Back in October Nicola Sturgeon announced that the SNP would build 50,000 new homes in the next term of the Scottish Government if they are elected for a historic third term in May. In this current term, the SNP have achieved their target of 30,000 new homes.
At first, this huge number baffled me. Why did we need to build so many houses? Scotland, and the rest of the UK, is in a housing crisis, and it doesn’t look like it will get better any time soon if we don’t start making big changes.
I am still a student, and a young woman so I do know the struggles of renting a home. I am 22 and I moved out of my family home at 17, so I have a few years of experience. I currently live on my own in a little one bedroom flat in the south west of Edinburgh. It’s been about a year and half now since I moved in. Just before Christmas my rent was increased, with a month’s notice of it happening.
Like most students, I had to move away for university and rent a flat. My first year was spent in halls with 5 other girls I had never met before. Our flat was reasonable size wise, but it was so expensive. In my second year I moved in with three friends. Our flat was nice and spacious, but always so cold. I lived in that flat for almost a year, but I ended up having to move out. I decided that living on my own was the best option, but not the cheapest. My current flat is in a great location and was just renovated before I moved in so everything was brand new. I moved in May 2014, so at the time didn’t consider what it would be like during the winter months. As much as I love my flat and have put a lot of effort into making it homely, as soon as winter hits it is freezing. Each room has single glazed windows and I have two storage heaters. These cost a fortune to run and don’t even have any benefits because of the single glazed windows. Funnily enough as I write this I am wrapped up in a few layers with my electric blanket on. I am also getting sick again because I can’t keep warm in my own home.
Fuel poverty is still such a huge issue in this country, with so many families having to choose between heating or eating. 20% of private tenants live in fuel poverty, a figure far too high in such a rich country. In the UK just now there is no incentive for private landlords to help their tenants out of fuel poverty so the do nothing. However in countries like the Netherlands rent controls are linked to energy efficiency so in order to charge higher rents, the properties have to be of better quality. To me that just makes sense. Not only would these kind of controls benefit a huge part of society, it would be good for the environment.
It would also benefit our public services. If people were living in affordable homes that were energy efficient and affordable to keep warm then less people would be using the health service because of illnesses caused by living in cold and damp homes. It just seems logical. It would also decrease the amount of people claiming housing benefits, freeing up more money for the government to invest in our public services such as
education. Rent controls would also help to put an end to homelessness. People are being forced out of their homes because rents are being increased at high rates and people cannot keep up with their rent payments.
Rent controls would also be fairer on women. Just now the average pay gap between men and women is around 13% in Scotland, meaning already that high rents are a struggle for women. The inflexible tenancy contracts also make it extremely difficult for women to leave their homes if a relationship breaks down or they become victims of domestic violence. Rent controls would make tenancy agreements more flexible and safeguard the tenants if these situations were ever to arise.
Housing shouldn’t be an area which people can make huge profits without protecting the people. Every person should have the right to a safe and warm home. People should be able to rent a home without the worry of going into fuel poverty, having to turn to a food bank or risk becoming homeless.
Thankfully the SNP are working hard to protect the most vulnerable people in our society. In the face of Tory cuts, the Scottish budget is protecting our people. Council tax continues to be frozen, low-income workers are receiving pay rises and there will be record funding for our NHS. The Scottish government is investing over £100 million to tackle fuel poverty and investing £160 million to support 5,000 households buy their own home in 2016.
On top of all of this, the Scottish Parliament has begun its consideration on the ‘Private Housing Bill’. This will start to make changes to the private rented sector by making it more professionally managed and allow those renting their homes peace of mind that they are protected from “no fault” evictions and that their rents can only increase once in 12 months with at least 3 months notice. This bill is a great start to making changes in the private rent sector and hopefully we shall see more change to come.
For more information on the campaign and to sign up, visit; http://www.livingrent.org
Picture from David McKelvey