Shaun Fraser is a Labour activist in Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, and works for an Inverness-based charity as a Housing Support Officer. He says our aspiration should be to build the homes that so many desperately need.
There has been much discussion recently about how we in Labour articulate our commitment to aspiration. How do we structure a fluent and rational narrative centred on our obligation to ensure that people can get on in life?
In our 2015 manifesto we had policies such as abolishing stamp duty for first time buyers and setting up a ‘Future Homes Investment Fund’ in partnership with banks. Ed Miliband at the time described this as “giving hope back to young people”. This is welcome and greatly needed, but it overlooks a huge issue facing far too many people, not just young people, in our country. Whilst home ownership may be an unattainable dream for many, for swathes of people simply having a home is a hope far beyond their reach.
Scotland is currently facing a housing crisis. With the price of private tenancies rising at a rate well above inflation, a local authority or housing association tenure offers the only prospect many people have of having their own front door. The problem is that we simply aren’t building enough. In 2013/14 there were 2,911 dwellings built by housing associations and 1,140 built by local authorities in Scotland. In the same period 10,729 homes were built for the private sector.
In March 2014, there were 180,000 households on local authority housing lists across Scotland. Of these, 150,000 were on waiting lists, and 30,000 on transfer lists.
But the crisis is even worse than that. Of the current housing stock, 1 in 10 households in Scotland are affected by chronic dampness, or condensation, or both. This can have a seriously detrimental and long lasting effect upon the health of occupants, particularly young children and the elderly.
Roughly 43 per cent of Scotland’s social housing currently falls beneath the new Scottish Housing Quality Standard. And 73,000 households in Scotland – around 3 percent of the total – are overcrowded.
This is an indictment of our nation. It is an appalling truth that in the second decade of the 21st century such a large number of Scots are living in overcrowded or insufficient housing.
There are families being housed, long-term, in homeless and hostel accommodation by our local authorities because they simply don’t have anywhere else to accommodate them.
People find themselves facing homelessness for a broad range of reasons, often family breakdown or fleeing an abusive relationship. 16 per cent of those who presented as homeless in 2013/14 were single female parents. Many more have been discharged from hospital, prison or care.
What we require is a concerted and cohesive house building initiative across all of our local authorities, across the whole of Scotland and the entirety of the UK.
Addressing this bleak situation should be our absolute priority. This is about aspiration, about the hopes of people currently living in homeless accommodation or waiting to be resettled to a more suited property. To see these people with their own tenancy, managing their household and being able to hold their head high in their independence is something worth fighting for. We should be doing all that we can to further this ambition, as a party, as a movement and as a nation.