This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

There's many failures to lay at the feet of the SNP-Green government, though perhaps none is as wilful, cynical and cruel as the housing crisis.

Nearly 10,000 Scottish children are homeless, up 3% on last year, and living in temporary accommodation. That’s an entire town of children in shoddy B&Bs. There’s 15,625 households in temporary accommodation – the highest on record and a 4% rise.

Early this month, I spoke to Alison Watson, the director of Shelter Scotland, the nation’s leading housing and homelessness charity.

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She savaged the behaviour of the Scottish Government. It had cut nearly £200 million – 26% – from the affordable housing budget when we spoke. The housing budget was slashed two years running, however, meaning cumulative cuts of 37%.

As Watson explained the only way to arrest rising homelessness is to invest in social housing, not slash funding. She accused Humza Yousaf of “gaslighting” Scotland over claims his government cares about homelessness.

Fast forward to now, and the Scottish Government has just published its Housing Bill. Frankly, the gaslighting hasn’t just continued, it’s got worse.

The bill was trumpeted as “preventing homelessness and strengthening tenants’ rights”. SNP Housing Minister Paul McLennan and Green Tenants’ Rights Minister Patrick Harvie were gushing.

In truth, the bill does little to alleviate existing problems. For example, it creates a ‘duty’ on social landlords – like councils – to “ask about a person’s housing situation and act to avoid them becoming homeless”.

How on Earth will this get 10,000 children currently in miserable temporary accommodation into permanent homes?

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The bill creates a ‘New Deal for Tenants’, along with rent controls, the right to keep pets, and stronger protection against eviction.

Only increasing the social housing budget will house homeless families. Everything else is window-dressing.

When it comes to social housing, numbers of new homes completed in the year to September 2023 fell 2%; numbers of new social homes approved fell 18%; and numbers of new homes started fell 29%.

But if you rent a flat, you can own a pet.

The Herald:
Shelter Scotland says the new bill “risks diverting time and energy away from the existing emergency and focusing on an idealistic view of what a better system could be without fixing what is broken first”.

Shelter’s Alison Watson now says: “The Housing Bill is a missed opportunity to address the structural causes of record homelessness and the escalating level of systemic failure… Rights without an effective remedy are rights on paper alone.” 

Annually, Scotland is now at risk of losing more social homes than it builds, Shelter says.

The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) says the government’s “programme for building affordable rented homes is in absolute free-fall”.

Housing associations are now building fewer homes than at any time since 1988. The number of homes being approved for building is at the lowest level since 2012, whilst the number of homes starting construction across the overall social housing sector dropped to levels not seen since 2013.

Four Scottish councils – Glasgow, Edinburgh, Fife, and Argyll and Bute – have declared housing emergencies. 

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Sally Thomas, SFHA Chief Executive, says: “Social homes need government investment… The Scottish Government has a target to deliver 110,000 homes by 2032 – the hopes of achieving that are now all but over. We need them to restore the much-needed funding and urgently work to forge a credible path out of our national housing emergency.”

A house is a fundamental human right. The Scottish Government is failing to protect those rights. It will inevitably reap the whirlwind when the many thousands of families reduced to homelessness get to have their say at the ballot box.