Opinion

Taylor Swift is showing just how bad Edinburgh's housing emergency really is

Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour is seeing people who are homeless in Edinburgh pitted against tourists for hotel space in Edinburgh. It’s become the norm and the Scottish government must act, Shelter Scotland’s Alison Watson writes

Taylor Swift

Cruel Summer, Taylor Swift. Image: Casey Flanigan/imageSPACE/Shutterstock

A family or individual in Edinburgh who is going through the trauma of homelessness should not be asked to move miles away from their jobs, their schools, or their communities to access emergency accommodation. But that is the sad reality of what’s happening in Scotland’s capital.

Taylor Swift’s Murrayfield concert brought this issue into the headlines, but this concert isn’t the first time we’ve seen the situation emerge. During the Edinburgh Festival, the Six Nations, and over the festive period the same thing happens again and again. Without urgent intervention from the Scottish government, it will keep happening.

The housing system is now so broken that people experiencing homelessness are pitted in direct competition with tourists; that injustice is as obvious as it is shameful. It simply shouldn’t be the case that a city like Edinburgh, a global destination for tourism, can’t host a major event without it having a significant knock-on effect for people experiencing homelessness.

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To give the City of Edinburgh Council it’s due, they know this is a problem. The city simply doesn’t have the resources required to meet the unprecedented demand placed on its homelessness services. Record numbers are stuck in temporary accommodation, including 3,000 children. The city is chronically over reliant on using tourist accommodation to fulfil its legal obligations to citizens who become homeless.

Edinburgh is among the most acutely affected parts of the country but the situation here isn’t unique; we see a similar picture across Scotland. Local authorities are failing to meet their statutory obligations to homeless people, breaking the law in other words, at an industrial scale. Nearly half the population of Scotland lives in an area which the Scottish Housing Regulator has said doesn’t have a fully functioning homelessness service. They’re over stretched, overwhelmed, and homeless people are paying the price. In that context it’s no surprise that seven separate councils, including Edinburgh, have declared housing emergencies.

The Scottish government has now also declared a housing emergency and promised to bring forward a plan to end it. Ministers need to make good on that promise and the clock is ticking because an emergency situation demands an emergency response.

What’s very clear is that more of the same won’t cut it and words must be backed up with cash. Right now, too many local homeless services simply can’t keep up with demand and so are failing to deliver for those in need of support. We know that councils want to change the situation. Edinburgh Council, for example, published an action plan after declaring a housing emergency but it can’t move forward in a meaningful way without funding.

So, in the first instance the Scottish government needs to step in and give local authorities the resources they need to ensure homeless services can operate effectively.

More homes are also essential. A serious and longstanding shortage of social homes has driven Edinburgh, and Scotland, to this point. Benefits and wages haven’t kept pace with runaway housing costs, so more and more people have found it impossible to keep a roof over their head. But decades of underinvestment in social housing means that when they present to the council as homeless, there simply aren’t the homes for them to go to. So, more and more people get trapped in temporary accommodation for longer periods of time, placing ever greater strain on the local services. Delivering more social homes is the only way to break that cycle.

In the last Budget the Scottish government slashed the funding for social housing prompting widespread, justified, anger and dismay across the country. Now that ministers have declared a housing emergency its vital the delivery of social housing is accelerated and properly funded.

People in Edinburgh, and across Scotland, have been dealing with the brutal reality of the housing emergency for years now. This is the latest example of just how cruel that housing emergency can be for those living at its sharpest edges. Our politicians have acknowledged that reality; they now have a responsibility to back their words up with urgent, meaningful, action. People simply can’t wait any longer.

Alison Watson is the director of Shelter Scotland.

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