Meeting of the Parliament
Meeting date: Wednesday, January 25, 2023
Agenda: Point of Order, Portfolio Question Time, Urgent Question, Point of Order, Homelessness, Housing, Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill, Public Order Bill, UK Infrastructure Bank Bill, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Childcare
- Point of Order
- Portfolio Question Time
- Urgent Question
- Point of Order
- Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill
- Public Order Bill
- UK Infrastructure Bank Bill
- Business Motion
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-07613, in the name of Miles Briggs, on the homelessness emergency. I invite members who wish to participate to press their request-to-speak button now or as soon as possible.15:05
It is regrettable that, once again, it is only because of Opposition debating time that Parliament is able to debate the crisis that is faced by individuals and families across Scotland today.
Sometimes in politics, the Government of the day needs a wake-up call and ministers need to pause and understand that the Government is failing to deliver on its outcomes and is failing the people of Scotland. One such example is the drug deaths crisis that our country is facing. As the health spokesman for the Conservatives, I led debate after debate in the chamber—at a time when the cabinet secretary was the health secretary—and warned ministers that they needed to stop and understand where drug deaths in this country had escalated to and to understand the crisis that was being faced by individuals, families and drug services across our country.
That warning fell on deaf ears as ministers parroted out the same lines, saying that everything was fine and that the Opposition parties were wrong—very much like the Scottish Government’s amendment to today’s motion does. However, the reality on the ground was very different, the result being that we now see a record number of our fellow Scots dying drug-related deaths, which has escalated year on year under this Government. After Scottish National Party ministers cut the drugs budget, and following outrage from the public, the First Minister accepted that SNP ministers had taken their “eye off the ball” and they were finally forced to pause and declare a public health emergency.
I am sorry to say that the same is the case today for homeless people in Scotland with the housing emergency that our country faces. After 15 years of the SNP in office, it is clear that we are facing a homeless emergency and a housing crisis. It is not only the Scottish Conservatives who are saying that and calling for action; Shelter Scotland has repeatedly called on ministers to declare a housing emergency.
I thank the organisations, including Shelter Scotland, that have provided helpful briefings ahead of today’s debate, and I also thank them for the life-saving work that they undertake across all our communities, particularly here, in the capital.
It is no exaggeration to say that the SNP-Green Government is presiding over a national housing crisis. Although much of the media attention recently has focused, understandably, on SNP-Green ministers’ abject failures in health and education, the housing emergency has, for too long, gone under the radar. However, it is very real and it demands urgent Government action.
I believe that it is completely unacceptable that, in Scotland today, 47,000 people are currently registered as homeless and a third of a million Scots, including close to 100,000 children—I ask members to just think about that—and more than 24,000 disabled people, are on social housing waiting lists. There are also more than 600 armed service veterans registered as homeless, which should embarrass us all as a nation but should also, which is more important, shame the SNP-Green Government into action.
On the issue of being shamed and taking responsibility, does the member accept that the principal responsibility for armed forces veterans lies with the United Kingdom Government and the Ministry of Defence?
The responsibility for housing lies with the member’s party and the Scottish Government. That is what this debate is all about.
Tragically, last year, we saw one of the highest numbers of deaths among people experiencing homelessness. Since the SNP Government took office, it has failed to meet all of its home-building targets. There is little hope of the situation improving, given that John Swinney’s most recent budget outlined an additional £170 million cut in the housing budget. Shelter Scotland said:
“We are deeply concerned at the significant 16% cut to the housing budget in 2023/24, which has the potential to completely derail the Scottish Government’s ability to reduce housing need in this parliamentary term.”
On top of that, the Government’s policy interventions have been counterproductive in the housing sector and will be damaging for tenants in the long term by ultimately reducing private rental stock, which will lead to housing developments being paused or shelved. It all adds up to a perfect storm, and it cannot be allowed to continue.
In Scotland today, every 18 minutes a household becomes homeless. Last year, in Scotland, 13,945 households were living in temporary accommodation, with 14,372 children being made homeless last year. That needs to change, and it starts with ministers accepting that they have failed to deliver solutions over the 15 years that they have been in office.
The housing emergency in Scotland has never been about houses; it is about people. It is about the young family that is renting a run-down flat and wondering whether they will ever be able to afford a home of their own. It is about the record number of children in Scotland today who are living in emergency temporary accommodation, forced to change schools every time that they move. It is about the failure of the SNP-Green Government to meet its affordable home targets. It is about the need for a Scottish Government that, at the very least, acknowledges the housing emergency and the need for an all-Government approach to start developing solutions.
The housing policy decisions taken by the SNP-Green Government are making the housing emergency in Scotland worse. It is time for it to pause and reflect on the fact that Scotland faces a housing emergency. It is also time for the Parliament to act collectively to save lives and to work to give everyone in Scotland the safe homes that they deserve.
