Conference Preview: Housing

After decades in the political wilderness, housing has returned to to the centre-stage of debate. What can we expect on this critical issue from Scottish Labour conference?

The Mary Barbour Law (which we explained in our video here) will feature prominently. It is one of the most comprehensive rent control plans proposed by Labour or any party, and would go far further than the rent pressure zones instituted by the Scottish Government. It is a testament to the campaigning work of organisations like Living Rent and Acorn that rent controls have been put back on the agenda.

Social housing will also be key, as Scottish Labour prepares to commit itself to a minimum of 12,000 new socially rented homes a year. The Scottish Government ended right-to-buy in 2016 (followed by the Welsh Government this year), stopping the ongoing deterioration of the social housing stock. But by that point the percentage of Scots living in the social rented sector had already fallen to under a quarter. There are no more up-to-date figures, but it is very possible that the number living in the private rented sector has now overtaken social housing, based on trends down south. Reversing the decline will require a precipitous increase in the construction of publicly-owned housing.

On taxation, there is a commitment to end speculative land banking  - the buying and selling of land merely to increase its return value - through a ‘use it or lose it’ policy. This would be complemented by a Land Value Tax on empty land. This approach ties into the focus on wealth taxes (which we discussed in yesterday’s article here). Property is an especially fertile ground. Some estimates put the growth in the value of Scotland’s housing stock at £100 billion in the last decade.

There will also be a discussion on tightening housing quality standards in both the public and private sector. Housing standards have gained increased prominence after the tragic - and preventable - disaster at Grenfell.

Outside of the formal conference agenda, campaigners are also encouraging Scottish Labour support for the Housing First anti-homelessness initiative. This scheme provides unconditional housing for the homeless. First pioneered in the United States, it is being trialled in Manchester and other English cities. In Finland it has all but eliminated rough sleeping. A Scottish Parliament committee also discussed a trial run of the scheme last month, though it would require a large increase in capital spending over the short term to make it a success - a small price to pay for ending the moral stain of homelessness in one of the richest countries on earth.

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