The law says that families with children should not be placed in temporary accommodation like hostels or B&Bs for more than 14 days. After sharing the story of Julian Maddern and his baby daughter’s two-month stay in Almond Lodge on these pages, I endeavoured to discover whether their case was exceptional or a regular occurrence.
Across Scotland, there were 750 breaches of this right to suitable accommodation. Shockingly, more than 70 per cent of them were here in the Capital. Shelter – a leading housing charity – has been tracking these figures and reports that the number for families is often higher than those without children.
Imagine living in a dirty bedbug-ridden room with only a kettle to yourself. Knowing that if you want to cook or use a microwave, you and your kids will have to walk through communal areas full of strangers with addictions. You can’t leave them in their room and you can’t shield them from the noise and threats of violence.
Campaigning on this issue, people have demanded that instead of just highlighting the problem, I should focus on offering solutions. Fair comment. I readily accept this is a complex issue but I’m not going to tire of highlighting the simple truths and that in 21st century Scotland we need to be angry about this situation in order to change it.
However, for the sake of argument, let’s look at some of the ‘solutions’ for a second. Housing Minister Kevin Stewart accepts cases like Julian’s are out of order, and I could see the anger and determination to turn things around when he met with my constituent recently. Yet his Government’s proposal is to decrease that 14-day limit to just seven. I don’t want families in hostels at all, but it’s going to take more than just getting tougher with already overstretched councils. Without homes to put people in, all this will do is add to the pile of shocking statistics next year.
Building houses is clearly key and there are plenty of diehard nationalists who will cry out that Labour built just six council houses whilst in power, flagrantly ignoring the tens of thousands of housing association properties built in their place. We need to build far more affordable homes than planned and faster – but these families can’t wait that long.
We should demand that standards in these hostels and B&Bs are raised. It’s not exactly complicated or time-consuming to produce a list of minimum housing standards in a situation like this. Basic standards like an absence of bedbugs, vermin or blood on the walls. Again, the government are committed to this but not until 2021. Don’t rush yourselves.
I said that sarcastically to someone knee-deep in this housing crisis at the council recently. They said, actually, improving standards would make things worse. After picking my jaw up off the floor, I asked why and was told that the market in Edinburgh is so intense currently that if these places were any cleaner or safer, tourists would stay there, resulting in even fewer places to house those in desperate need. That brings a completely new meaning to the rat race.
At my last surgery, a man came to ask me for help to find a flat for him and his three kids. He’s currently in a shelter and the kids are with gran. I gently asked if he was working, only to discover he was salaried and on a full-time contract. There’s no way he can afford a private rented three-bed flat in Edinburgh. That sunk me. He’s doing everything right, everything society could ask, yet he can’t put a roof over his family’s heads and the council make him share a microwave with 20 other folk night after night.
Edinburgh needs a housing summit and we need to resolve to build more houses, regulate rents, curtail Airbnbs and raise standards as a bare minimum. If we don’t act now, the city will hollow itself out leaving only the mice to open the key boxes.
Care budget crisis shows us how deep the hole is – the council must fill it
If you had ever been in any doubt before, it is now clear that we have a health and social care crisis in our city.
On Friday the Edinburgh Integrated Joint Board (EIJB), which is made up of the council and NHS Lothian, refused to approve its budget for the next financial year.
This black hole budget included a £12.6m deficit, which would leave the services so many of us rely on, undeliverable.
Board members are looking for both the council and NHS Lothian to take responsibility and offer support, something I have been calling for ad nauseam.
One of the groups that has been at the sharp end of cuts is the Pilton Community Health Project (PCHP), which I have championed many times before and its story encapsulates the urgent social care crisis in our city.
PCHP, which acts as an anchor to the local community, was told last year that its funding was being withdrawn by the EIJB, causing the group to start a crowdfunding campaign.
As it stands they have raised £29,000 of their £50,000 target and have been joined by both ends of the Edinburgh derby and former Scotland boss Gordon Strachan, to raise awareness and funds. This is encouraging, but, quite frankly, should not be necessary.
I would encourage people to please visit www.savepchp.com to donate, but would also plead with health bosses and councillors to shore up the hole in care budgets and plug the gap, so no more essential services like Pilton are threatened with closure.