Scottish government to declare national housing emergency

The Scottish government will declare a national housing emergency later.

The announcement will come from the Social Justice Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville during a Labour-led debate at Holyrood.

Ms Somerville is expected to blame UK government austerity and Brexit for the decision.

But UK ministers said that the Scottish government receives about 25% more funding per person than other parts of the UK.

The SNP previously voted against a motion declaring a housing emergency in November.

Since then, with the end of its power-sharing deal with the Scottish Greens, the Scottish government has lost its majority in Holyrood.

It faced potential defeat in the debate on the emergency this afternoon.

BBC Scotland News understands that the Scottish Greens have yet to decide how to vote.

By changing position and conceding there is a housing emergency, ministers will avoid what could have been a difficult moment in parliament.

Last year, Argyll and Bute, City of Edinburgh and Glasgow City councils all declared housing emergencies.

Fife Council made the same move in March followed by West Dunbartonshire earlier this month.

Declaring an emergency is a signal to government that the current situation is not working and there needs to be intervention.

The councils cited issues ranging from pressure on homelessness services, rising property prices and high levels of temporary accommodation.

By declaring an emergency, the Scottish government is formally recognising the housing problem and calling for cuts to its capital budget to be reversed.

However, there are no practical effects that automatically happen due to a declaration being made.

Shirley-Anne Somerville said that a "joint approach" would be needed to combat housing problems.

Shirley-Anne Somerville
Shirley-Anne Somerville will call for an end to austerity [BBC]

She said: “Too many people in Scotland are struggling to make ends meet due to housing costs – or struggling to find suitable housing at all.

"We will continue to do everything we can with the powers at our disposal to make progress – but truly tackling the housing emergency will rely on a joint approach between UK, Scottish and local government.”

The social justice secretary added she wanted MSPs across the Holyrood chamber to “unite with one voice to demand a change in approach and an end to austerity which has caused untold harm to people across the country".

Ms Somerville also said she would use all the powers at her disposal to try and address the housing situation, which she called "one of the defining issues of a generation".

She told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland that the UK government’s asylum process was putting pressure on local housing services.

She also said the Scottish government would consider expanding powers on rent controls in order to tackle skyrocketing charges in the private sector.

Ms Sommerville said: "We’ve got a housing Bill about to go through parliament which strengthens homelessness duties and also deals with some of the challenges of the private rented sector.

"We do need to look at rent controls in that area and the housing minister has, just in April, convened the housing investment taskforce to look where we can provide more innovative routes to finance for the private sector."

'Fanned its flames'

Scottish Labour have accused the Scottish government of making “brutal” cuts to the housing budget.

The party had tabled the motion for an opposition debate at Holyrood later declaring a housing emergency.

Labour's housing spokesman Mark Griffin said the SNP's approach to the emergency had "actively fanned its flames" due to budget cuts.

He added: "The Greens have an opportunity to hold the SNP government to account for a litany of failures on housing."

The minority SNP government would likely face defeat if their former government partners back Labour’s position.

Although the Labour motion is not binding and would therefore have had no practical effect.

A similar motion in November 2023 did not pass as the Greens were still part of the Scottish government at that point.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said previous attempts to declare a housing emergency at Holyrood had been ignored by the Scottish government.

He told Good morning Scotland that the SNP had taken “political decisions” that had harmed the housing sector

He added: “It’s all very well and good the government say there is a housing emergency, what are they going to do to sort it?”

In the budget earlier this year the Scottish government cut the affordable housing budget by £200m, around 26%.

The finance secretary, Shona Robison, said this was due to Westminster cuts.

In one of his final acts as first minister last month, Humza Yousaf announced an £80m increase to the same budget over two years.

A UK government spokesperson said: “Decisions at Spring Budget took our direct investment in levelling up Scotland past the £3bn mark.

"The Scottish government receives around 25% more funding per person than equivalent UK government spending in other parts of the UK through its record £41bn per year settlement.”