A key Scottish Government bid to help end a housing and homelessness crisis has suffered a "scandalous" hit with its annual budget slashed by £360m over the past two years.

Concerns have emerged that a key Scottish Government pledge to deliver 110,000 social and affordable homes by 2032 has been delivered a "fatal blow" by the cuts.

The Herald can reveal that the More Homes budget plans, which covers the Scottish Government's affordable housing supply programme is to take a cumulative hit of over half a billion pounds over two years - based against the 2022/23 allocation of £740.089m.

Worries about how the Scottish Government is tackling the housing crisis have emerged after what housing campaigners say is a "staggering" £188.8m (33%) cut to the budget in the past year alone with the spending plans for 2024/25 set at £375.8m.

The affordable homes plan set out by Nicola Sturgeon in a Programme for Government in 2021 to "build on our investment in housing" had already seen its budget cut by £175.5m in 2023/24 dropping by some 24% in a year.

The cuts have emerged as concerns were raised that the number of affordable homes being approved for build has slumped.

READ MORE:  More than 14 homeless people die a month in Scotland

Official data shows the overall number of affordable homes being started for build including for rent in the social sector has dropped to the lowest annual level for eight years. Some 6,302 affordable homes were begun in the year to the end of September as part of an official programme - but that is a 24% drop (1,996 homes) on the 7,159 started in the last annual analysis.

Some 6,178 homes were given the nod for grant funding in the year to the end of September as part of the Affordable Housing Supply Programme - down by 14% (981 homes) on the 7159 approved in the previous year and the lowest equivalent annual figure since 2013.

The Herald: We need to build affordable homes for young people. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA Wire.

This is set against the number of open homelessness applications in Scotland soaring by 30% since the pandemic began - from 22,754 in March, 2020, to 29,652 in 2022/23. The homeless household numbers being forced into temporary accommodation - like hotels and bed and breakfasts - rather than settled homes has shot up from 11,807 to 15,039.

And three local authorities have declared a housing emergency - Glasgow, Edinburgh and Argyll and Bute - all citing shortages of affordable housing.

Glasgow cited "unprecedented pressures" after the Home Office planned to make around 2,500 batched asylum decisions in Glasgow by the end of this year, which the council would cost them more than £53m.

Shelter Scotland has warned ministers that without the delivery of affordable homes the housing emergency is "only going to get worse with more people trapped in temporary accommodation for longer".

READ MORE: Councils warn of new wave of Scots homelessness emergencies

The campaign group said in a briefing: "The Scottish Government has no hope of meeting its statutory child poverty targets if it continues to look to the social housing supply budget for savings at every opportunity.

"We are devastated that these calls, from ourselves and partners from across the housing, homelessness and anti-poverty sectors, have fallen on deaf ears, with housing pretty much singled-out for cuts in the 2024/25 draft budget.

"This is an emergency that damages health, wellbeing, education and the economy, and leaves tens of thousands of people without anywhere to call home. It is a national scandal."

Across Scotland an average of 24% of Scotland’s children were in poverty - amounting to 250,000.

That remains well above the levels set out in the Child Poverty Act 2017, which sets mandatory targets of reducing child poverty to 18% by next year and 10 per cent by 2030.

Scottish Labour say briefing notes from housing minister Paul McLennan’s meetings in December, admit that the delivery of 110,000 affordable homes by 2032 "is at risk” and say a review is being held into the “timeline for delivery”.

When launching the homes plan three years ago, the then First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said at least 70% of the 110,000 social and affordable homes to be built will be for social rent. She said in the Programme for Government: "We will build on our investment in housing over the previous session, to further improve the availability of good quality, affordable, energy efficient homes."

She said the Scottish Government would invest almost £3.5bn in this parliamentary session - which is due to end in 2026. In the first four years of the five-year session ministers have put a total of £2.428m into the More Homes budget.

The Herald: Humza Yousaf

The current First Minister Humza Yousaf in his first "unapologetically anti-poverty and pro-growth" Programme for Government in September remained "committed" to the 110,000 affordable homes delivery.

As of December, Scotland has been averaging 633 affordable housing starts a month since setting the target. To meet a 110,000 homes target they have to deliver at an average of 894 homes a month.

The Scottish Tenants' Organisation said the cuts were "scandalous" adding: "There is no way the homes will be delivered with these cuts. It is a fatal blow.

"The Scottish Government have abandoned people on social house waiting lists and the homeless to lives of utter destitution. The level of cuts to the affordable housing supply in Scotland far outstrips any cuts to budgets by Westminster and truly represents the Neo Liberal position of the the Scottish Government to bring in private finance reduce public investment in affordable housing."

The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) and other groups had been calling on the First Minister to ensure more public money is ploughed into social housing to meet his "defining mission" to tackle child poverty.

READ MORE: Scots regulator acts over 'systemic failure' of dealing with homeless

Official data has revealed the number of new builds started for rent in the social sector in the past year - a key part of delivering for those most in need in Scotland - was at 3292 for the year to September 31 - the lowest since records began in 1996.

Some 2,135 of the social rented sector new build annual starts were led by housing associations.

The Herald revealed that ministers were warned in September that a homelessness crisis would become deeper after it emerged that social landlords in Scotland were expected to build 4,500 fewer affordable homes for some of the nation's most vulnerable than planned over the next five years.

Shelter Scotland said that the Scottish Government had ignored a year of warnings over the crisis and was "failing" to deliver new social homes at the rate required to reduce housing need.

"Without sufficient good quality social homes across Scotland, we will not meet anti-poverty targets, tackle health inequalities, close the attainment gap, reduce homelessness, or alleviate the significant strain on local services," the group said.

The Herald: Homelessness

The housing regulator has warned registered social landlords are projecting a 15% reduction in their plans to build new homes over the next five years as they seek to make spending cuts.

And the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, in a July analysis, said that the supply of affordable homes has fallen 20% in three years and "shows no sign of recovering".

They say at least 125,000 homes for social rent were needed simply to satisfy existing demand.

Its July analysis revealed that 243,603 people are currently on the waiting list for social housing, but only 26,102 allocations were made across the entire country.

Sean Clerkin, campaign co-ordinator for the STO said: "The Scottish Government are increasingly responsible for the housing and homeless emergency and their denial of it just underlines how morally corrupt they are when increased numbers of people and their families are facing a life of misery in the coming years."

Housing minister Paul McLennan said: "The Scottish Government has led the UK in housing by delivering more than 126,000 affordable homes since 2007, over 89,000 of which were for social rent, including almost 24,000 council homes. We will invest £556 million in 2024-25 to increase the delivery of more affordable homes, the majority of which will be for social rent, including supporting acquisitions of existing properties.

“However, the UK Government failed to inflation-proof their capital budget, and this has resulted in nearly a 10% real terms cut in our UK capital funding between 2023-24 and 2027-28. This is on top of the disastrous impact Brexit has had on construction supply chain issues, labour shortages and the inflationary pressures driven by UK Government financial mismanagement.

"We remain focused on delivering 110,000 affordable homes by 2032 and to support that we will bring forward the review scheduled for 2026-27 to 2024, which will concentrate on deliverability.

"In addition, we are accelerating work with the financial community in Scotland, and elsewhere, to boost private sector investment and help deliver more homes.”