Scottish Labour successfully pushes MSPs to formally acknowledge the housing crisis 

The Scottish government used a Labour-led debate on the housing crisis yesterday to declare a national housing emergency.

Shirley-Anne Somerville, social justice secretary

Source: Scottish government

Shirley-Anne Somerville, the social justice secretary, made an announcement declaring a national housing emergency during a debate in Holyrood yesterday afternoon.

The social justice secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville attributed Scotland’s housing crisis to factors including Brexit, UK austerity and “economic incompetence” and called for all parties in Scotland to work together “to examine all options to make progress”. 

In November, Labour put forward a motion to declare a housing emergency, which the SNP voted against.

Last month, the SNP lost its majority after the power-sharing agreement with the Scottish Greens collapsed, meaning it risked defeat in the debate yesterday afternoon.

By shifting their stance and acknowledging the housing emergency, SNP ministers averted what could have been a challenging moment in parliament.

Edinburgh and Glasgow, the largest councils in the country, as well as Fife and Argyll and Bute had already all declared housing emergencies, putting pressure on the Scottish government to follow suit.

West Dunbartonshire Council was the latest Scottish local authority to declare a housing emergency at the start of May.

Commentators argue that declaring a housing crisis will not bring about immediate changes or additional funding, but will mark a significant move towards recognising the severity of the issue.

The Scottish government will also urge the UK government to reverse cuts of almost 9% to Scotland’s capital budget.

The Scottish government made £196m in cuts to its affordable housing budget for 2024/25, which finance secretary Shona Robison said was due to Westminster cuts. Before resigning as first minister at the end of April, Humza Yousaf pledged an uplift of £80m over two years for affordable housing.

>> See also: Why we need long-term planning to meet society’s housing needs

Shirley-Anne Somerville said that the housing crisis ”is one of the defining issues of a generation”, stating that has been caused by ”a decade and a half of Tory austerity, soaring inflation as a result of UK Government economic incompetence, and the almost 9% cut in the Scottish Government’s capital budget handed down by Westminster”.

Somerville stated: “Despite having one hand tied behind our back by Westminster austerity, we have taken firm action on housing – and we can be proud of a record showing we have delivered significantly more affordable homes than in England and Wales, and taken firm action on rent increases.

“But still too many people in Scotland are struggling to make ends meet due to housing costs – or struggling to find suitable housing at all. 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.

She added: “So I am pledging today that I will work constructively and in good faith with the UK Government and local authorities across Scotland in considering what more can be done to tackle the Housing Emergency.

A UK government spokesperson said“Decisions at Spring Budget took our direct investment in levelling up Scotland past the £3 billion mark, and the Scottish Government receives around 25% more funding per person than equivalent UK Government spending in other parts of the UK through its record £41 billion per year settlement.”

In March, the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) declared a housing emergency at their annual conference. 

Callum Chomczuk, national director of CIH Scotland, said: “Back in March CIH Scotland declared its solidarity with the local authorities across Scotland that had declared a housing emergency. We called on the UK government to provide increased capital spending and for the Scottish government prioritise the building of affordable housing, including the front loading of the affordable housing budget so social landlords can keep building.”

He said that the context had “arguably got worse” since then with two additional local authorities declaring housing emergencies and data showing that affordable housing supply approvals and starts are at 10-year lows.

Chomczuk added: “The declaration of a housing emergency is a start. But we need an emergency plan and funding for delivering the social homes Scotland needs to address our housing and homelessness emergency”.

>> Also read: Kate Barker-led housing commission issues call for evidence