Speech from Shadow Minister for Communities
Pauline McNeill MSP to Scottish Labour Conference
Dundee, Saturday 10 March 2018
If I set out to achieve one thing at this conference, it is that we should set the scene for a serious Housing Policy to deal with the Housing Crisis we face.
In the near future, our policy aims should be ready to be implemented in Government under the leadership of Richard Leonard.
It would seem fitting that, in the week that the Mary Barbour statue was unveiled in Glasgow, we acknowledge that good affordable housing is a matter of Social Justice. It is a human right.
I believe that the party that delivers good affordable housing for the many who need it will win the trust and support of people across Scotland. Housing matters more than ever and we owe it to the country to create a bold plan for housing, accompanied by a radical building programme in social housing.
We must take action to make rents affordable and we must widen the choices of housing available to young people and families.
We will legislate, if necessary, to protect tenants from being exploited by the shortage of housing, and pushed into paying exorbitant rents, which in turn force many into poverty.
There are few things as cruel in life as someone being so destitute they have no choice but to sleep rough on our streets, often in freezing conditions. It shames our society that people have died on our streets this winter, but it also tells us there is something seriously wrong with the housing provision.
There are many reasons for homelessness and we must try to understand how we have reached this crisis.
We can all make that personal effort, when we stop to speak or help to a homeless person and we should.
But the best action we can take is to ensure that there is a deep and radical change in the type of housing available.
We must fight for affordable rents, halt the unfair roll out of Universal Credit, and campaign for the type of housing that helps people stay in their tenancies with the support they need around them.
We must ensure that people’s legal right to emergency accommodation is upheld, ensuring no-one is forced to sleep rough.
I believe that Labour must put at the top of our housing strategy, a plan for the biggest investment in social housing that we have seen for decades.
To accompany this, we will nationally coordinate on the skills and infrastructure in house building in recognition of the calls from Homes for Scotland, and would serve the interests of the entire house-building industry.
We are committed to building at least 12,000 homes every year, but we will not only focus on the target numbers but on the types of housing too.
We must also acknowledge that Right to Buy resulted in a loss of half a million (500,000) houses from the social sector in Scotland, with only one in three replaced. We can never again allow the social sector to shrink.
Scottish Labour will ensure that 10% of homes built will be accessible to wheelchair users, and those with walking and breathing difficulties.
We will also look at the public acquisition of vacant and derelict land. Land Release will make it harder for landowners to sit on vacant land in order to capitalise on future high prices.
Poverty and Housing
Every single Scot is entitled to a warm, decent, affordable home.
That has to be our ambition. It is central to people’s wellbeing and mental health.
For those on the lowest incomes, the cost of housing is pushing many into poverty. The poorest (fifth) in Scotland, spend more than a third of their income on housing costs (37%).
If we are serious about the eradication of poverty, then we must recognise the crucial role that housing plays in people’s lives and create the conditions to make rents affordable.
Nothing illustrates the damage of the 2008 financial crash more to me than the fact it left the younger generation without choices in housing. Intergenerational inequality is a feature of this decade and it will be into the next.
Much of the change in wealth distribution across the generations is being driven by a reduction in house ownership among under 35s.
Young adults are now more likely to be living in the private-rented sector or with their parents instead of getting on the property ladder. The requirement for large deposits, low pay and insecure work, and rising house prices are all contributing to this new reality for thousands of young people.
The average first-time buyer requires a deposit of about £26,000 .
I believe that young people should have a choice of housing tenure. The help to buy scheme should be continued beyond 2019. And this, combined with building and supporting a much bigger social sector, will give people CHOICE.
Renting in the social sector should be a choice for all who want it.
Labour set the fuel poverty target in 2001, and we await the Warm Homes Act, including a new target to eradicate fuel poverty. Rising energy prices, frozen and poor pay, badly insulated homes all mean there will be more people in fuel poverty.
I said last year we will campaign on this on the doorsteps and we are ready to do that.
Vulnerable customers must be taken off high tariffs and contacted to ensure they are placed on more appropriate tariffs.
SVTs are widespread and energy companies must make their customers aware that there are better deals available.
It is possible to build well-insulated homes and we will set a new target on building Carbon Neutral Homes.
In this short speech I can’t outline all the things I think Labour need to address, such as, Land Banking, using the community Empowerment Act, widen access to mortgages, and rent controls.
So what should Labour do about all this? Summary
• Biggest public sector building programme we ever embarked on.
• National House Building Agency drawing skills Public & Private
• Mary Barbour Law
• Pilot freeze on evictions in winter months
• Housing First – fund
• Mass affordable Rents
• EPC rating for all Private properties by 2025
• Land Acquisition
• Investment Bank