Supporting our service personnel and their families is a commitment that we should all share, and which must not end when they stop serving. Homelessness and isolation is an issue which sadly affects many veterans and can have a huge impact on their health and wellbeing.
When people leave the armed forces, they leave a very tight knit community – a community that is bound together by strong relationships. That transition can understandably be a big challenge to step away from. We want ex-service personnel to know that they, and their families, have a place in Edinburgh (and right across Scotland). We want them to feel part of local communities and for them to know that there is support in place at a local level.
Earlier this year, the Public Accounts Committee revealed that 20 per cent of service family homes across the UK are lying empty – that’s 10,000 homes that I believe could, and should, be used to house homeless veterans. This figure has been the same for 21 years. Across Scotland, there are 1000 empty service homes and in Edinburgh alone, 169 lie unoccupied.
Allowing veterans without permanent accommodation to live in these unoccupied residences – of which there are thousands across the UK – would allow these men and women to be a part of the military community and is likely to improve their health and wellbeing. It would mean that they would have somewhere secure to live and would help them get back on their feet.
The Committee report was spot on when it called the Ministry of Defence’s failure to reduce the number of empty properties at the time of a national housing shortage “scandalous”. It also found that the MoD “has failed over many years to meet the reasonable expectations of service personnel and their families for good quality accommodation”.
The MoD must ensure that they are making proper use of the homes they have at their disposal. With 1000 homes in Scotland empty, it seems that they are failing in this duty.
That’s why I am calling on the Ministry of Defence to allow homeless veterans to live in these empty homes on a temporary basis, before they move on to a permanent tenancy of their own.
Edinburgh City Council recently announced that it was planning to issue “use it or lose it” ultimatums to the owners of abandoned properties in the Capital. This is a very welcome move.
Council officers have drawn up plans to use Compulsory Purchase Orders to force homeowners to sell second homes that have lain empty for many years. However, the MoD owns the military family accommodation units in Oxgangs and Redford, so it will not have to comply with these regulations. I am urging the MoD to make these empty houses available – and only the MoD can make that happen.
A win-win scenario, for me, would be for the Ministry of Defence to keep the Dreghorn and Redford Barracks open, by completely ruling out its closure (which I have campaigned for since 2011), and use the 169 military homes in Oxgangs and Redford that are currently unoccupied to house our veterans. As MSP for Edinburgh Pentlands, I will continue campaigning for this to happen.
Gordon MacDonald is the SNP MSP for Edinburgh Pentlands.