Manifesto Check: How Do They Measure Up On… Housing?
Liz Ely from Living Rent examines housing policy in the Scottish manifestos. Living Rent doesn’t support any one party; they have the support of the youth wings of most of the major political parties. This piece is Liz’s personal view.
Scottish National Party
50,000 new homes to be built, with 35,000 for social rent
Fee free housing tribunal.
Consultation on a national standard for private rented homes.
With the SNP polling as certain to form the next government, the content of their manifesto will be particularly important for renters. Their recent conference overwhelmingly voted for a national system of rent controls, which we would expect to go further than the rent pressure areas contained within the Private Tenancies Scotland Act.
Despite this, rent controls are conspicuous by their absence from the SNP manifesto.
“We are committed to using the new Housing and Property Tribunal to encourage access to justice and dispute resolution. To support this, we will ensure that the Tribunal does not charge fees to tenants or landlords.”
It is positive that the new housing and property tribunal will not charge fees to tenants, however striving for balance in this area seems unnecessary. With Landlords in an economic position of power, it would seem logical to charge them a fee in order to pay for the service, and encourage the resolution of disputes outside of a tribunal.
“We will consult on a national standard for private rented homes to ensure a good basic standard of accommodation, driving out rogue landlords who exploit tenants in substandard accommodation.”
Again this is positive – and vital for those being exploited in areas such as Sturgeon’s own South Glasgow constituency; but it remains to be seen what mechanisms will be used to force out rogue landlords, and little detail is given here. A system of rent controls where the price of housing was linked to quality would go a long way to driving up the standard of accommodation.
Commitment to capping rent increases.
60,000 affordable homes of which 45,000 to be council owned.
Introduction of a charter to drive up standards in the private rented sector.
There are some definite positives within the Labour manifesto; in particular their commitment to capping rent increases.
“We will regulate private rents — capping rent increases, so rogue landlords can’t get away with charging rip-off rents.”
Private rents are in desperate need of regulation, and capping rent increases is a good start. Given the way this is worded, it is unclear how different this will be from the rent pressure zones which are to be implemented as part of the Private Tenancies Scotland Act.
“We’ll consult on introducing a Charter — similar to that in the social rented sector — to drive up standards in the private rented sector.”
A properly enforced charter could prove useful – or it could be a useless piece of paper. We do need to make private renting more like renting from council and housing associations, rather than social housing becoming more like the private rented sector.
Ultimately, standards in the private rented sector will only be driven up by action from those of us who rent, and this is where action should be focussed.
Scottish Conservative Party
Perks and tax breaks for Landlords.
Re-introduction of Right to Buy.
Focus on work with the Private Sector to deliver affordable housing.
Renters get very little mention within the Scottish Conservative manifesto, with their focus primarily on ‘stimulating demand for house buying’.
This is not surprising given the fact that homeowners are significantly more likely to vote Conservative. From a tenant’s perspective, there is little in here to be excited about.
“The delivery of affordable housing will also depend on cooperation with the private sector on innovative mid-market rent models. This could include providing grant funding to private landlords to build new properties in exchange for them letting the property out at affordable rents for a set period of time.”
It is difficult to see the benefit of depending upon the private sector for something so vital as affordable housing. Indeed in Edinburgh we are currently seeing the long term results of depending upon the private sector to deliver schools in the ongoing PFI crisis.
Likewise the concept of mid-market rent is flawed in practice. In Edinburgh there are properties which are currently deemed ‘mid market’ which cost £809.19 per month for two bedrooms. Mid-market rents are generally set at 80% of the local market rate. 80% of far-too-expensive is still too expensive.
“We would therefore reintroduce the Right to Buy in Scotland and ringfence all funds raised from the policies for future social house-building.”
Although the housing crisis in the UK has many causes, there are few policies which are as responsible for the state of housing in Scotland than the disastrous ‘Right to Buy’ policy which decimated social housing in Britain. Re-introducing this can have no positive benefits for those of us who rent, as it makes it even less likely that we will be able to find a genuinely affordable home.
Scottish Liberal Democrats
Building 40,000 homes for social rent
The notable aspects of the Lib Dem manifesto for renters are that they see social rent as a viable long term option for people, and commit to building 40,000 homes for social rent.
“We will increase the number of homes constructed for social rent, make sure they are accessible and re-establish social renting as a valid long term option for people.”
This is a laudable aim, although their actual building target for socially rented homes is less ambitious than some of the other political parties.
Scottish Green Party
Support for rent controls connected to quality, and security of tenure with a commitment to continue to campaign for these.
12,000 new social rent homes to be built per year.
Support for letting agency regulation.
There are many good ideas within the Scottish Green party manifesto, which seems genuinely tenant-focussed.
“The Scottish Greens will push for action to increase the amount of social housing, control rents, increase security of tenure and improve management in the private sector.”
The Scottish Greens support rent controls! With rents in Scotland the highest they have ever been, this is vital, particularly for those of us who live in rental hotspots like Aberdeen, Edinburgh and some parts of rural Scotland.
Similarly, improved security of tenure is a key campaign demand for Living Rent; and it is good to see it mentioned here. We won some real improvements to security of tenure in the Private Tenancies Scotland Act, and it is good to see that the Greens want to go further – although the chances of a new bill on security any time soon does not seem likely.
RISE: Scotland’s left alliance
100,000 publicly owned homes
Mentions Living Rent
The Rise manifesto mention our campaign, and have the most ambitious house building target of 100,000 publicly owned homes.
“Private landlords’ profits have boomed through the exploitation of a serious, but solvable, problem in Scottish society. The time has come to tackle this issue head on. RISE will implement rent controls.”
There is little to argue with here, and the RISE manifesto does articulate many of the reasons that Living Rent was founded.
Local homes for local people : exclusion of foreign nationals from state housing
Opposition to rent controls
50,000 socially rented homes to be built
UKIP Scotland have lifted their central housing slogan straight from ‘The League of Gentlemen’ forgetting that most of us wouldn’t really want to live in Royston Vasey.
In all seriousness, their policy to exclude foreign nationals from state housing is despicable. Policies like this allow rogue landlords to prey on migrants and other incomers, and leads to the sort of overcrowding which has become an issue in Govanhill.
“UKIP are against Rent Controls due to their failure to address the key issues in the rented sector”
As you might expect, we beg to differ. Rent controls worked in the UK until Thatcher scrapped them, and are the norm across Europe in nations where private rented housing is in plentiful supply, and much higher quality
With the exception of the Scottish Tories, all political parties make some commitments to building socially rented homes. Labour, The Scottish Greens and RISE all explicitly support rent controls, but more detail is needed from all of these parties as to what sort of control they intend to implement. Labour’s pledge in particular seems very similar to what the SNP have legislated for, more detail is needed.
Manifestos are notoriously rhetorical, with plenty of promises and few certainties. One thing that is certain though, is the need for tenants to organise ourselves to put pressure on the powerful, whichever party they are in.