Edinburgh East. You can follow Sheila on Twitter: @SheilaGilmoreMP