The gulf between rich and poor in Scotland’s capital has been recognised for decades now. The contrasts between living circumstances in the Georgian New Town and parts of North Edinburgh; or between the Grange and some south east neighbourhoods are glaring.
And the gulf persists across many other aspects of daily life, too. In public health, for example. The staff who have kept frontline services going over the last most difficult year – in care services, waste pick-ups, supermarkets and deliveries, among many others – are often those with the lowest-paid, least secure jobs. Not for them the option of working from home.
But nowhere is the divide more dramatic than in the housing market. Last year’s Poverty Commission report showed just how much poverty is driven by housing costs and housing shortage in the city – far more than anywhere else in the country. It’s a heavy toll that is borne most by younger people and the low-paid, who queue for years for the meagre stock of council or housing association homes or who swell the ranks of the city’s burgeoning private rented sector and the profits of private landlords. There is no bridge over the poverty chasm in Edinburgh that does not tackle the housing crisis.
Inevitably, some of what is needed is long term and big picture. Reversing the disastrous consequences of Thatcher’s flog-off of council housing by building more public housing will take time. Edinburgh deserves and needs a bigger slice of the Scottish Government’s housing budget for new homes. So too tackling the toxic effect of housing inflation which massively transfers wealth from young to old and from poor to rich. That needs serious tax reform to bring down house prices.
But more immediate actions are possible too. I’ve written here before about the need for Edinburgh to tackle empty homes and the Airbnb explosion. People need homes to live in, not holiday lets. During the pandemic I have repeatedly made the case for no-one to be left sleeping rough in the capital, a priority made all the more important by the harsh weather we have had since Christmas. Ending the high-cost, low-quality logjam of homeless people stuck in B&B hostels has been a council priority for years now but remains just as distant, with huge human and financial cost. I’m sure they’d welcome a chance to use those properties being turned over to holiday lets.
And I am proud of the pioneering work by Green MSPs in securing a ban on winter evictions, now extended until the end of March. They have worked to ensure that the ban was there in practice, as well as in law. And I know Green MSPs will continue to work with campaigners like Living Rent, the tenants’ union, on better conditions for those renting.
So, like many, I am committed to tackling housing inequality through the city council. But it takes national action as well. That is why alongside my job as a councillor I will be campaigning hard for more Green MSPs to be elected in May. Greens in Parliament have already demonstrated a track record of leading from the front on meeting the housing crisis head on. A strong Green result at the election would see those efforts redoubled.