Scotland can lead on fair rents

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The brilliance of devolution is it allows for Scotland to lead the way on progressive issues whilst remaining part of the wider United Kingdom.

We previously saw it in public health, with Holyrood legislating for the smoking ban before Westminster.

When Alex Salmond speaks of and independent Scotland being a “progressive beacon” he forgets that it already is, and we do not need to walk away from the working classes of Liverpool, Manchester, Cardiff and London to continue to be so.

Scotland has yet another chance to lead they way, this time by offering fairer deal to renters.

Ed Miliband announced a few weeks ago plans to reform the UK rental market, capping increases and offering greater security of tenure to generation rent, it is a policy which gets to the heart of what Labour is all about; protecting people feeling the cost of living crisis.

In Scotland however, these changes can be delivered right now, through the Housing (Scotland) Bill, currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament.

Scotland faces a social housing crisis and we need massive investment in the construction of our social housing to boost our economy, slash waiting lists and improve the lives of families across Scotland. The SNP’s reaction to this has been to cut capital budget for housing by 30%.

As a result of this  Scotland’s private rented sector is growing, from 5% in 1999 to 13% today, and the private renters who make up  “Generation Rent” need the sector to work for them as best as it possibly can.

The private rented sector now stands at over 300,000 households in Scotland; nearly half of these households are families with children.

Is the sector working for these families? The evidence suggests it is not. Recent research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reported that the gap between social and private rents in Scotland is higher than in every English region except London.

Of even greater concern however, is that over 100,000 of private rented households in Scotland live in poverty.

Private renters in Scotland spend nearly a quarter of their income on housing – this is before food, energy bills, transport costs, and child care.

Tackling poverty requires a complex, multifaceted approach. If we see opportunities to ease living costs for people and offer them security in the private rented sector we should look to do so.

That is why I submitted amendments to the Housing Bill to protect tenants from unfair increases. Under my proposals rents will be reviewed once a year maximum and their increases will be capped.

Unfortunately the SNP voted with the Tories at the Stage 2 reading of the Housing Bill to block my amendments. I will bring them back for the third and final reading of the bill where I hope they will gain support across the chamber.

Devolution should be an opportunity for Scotland to lead the way in tackling poverty and inequality, not a talking shop dominated by constitutional debates. By capping rent increases Scottish Labour are on the side of Scotland’s private renters, over 100, 000 whom live in poverty, who are facing a cost of living crisis and who have been ignored by politicians for too long.

The SNP need to decide if they are on the side of these people as well. Or if they are sticking with the Tories. Again.

James Kelly is MSP for Rutherglen and Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities in the Scottish Parliament

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