The new, more resilient strains of COVID-19 present a real worry for those of us hoping that this will be all over soon. The prospect of restrictions dragging on is not something that anyone wants, but I’m convinced that if we continue to pull together and look out for each other we can see this through.
Now is also the time to build solid foundations that show we have learned from this experience. We went into this crisis on track to miss Scotland’s targets on child poverty, on climate emissions and air pollution. We can’t contemplate going back to that place.
At First Minister’s Questions last week I raised the figures from National Records of Scotland which showed that in 2019, before the pandemic hit, Scotland had the worst death rate among homeless people in the UK. That’s shameful.
Of course, during the public health crisis a lot of urgent work was carried out to tackle rough sleeping, and in parliament we worked on preventative measures too. After pressure from the Scottish Greens, the Scottish Government introduced an emergency fund for private tenants and a ban on evictions over Christmas. We made sure this was extended it to March and we are pushing for this to be extended as long as it is needed.
The recent report from the Crisis Scotland-led Prevention Review Group made the case that preventative measures to tackle homelessness should become a permanent feature, and I agree.
After all, what better foundation to build our future from than a safe and secure home? We can’t talk about a green or fair recovery from the pandemic when for far too many Scots cannot rely on this, or live in properties that cost far too much to keep warm through winter.
The pandemic isn’t helping, because it has had a direct impact on household incomes where people are in insecure or low-paid employment. Homelessness is rising and there are a record numbers of households in temporary accommodation. This is a crisis, and we must respond.
But this isn’t just about the economic impact of COVID-19. Homelessness can happen to anyone. Over the past decade we’ve seen house prices and rental costs rocketing, pushing hundreds of thousands of Scots into desperate situations.
That’s why we need to look at long-term solutions. Greens have long called for rent controls to protect private tenants. We’ve seen that the Scottish Government’s rent pressure zones have not tackled the problem.
We also need more homes for social rent. Shelter Scotland research suggests we need 37,100 new homes for social rent over the next five years.
This could play a big part in creating a solid foundation to tackle homelessness, but it could also be significant in tackling child poverty and the climate emergency too.
New homes for the public sector could be built with the latest low-carbon standards so they are more affordable to run. They could be plugged into district heating networks to avoid the need for gas boilers.
Such a programme would create new jobs and give families the security they need to thrive, making it a key part of a green recovery.
Everyone in Scotland should have the right to a home where they feel safe and can play for a secure future.