As of March 2020, 58 per cent of homes were owner-occupied, 15 per cent were rented privately, and just 23 per cent were what are called “social rented” properties, including council housing. Even over more than four decades, this represents a dramatic change.
It was largely brought about by the Conservatives’ “right to buy” policy in the early 1980s. This was a genuine attempt to create a wealthier and more independent “home-owning nation”, but the sharp decline in low-cost, rented accommodation and the rising dominance of the private housing market has not served Scotland well.
In 1980, the average house price in Scotland was just over £15,000; by 2019, it was ten times higher at more than £151,000. In the 1970s and 1980s, an average house tended to cost between two and three times the average salary; today the same figure is 4.7 times higher.
That is one reason why Scotland now faces a “national housing crisis”, as the Scottish Conservatives, among others, claim. Particularly in cities, many people, including young professional couples with two incomes, find it almost impossible to get on the housing ladder; some are even priced out of the rental market.
Shadow Housing Secretary Miles Briggs will today lead a debate in parliament about the failure of the Scottish Government to meet its housebuilding targets. And he will also highlight the most heartbreaking aspect of this crisis: the staggering number of homeless people. If 47,000 people without a home of their own is not enough to persuade Housing Secretary Shona Robison to agree to charity Shelter’s request to declare a “housing emergency”, how many more will it take?
When the price of something is too high, increasing the supply is one way to reduce it. However, in order to make an impact where it is needed most – those people without a home – there needs to be a significant increase in ‘affordable’ housing, whether it is for rent, private sale or part-ownership, part rental.
In any society, there should be a place, both physically and metaphorically, for every citizen. A home should be considered a given and we must resist the mindset that accepts homelessness as a regrettable but unavoidable part of life. It is not.