There is a housing crisis in Scotland.
The problem can be traced back to Margaret Thatcher’s right to buy scheme, where social housing stock was sold off on the cheap. Subsequent governments have failed to replace those homes, and now we are all paying the price.
That crisis has resulted in young people being unable to afford even the most basic of first-time homes, in landlords having free rein over a rental market that has become utterly detached from reality, and in students being unable to find accommodation meaning they are forced to withdraw from their university courses.
Last week the Scottish Government passed its Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Bill that will freeze rents for tenants in the private and social rental sector until March 31, 2023.
It was legislation that I supported.
I don’t think it went far enough to address the imbalance of power that exists between tenants and their landlords, and I am astounded the government voted against Labour amendments that would have included care home residents in the rent freeze, but something is better than nothing.
The legislation follows a campaign by my Scottish Labour colleague Mercedes Villalba and Living Rent, Scotland’s tenants’ union. We called for a rent freeze to be introduced four months ago but were told it would be impossible to implement, an excuse that was clearly nonsensical.
Now that the legislation is in place, we must work to improve the situation for tenants on a longer-term basis. The Scottish Government have committed to introducing rent controls something I support, but the wheels are moving incredibly slowly.
And the reason such fundamental change is needed could not be starker than when you look at the picture facing students in Glasgow. For years, developers of purpose-built student accommodation funded by foreign governments and sovereign wealth funds have been allowed to build what they like wherever they like in the city.
They charge increasingly outrageous rents and siphon the money out of the country. They contribute nothing to the city’s finances as none of the residents pay council tax and it has culminated in a crisis in the student housing sector.
It is outrageous that they are allowed to get away with it, and I have long believed that their services should be provided by the public sector. Let’s be clear, these organisations don’t build student housing out of the goodness of their hearts, they do it because it is incredibly profitable.
As a city we should be innovating to build student accommodation at scale and reinvesting the profits back into the public purse. The demand is clearly high, the business model clearly works, and the opportunity it presents to generate revenue and returns is as clear as day.
We can pat ourselves on the back for introducing a temporary rent freeze, but that temporary measure won’t redress the balance of power or address the crisis in our housing markets.
We need to build more homes, use the power of the public sector to turbo charge that building programme, and reinvest the profits back into our city; a city that is currently on its knees.
Are music programmes for young people set to be axed?
The Youth Music Initiative is a programme devised by the Scottish Government and delivered by Creative Scotland.
Introduced 20 years ago, it aims to give children and young people access to high quality music making opportunities, particularly young people who otherwise would be unable to access those opportunities.
It is a fund that allows excellent charities to provide their services; services which are a lifeline for young people in Glasgow.
Weeks ago, it was suggested that the ‘formal’ funding that enables local authorities to deliver classes in schools could be in danger due to budget cuts. Thankfully, the Scottish Government clarified that this wasn’t the case, but it now seems as though the ‘informal’ fund; the pot of money accessed by charities the length and breadth of Scotland could be in jeopardy.
Applications for the fund were due to open on September 20 but are still closed. That begs the question, are the Scottish Government are considering axing the fund in their upcoming budget review?
If they are, it would be catastrophic and would be resisted vociferously by Scottish Labour and charities alike.
Increase wages, support striking workers
As a Labour MSP, my commitment to the rights of workers to take industrial action is unwavering. They will always have my full support and solidarity.
The Labour Party is the political wing of the trade union movement; a statement of fact that we must never forget.
We have seen a wave of industrial action in recent weeks and months, with workers across the public sector exercising their right to withdraw their labour. This week, it was the turn of railway workers but with teachers and nurses likely to follow suit, it is unlikely we will see an end to the strikes anytime soon.
The solution is simple - increase the wages of those who create the wealth in this country; working people. We know that there is a class war ongoing, something we all have a duty to challenge and confront.
It’s time to draw a line in the sand, it’s time to support the strikes, it’s time to say enough is enough.
You can view the original column on Glasgow Times here: Paul Sweeney: A rent freeze won’t solve Scotland’s housing crisis but it is a start | Glasgow Times