Housing

Scottish government is declaring a national housing emergency – but what does it actually mean?

New first minister John Swinney has been forced into sounding the alarm over the housing crisis following a Scottish Labour motion. Here’s how it will affect people facing homelessness

Scottish first minister John Swinney

Declaring a housing emergency was likely not on new Scottish first minister John Swinney's agenda for his first week in charge. Image: Scottish Government / Flickr

The Scottish government is set to declare a national housing emergency across Scotland just a week after John Swinney was named first minister.

Ministers sounded the alarm on Wednesday (15 May) after a Labour motion risked forcing a Holyrood vote that could have seen Swinney suffer his first defeat since taking over from Humza Yousaf.

The government has been under growing pressure to declare a housing emergency after five local authorities, including Edinburgh and Glasgow councils, made similar pleas for support in the face of rising homelessness. A further eight local authorities are also reportedly at risk of falling into systematic failure.

Around 15,000 households are living in temporary accommodation in Scotland, including 10,000 children, with figures rising 10% in the space of just a year. Official figures also showed the number of people sleeping rough is on the rise, with a 23% increase in the number of people making applications to councils who had slept rough the night before.

Social justice secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville, leading the debate, said: “We will continue to do everything we can with the powers at our disposal to make progress – but truly tackling the housing emergency will rely on a joint approach between UK, Scottish and local government.”

Declaring national emergency has been welcomed by homelessness and housing charities but the government has been warned it must be followed up with action.

While the declaration shows intent and a commitment to fix the housing crisis in Scotland, it is not backed up with any increased funding or policies to help people who are suffering.

Shelter Scotland, who issued an open letter to MSPs earlier in the week calling for them to declare the emergency, said the move is a first step that must be accompanied with a housing emergency action plan.

The charity said ministers must reverse the £200m cut to the affordable housing budget announced at the last financial statement.

Big Issue is demanding an end to poverty this general election. Will you sign our open letter to party leaders?

The Shelter plan also called for ministers to buy and build at least 38,500 social homes during the current parliament to help families in temporary accommodation and fully funding local homelessness services.

The government should also target funding at local authorities on the basis of need rather than population to ensure the money reaches the areas that need it most.

Shelter Scotland director Alison Watson said: “I’m delighted to see that there is cross-party support for the deceleration of a housing emergency; this could be an important moment in the fight for housing justice in Scotland.

“We recognise that there are a range of factors driving the housing emergency; more than a decade of austerity, a cost of living crisis, and cuts to the social housing budget in Scotland have all contributed.

“It’s vital that politicians back their words with actions; I call on all parties across Holyrood to work together to urgently deliver the social homes we so desperately need, to ensure that people can keep the homes they have, and to finally bring this devastating housing emergency to an end.”

Crisis also urged ministers to push ahead with plans including in the upcoming Housing Bill to strengthen the law to help people with unstable housing.

The charity said a new, radical, cross-government prevention agenda is also needed to prevent people from falling into homelessness in the first place.

Matt Downie, chief executive of Crisis, said: “By declaring a national housing emergency, the Scottish government can help bring about the cross-party support needed to make the homelessness prevention agenda in Scotland a reality.

“We need long-term political commitments to radically reform the housing and homeless system from being about managing a crisis, to a system that acts early to prevent homelessness from arising in the first place.

“Housing has a critical role to play in this. We know what causes homelessness, and we know how to end it. Declaring a national housing emergency is an important moment in time, but it’s the actions that come from this that will matter the most. Investing in housing and reforming the homelessness system to better prevent homelessness should be top of the list. We can’t afford to wait.”

Housing policy has been a devolved matter in Scotland for 25 years, but the Scottish independence-seeking SNP said Westminster policies were partly to blame.

An amendment to the Labour motion from housing minister Paul McLennan said the current situation “is due to a combination of factors outside the Scottish government’s powers”.

McLennan cited UK government austerity policies, soaring inflation and the increased cost of living, labour shortages following Brexit and the freeze to local housing allowance rates among the factors.

He said the Scottish government will invest £600m in affordable housing and £90m in discretionary housing payments in 2024-25. McLennan added that the Housing Bill will introduce rent controls to tackle rising rent levels and the continued government focus will be on delivering 110,000 affordable homes.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Labour promises wave of new towns if elected. But will they make a dent in UK's housing crisis?
Angela Rayner announces Labour new town plan
Housing

Labour promises wave of new towns if elected. But will they make a dent in UK's housing crisis?

Over 90,000 households threatened with no-fault evictions since Tories promised to ban them
Renters angry at no-fault evictions, Renters Reform Bill delay and a lack of rent controls
RENTING

Over 90,000 households threatened with no-fault evictions since Tories promised to ban them

Starmer warned over glaring omission in Labour's six general election pledges: 'I'm disappointed'
Housing crisis

Starmer warned over glaring omission in Labour's six general election pledges: 'I'm disappointed'

Home Office drops plan to arrest homeless people if they smell
Homelessness

Home Office drops plan to arrest homeless people if they smell

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know