That the Parliament recognises the large number of homeless people in Scotland, people in temporary accommodation and people on social housing waiting lists; expresses particular concern at the number of vulnerable people in these categories, such as veterans, children and disabled people, and calls on the Scottish Government to declare a homeless emergency and to prioritise finding suitable accommodation for people in need.15:11
We would have thought from Miles Briggs’s speech that the Tory cost of living crisis has no impact on people’s ability to afford their home or, indeed, on the increase in homelessness. The fact that there was no reference to the cost of living crisis really tells members everything they need to know about the motivation for the debate.
It is a national priority of the Scottish Government to tackle homelessness, end rough sleeping and transform temporary housing. Our ambition is to ensure that everyone has a safe and warm place to call home. I am proud that this country has some of the strongest homelessness legislation in the world for people who are experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, homelessness, and we are going further. Local authorities already have a legal duty to provide advice and assistance to anyone who is at risk of homelessness, and people have access to permanent accommodation in law. We also announced last week that we will introduce prevention duties in our forthcoming housing bill, and we will introduce a right to housing in our planned human rights legislation.
Our proposals for a human rights bill will seek to incorporate the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living, including the right to adequate housing, as far as that is possible within devolved competence. Ensuring that people are aware of their rights and when to exercise them is an important part of building the Scotland that we want.
We also propose new duties on public bodies to ask and act to prevent homelessness so that the prevention of homelessness is key and the risk of homelessness is acted on regardless of the service first approached. That is key to our no-wrong-door approach. Taking a joined-up and early intervention approach aims to strengthen existing practice, improve consistency and deliver long-term savings and benefits to services, as well as to reduce instances of homelessness.
Let me turn to temporary accommodation. Although the latest statistics show that the use of temporary accommodation has gone down in 20 local authority areas, I am well aware that there are far too many households in temporary accommodation at the moment. The majority of such households are in council or housing association homes, while two thirds of families with children who are in temporary accommodation are in social rented homes. I am particularly concerned at the increase in the number of children in temporary accommodation. However, the Scottish Government is firmly committed to reducing that number.
That is why we established an expert task and finish group, chaired by Shelter Scotland—to whose work I also pay tribute—and the Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers. The group is expected to deliver its final report next month. The report will make recommendations on homelessness services, social housing and managing the current stock. The group will propose innovative ways in which to reduce the number of households in temporary accommodation and the length of time that households spend in it. That will enable us to support the areas that have challenges and ensure that they can learn from others that have made progress.
The simple question is this: why are so many people in temporary accommodation, and why are they in it for so long? We should already know the answer to that.
A lot of work has been done to get underneath why people end up in temporary accommodation. There are multiple reasons for that. One reason for the increase has been the Covid pandemic, during which people were taken into temporary accommodation. There was a big jump in the use of temporary accommodation for all the reasons that we understand.
The cost of living crisis is, without a doubt, having an impact, and we also need to get the supply right. The member will be aware of the pause in the construction industry’s work and that the costs of inflation, which affects everything from materials to labour, have put pressure on projects.
However, we have maintained our commitments to deliver 110,000 homes by 2032 and to invest £3.5 billion over the current parliamentary session. We are working with partners to ensure not just the supply of new builds but the acquisition of existing off-market properties, which can help in moving people into settled accommodation.
In the time that I have left, I want to talk about the actions that we have taken since receiving, in 2018, the recommendations of our homelessness and rough sleeping action group. We accepted those recommendations in full, and they informed our ending homelessness together action plan, which was published in 2018 and refreshed in 2020. The plan is supported by stakeholders and ensures that we work in partnership to reduce and prevent homelessness. We are doing what they have asked us to do.
We are making good progress. The number of people who are sleeping rough in Scotland continues to fall, we have taken important steps towards strengthening rights for tenants and preventing homelessness, and we are leading the way in the delivery of affordable homes—we are delivering far more than are being delivered anywhere else on these islands.
When homelessness occurs, the Scottish Government continues to promote a housing-led approach, with a focus on rapidly rehousing people in settled accommodation. We are providing local authorities with £52.5 million for rapid rehousing and housing first programmes to ensure that people are given a settled place to live as soon as possible. Our actions are backed by funding to 2025-26 of more than £100 million, which covers two action plans.
I am well aware that the current cost of living crisis places people at more risk of homelessness. That is why the Government took action to support people in the rented sector through our Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Act 2022, which I am sure we will talk about more in the next debate. We have also taken other actions, which I will touch on in my closing speech.
No one in Scotland should be at risk of homelessness, so we will do all that we can to prevent it and support people. That is also the case for people who are at risk of destitution because of their immigration status. It is very disturbing that the UK Government does not allow people with no recourse to public funds to access homelessness support and other essential services. That could be changed urgently, and I urge the UK Government to do that.
