In Scotland and across the UK, workers look set to bear the brunt of Tory and SNP austerity and cuts as both governments clamour to sustain their system at the expense of working people and youth. As nights get longer and days colder, one in four Scottish households face fuel poverty. This figure is set to rise. More families than ever are becoming homeless. In March this year, 8,635 children were trapped in temporary accommodation.
Workers are faced with yet another battle to survive. Just as everyone has a right to access to water, food, healthcare and education, safe housing should be treated as a human right, not an ‘investment opportunity’ for capitalists. Socialist Alternative fights for a system based on need rather than greed, for public ownership and fully-funded social housing provision so everyone has access to safe accommodation.
Student housing emergency
Since the pandemic, the UK’s rental stock has declined by more than 40%. This summer, Scotland’s rents increased at the fastest rate on record. These conditions, coupled with an oversubscription of admissions at Scotland’s universities, skyrocketed demand for rented accommodation.
The National Union of Students (NUS) in Scotland reports that 12% have experienced homelessness during their studies. This figure was worse (33%) for estranged and care-experienced students. The crisis has become so unmanageable that top universities have suggested that students without accommodation should defer their studies for a year!
Scottish government’s rent freeze
After months of pressure, the Scottish Government announced a rent freeze and eviction ban in September which will last until March next year. This is a significant, if temporary, victory. Rather than a ‘hand down’ from the SNP, it was a product of struggle and tireless campaigning, including from the tenants’ union Living Rent.
However, without a continued and determined campaign for a full, comprehensive system of rent controls and mass council house building, this policy could do more harm than good. It fails to address the root problem of the lack of social housing.
Many landlords have already begun to sell off their stock as their property ‘investments’ have become unprofitable. If no further action is taken by the Scottish Government, especially with exploding interest rates, smaller landlords will be forced out of the market by the cost of buy-to-let mortgages, leaving the rental market increasingly monopolised by big corporate landlords.
The SNP have another trick up their sleeve however. SNP-led Glasgow City Council announced it will allocate ‘almost £104 million’ to housing associations and private developers to build new homes during the next financial year.
None of these homes will be owned by the council but instead will be managed by private companies. Homes like these are often built cheaply to squeeze as much profit from private renters and housing benefits as possible.
The latest figures show that, in the UK, over £5 billion spent on housing benefits goes straight into the pockets of private landlords. A socialist government in Scotland would bring into public ownership the big landlords, landowners and construction companies whose stranglehold on the housing market lies at the root of homelessness.
Socialist Alternative says:
• Extend the rent freeze beyond April 2023, the month when social landlords usually increase their rent and introduce an effective system of rent controls for both social and private sector tenants. Introduce comprehensive rent controls, with housing boards elected by renters themselves.
• Nationalise the big housing agencies, along with banks, construction and energy companies and bring land into public ownership to allow for mass building of council housing.
• Retrofit homes across the UK with quality insulation – for mass investment to retrain workers from the fossil fuel industry to do this valuable and skilled work, on trade-union rates of pay.