Home truths for new First Minister

In today’s Edinburgh Evening News I’ve called on Nicola Sturgeon to use the Scottish Government’s new borrowing powers to boost investment in building affordable housing. The article is available on the paper’s website but I’ve reproduced it in full below.

Scotland’s Housing Crisis should be Nicola Sturgeon’s top priority.

When people hear the phrase housing crisis, they often think of beggars and rough sleeping. However the reality is often less dramatic but much more long-lasting.

Take my constituent John. In his 50s, he’s lived in the private rented sector since his marriage broke down ten years ago. He has neither central heating nor double glazing. His flat was built by the council but was sold off under the right to buy. After changing hands several times, the current landlord now charges double the rent of a similar flat in the same block that remains in council hands.

John’s wages from short-term agency work in the construction industry don’t cover his rent, so he depends on Housing Benefit to make up the shortfall.

He knows he could pay his own way in a council or housing association let but he has next to no chance of being awarded one as he already has a tenancy.

Across Edinburgh, this is an increasingly common problem. Vacancies in the council and housing association sector have halved over the last year or two. Since the summer there have been fewer than 50 available most weeks. And while the council and housing associations completed 1,285 units last year, half were mid-market rent – where a 2-bed property would cost around £600 per month compared with council rent of £400 – and a further quarter low-cost home ownership.

By attempting to get the most out of much-reduced Scottish Government funding, Edinburgh has ended up building affordable housing that, for many, simply isn’t affordable. As a result, waiting times for those who need low-rent homes are growing.

Tackling this issue should be Nicola Sturgeon’s top priority.

The Scottish Government will gain more borrowing and tax-varying powers as a result of the Scotland Act 2012, and these are set to be enhanced once the recommendations of the Smith Commission are put into law after the next General Election.

If these were used to channel extra funds into low-rent affordable house building, this would put downward pressure on rents and push down the Housing Benefit bill.

Unfortunately there was not a mention of this issue in Nicola Sturgeon’s programme for government. And there was next to no increase for affordable housing in John Swinney’s pre-budget statement for 2015/16 – the first year the new borrowing powers could be used.

During the referendum the SNP argued that they needed independence to create a fairer and more equal society. Now that Scottish voters have rejected this option, they should now use the powers of a strengthened Scottish Parliament to invest in affordable housing, so that people like John can pay their own way while living in decent quality homes.

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Press release: job figures show Tories and SNP letting down Edinburgh

Sheila Gilmore said:

Here in Edinburgh 2270 people have been unemployed for a year or more, with 240 of these being aged under 25. Both the Conservative and SNP Governments are still letting down our city.

We urgently need action to get local people into work. This is why Labour is calling for a compulsory jobs guarantee, which will get any adult out of work for more than two years, or young person out of work for a year, into a job – one they would be required to take.

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

  • Here are the unemployment figures by constituency:
Constituency Long-term unemployment Long-term youth unemployment
Edinburgh East 575 55
Edinburgh North and Leith 620 65
Edinburgh South 280 25
Edinburgh South West 460 50
Edinburgh West 335 45
Total 2,270 240

 

  • For more information please contact Matt Brennan, Parliamentary Assistant to Sheila Gilmore MP, on 020 7219 7062, 07742 986 513 or matthew.brennan@parliament.uk.
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Press release: Rent rise vote shows SNP put independence ahead of Scottish families

Commenting on the SNP’s decision to vote against Scottish Labour’s proposals to reform the private rented sector to protect tenants across Scotland, Edinburgh East MP Sheila Gilmore said:

The SNP are afraid to admit that the Scottish Parliament already has the power to change Scotland for the better. This is why they voted against Scottish Labour’s plans to limit increases in rent today. By doing so they have put their obsession with independence ahead of the interests of thousands of Scottish families.

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

  • Scottish Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities Strategy, James Kelly MSP, lodged amendments to the Housing (Scotland) Bill to end unfair rises in rent and offer greater security to tenants.
  • Under Scottish Labour plans, Ministers would have had until 1 January 2015 to bring forward regulations to limit rent reviews to once a year and to cap rent increases.
  • SNP members voted against Labour proposals at the Stage 2 Committee debate earlier today.
  • For more information please contact Matt Brennan, Parliamentary Assistant to Sheila Gilmore MP, on 020 7219 7062, 07742 986 513 or matthew.brennan@parliament.uk.
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Press Release: Housing plans show we can change Scotland for better as part of UK

Edinburgh East MP Sheila Gilmore today welcomed Scottish Labour’s plans to reform the private rented sector to protect tenants across Scotland.

Sheila Gilmore said:

I welcome Scottish Labour’s plans to limit increases in rent and encourage longer tenancies – changes that can be made using powers the Scottish Parliament already has.

This demonstrates that we can change Scotland for the better while retaining all the benefits of the United Kingdom, and without the need for independence.

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

  • Scottish Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities Strategy, James Kelly MSP, will lodge amendments to the Housing (Scotland) Bill to end unfair rises in rent and offer greater security to tenants.
  • Under Scottish Labour plans, Ministers will have until 1 January 2015 to bring forward regulations to limit rent reviews to once a year and to cap rent increases. The party is also demanding that 3 year tenancies become the market standard in Scotland.
  • For more information please contact Matt Brennan, Parliamentary Assistant to Sheila Gilmore MP, on 020 7219 7062, 07742 986 513 or matthew.brennan@parliament.uk.
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Tories and SNP both to blame for rising Housing Benefit bill

The Tories talk tough about reducing the benefits bill but the truth is they’ve failed to get to grips with the problem. In fact, their cost-of-living crisis has now left hundreds of working people in Edinburgh relying on housing benefit to help pay their bills.

598tenementsSince David Cameron became Prime Minister, the number of working people claiming housing benefit has increased by 60 per cent nationally, costing ordinary British taxpayers an extra £6 billion. In Edinburgh alone, the number of working people now claiming housing benefit has increased from 5,870 in 2010 to 8,074 last year – a staggering 38% per cent rise.

Part of the reason for this rise is the cost of living crisis, with working people now on average £1600 a year worse off as wages have fallen while prices have soared. Many people in work can’t get the hours they need while low-paid and insecure work is forcing more people to rely on housing benefit.

However another factor is rising rents, which will only be brought down by building new affordable housing. Unfortunately the house-building record of the SNP Scottish Government is poor, and so they must also take their share of the blame.

A Labour Government in 2015 would take immediate action by freezing gas and electricity bills until 2017. And we would make work pay by introducing a lower 10p starting rate of tax, raising the national minimum wage and ending the abuse of zero-hours contracts.

Only Labour has the policies and the determination to stand up and make a real difference for hardworking people in Edinburgh.

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