March 9, 2019 Blog, Conference 2019

Pauline McNeill MSP, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Equalities and Housing, Speech to Conference 2019

09 March 2019

Pauline McNeill MSP

Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Housing and Equalities

Speech to Conference


We have been too conservative for too long on housing. It’s time to get behind bigger reforms and to champion new ideas on how we would begin to build new communities and create a revolution in the private and social sectors to ensure fairness for tenants. 

The right to a warm home at an affordable cost has to be at the very heart of Scottish Labour’s plans. 

It is in our history, our DNA. This year marks 150 years since the birth of John Wheatley, leader of the “Red Clydeside” group of Labour MPs in the 1920s, and the architect of the 1924 Housing Act. An Act, which built nearly half a million council houses for low-income families. 

That is why I decided to set up Scottish Labour’s Commission on housing. To allow us to focus in the year ahead on how radical we can be in our manifesto for the 2021 election. I am indebted to Professor Stuart Gulliver who has chaired the commission with such passion and commitment and to all the other commissioners who have agreed to work with Labour

I would also like to put on record my sincere thanks to my research team Kate Spence, Peter McDade and Madeline Grieve for supporting the work of the commission, and to Lorna Finlayson and the rest of the Labour Party staff who worked so hard to produce our update. Similarly, I would like to thank all the CLPs and affiliates who invited me to speak on housing. Pam Duncan-Glancy for taking forward a short consultation on accessible housing. 

We have a leader in Richard Leonard who is absolutely committed to making housing the centrepiece of our work to tackle poverty and to telling the true story of how good housing and housing rights will radically alter people’s everyday lives. 

Housing is a sign of wealth in today’s world. Good housing is central to tacking poverty and a failure to reduce housing costs will only push more people into poverty. 

Young people are increasingly losing out when it comes to housing. They are more likely to be in lower paid and insecure work. They also often find it difficult to save for a sufficient deposit to secure a mortgage. 

Help to buy isn’t helping enough working class young people and is increasingly operating as just a windfall for the chief executives of house builders. And for those accessing Help to Buy, the most common level of household income is £40-£50,000. A Labour Government would replace Help to Buy with a more targeted scheme to help first time buyers on lower incomes. 

The biggest proportionate increase in private tenants has been among 25-34 year olds. Stuck in the private sector, often paying exorbitant rents, they have become the core of ‘Generation Rent’. Labour must speak for them. 

Housing often perpetuates wealth inequalities. At 30, people whose parents do not possess any property wealth are 60% less likely to be homeowners. Homes should be affordable to all social classes and there should be real choices for young people, not only to get onto the housing ladder, but also to access social housing. 

A single young male or indeed a single young female has no chance of being a priority on waiting list. Housing lists are not transparent, and most people have no idea where they are on the list. 

Over the past 15 years, a private rented home has become the only viable housing option for many households across Scotland. 

More families and low-income households are living in the private rented sector. 

However, dramatic increases in rent in many parts of the country are making life more precarious for these households and increasing their risk of living in poverty. 

Rent increases above the rate of inflation are causing hardship for many families. 

It is time for rent controls and a radical overhaul of the PRS. 

Why should people in the private rented sector not expect the same rights as the social sector? We need parity of esteem. 

Last year, Richard Leonard announced that I would take forward a member’s bill to begin the work on reform of rents. I have lodged the bill this month and we will launch the consultation in the coming weeks. We have the full backing of Mike Daily from the Govan Law Centre to help us draft the bill. 

I propose to tackle rising rents in the private rented sector by capping annual increases. Rent Pressure Zones have not worked and we need a robust alternative. 

A decent warm home at an affordable price is a basic human right. It is time for more serious reform of the sector. 

There has been a dramatic fall in the number of people living in social housing over the past 20 years. 

We need significant growth in the supply of social housing. 

Scottish Labour has a long-term target of building 12,000 social homes each year (with regular reviews based on need.) 

The number of people living in temporary accommodation, especially families with children, remains a national disgrace. 

The average single adult who declares themselves homeless in Edinburgh faces waiting an average of 14 to 18 months before being successful in a bid for a permanent home. 

These waiting times have an extremely detrimental impact on those who have gone through the trauma of homelessness. Graeme Brown, deputy director at Shelter Scotland has said – “Some people feel it is so bad they actually leave it in favour of sofa-surfing or sleeping rough.” 

Universal Credit has made, and continues to make, the situation worse. Claimants have to wait up to 5 weeks to receive their benefits and in that time, many fall into debt and find themselves in rent arrears. 

The Homeless Monitor Scotland (2019) (funded by the JRF and Crisis) reports that three-quarters of Scottish local authorities anticipate that the full rollout of Universal Credit will exacerbate homelessness in their area over the next two years. 

The design of Universal Credit is fast becoming the biggest driver of poverty, debt and homelessness. 

Over a quarter of households in Scotland are still in fuel poverty, with that figure rising to almost half in rural areas. 

Fuel bills are rising yet again – on April 1st, more than one million households in Scotland are looking at an average £110-a-year rise in their bills after the energy watchdog, Ofgem, increased the cap for those on default tariffs. 

It is important that the Scottish Government’s Fuel Poverty Bill does not become a missed opportunity. So far, it has been disappointingly narrow in scope with a timid target for the reduction of fuel poverty – down to 5% in 2040. 

There needs to more ambition – fuel poverty must be eradicated by 2032. 

We welcome the adoption of adjustment to the definition of fuel poverty, with an adjustment to the Minimum Income. 

Standard for rural areas to reflect the significantly higher rates of fuel poverty. 

This adjustment should also apply to those who are disabled or experiencing a long-term illness. 

It is not possible in a short opening speech to mention all the things Labour needs to do to change the landscape on housing. Ending rough sleeping and the causes of people sleeping on the street should be our next focus when completing the Housing Commission’s work. In doing so, we need to recognise the many complex and underlying problems in society, including radically altering our approach to drug addiction. 

We need to make certain that when the electorate look at our manifesto that it is clear, that if you want a radical programme for social housing and tenant rights in the private sector that the way to do that is by electing a Labour administration, nothing less will do.