Reaction as Scottish Government Announce Housing Emergency

As the Labour-led debate on the housing crisis began on 15 May 2024, the Scottish Government used it to declare a national housing emergency. 

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

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

This is a considerable change in track after Labour put the motion forward in November 2023, in which the SNP voted against. 

SNP previously voted down the call for an emergency

However, the changes may have come after the SNP lost its majority after the power-sharing agreement with the Scottish Greens collapsed.

While the national emergency was declared, it is not the first time these declarations have been made with Edinburgh and Glasgow, the largest councils in the country, as well as Fife and Argyll and Bute all experiencing housing emergencies. 

No new funding will come from this declaration, but the recognition of the issue could help policy changes come to ease the emergency. The Scottish government also urged the UK government to reverse cuts of almost 9% to Scotland’s capital budget.

The Scottish government reduced its affordable housing budget for 2024/25 by £196 million

The Scottish government reduced its affordable housing budget for 2024/25 by £196 million, a decision Finance Secretary Shona Robison attributed to cuts from Westminster. Prior to stepping down as First Minister at the end of April, Humza Yousaf had committed to increasing affordable housing funding by £80 million over two years.

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.

SNP pledge to “work constructively and in good faith with the UK Government and local authorities across Scotland”

“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.”

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.”