I move amendment S6M-07613.2, to leave out from “expresses” to end and insert:
“shares concern at all people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, which is why tackling homelessness is a national priority through the joint Scottish Government/COSLA Ending Homelessness Together action plan; acknowledges that a Temporary Accommodation Task and Finish Group, co-chaired by Shelter Scotland and the Association of Local Authority Chief Housing Officers, has been established with the aim of reducing the number of households in temporary accommodation; notes that the Scottish Government has delivered 115,558 affordable homes since 2007, of which, over 81,300 were for social rent, including 20,520 council homes; notes the Scottish Government’s intention to legislate on both homelessness prevention and the right to housing in this parliamentary session; regrets that the UK Government’s mismanagement of the economy has caused increased inflation and significant rises in energy and basic day-to-day living costs, which has led to a cost of living crisis affecting most households that has a disproportionate impact on those on the lowest incomes, and calls on the UK Government to use all the powers at its disposal to tackle the cost of living crisis on the scale required, remove the so-called bedroom tax and benefit cap, increase the Local Housing Allowance, which, as of 2023-24, has been frozen for the third year, and change the no recourse to public funds rules to allow all people, regardless of their nationality, to access homelessness support.”15:17
For the purposes of this debate and the following debate, I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests, which shows that I am the owner of a private rented property in the North Lanarkshire Council area.
We welcome today’s debate on Scotland’s homelessness emergency and we will support the motion at decision time.
Last February, when the cabinet secretary led a debate on the prevention of homelessness duties, she spoke about our world-leading legislation, the £100 million ending homelessness together fund and the refreshed action plan. However, since then, the situation has become worse. The number of housing applications is up, as is the number of children in temporary accommodation. Families simply want the right to safe, secure and affordable housing that provides the stability that they need for a normal work, school and family life. Instead, they are going without that most basic need.
During last year’s debate, countless colleagues raised the issue of council budget cuts, which affect councils’ ability to tackle the crisis. Those decisions have consequences.
Here in Edinburgh, where homelessness is at its worst in terms of gross numbers, the council is running out of road to deal with the crisis. Last November, it reported a projected homelessness gap of £19 million, which will double year on year. Today, Ewan Aitken, the chief executive of Cyrenians, reports that the number of people rough sleeping in Edinburgh is back to 30 to 40 a night.
The member raises an important point. Does he recognise that that increase is driven, in large part, by people who are destitute but have no recourse to public funds? We need to resolve that issue. The UK Government has to help resolve that matter, too. Unfortunately, a number of people to whom that increase relates are asylum seekers and people with no recourse to public funds, so we need to sort that.
That is clearly an area that needs sorted. The cabinet secretary will know from her time as a member on the Social Security Committee in the previous session of Parliament that the Labour Party is firmly committed to reform the position on no recourse to public funds, especially when it comes to wider social security. If that issue is a contributing factor, it needs to be dealt with urgently. However, it is clearly not the only factor and other people who are part of that increasing number are rough sleeping.
A third of people who are in temporary accommodation across this country are in this city and they stay in such accommodation for almost a year. Further afield, a number that is equivalent to the whole population of Stirling made a homelessness application last year, and the number of children who are included in those applications—about 13,000—is the same as the number of children in St Andrews. I note the figures on housing supply in the cabinet secretary’s amendment; I am sure that we will touch on that more in the next debate.
In short, I agree with my colleague Miles Briggs that the Government has taken its eye off the ball on housing. Last week’s response from the Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights confirmed that the Government has run out of steam, with neither the will nor the skill to tackle the homelessness emergency. The ban through which the Government claims to deliver new homelessness duties, including on itself, was used to pass the rent freeze and evictions moratorium legislation, which further delayed the housing bill into the autumn.
Our amendment calls on the Government to get serious on homelessness by designating
“a single housing minister with overall and direct responsibility for tackling Scotland’s housing emergency and”
That call is backed by the social sector, the house building industry and a wide range of those with an interest in the sector. The Government must reprioritise housing and homelessness because the current arrangements are not delivering.
Those prevention duties, which are needed now, must also apply to the Government, because it seems to be contributing to homelessness. This is a Government that thought that £2,500 was a reasonable level of arrears for which to evict someone, and that, four months ago, announced an extension to the eligibility for the tenant grant fund but refused to renew funding for it and updated the rules only two weeks ago. When the statistics show that 14 councils have spent upwards of their allocation and 19 have less than 10 per cent remaining, who then does that fund help to keep a roof over their heads?
Time and again, the Government has shown that it does not have the capacity for, and is not serious about, this emergency. It even seeks to delete the word “emergency” from today’s motion.
Another issue that I raised with the minister during the passage of the Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Bill—we met and discussed it—was that of in situ purchases. I feel that that issue is urgent and that we need to see progress made on it. Landlords, their agencies and their representatives keep telling us that they are looking to sell up, so why are grant rules on the affordable housing supply programme not designed to acquire those tenancies and stock, which could help landlords seek an exit and keep people in a home, too?
Will the member take an intervention on that point?
I am afraid that he is just winding up; he is beyond his time already.
I would be happy to meet the Government again, particularly to talk about that issue.
The case remains that that requires for a home to be made vacant and, for that to be achieved, someone is likely to be made homeless.
I realise that I have fast run out of time. Fundamentally, councils need the funding to tackle the issue properly.
I move amendment S6M-07613.1, to insert at end:
“; notes that the continued lack of sufficient funds for local authorities granted by the Scottish Government is having a direct effect on the ability of councils to meaningfully tackle the housing emergency in Scotland; urges the Scottish Government to designate a single housing minister with overall and direct responsibility for tackling Scotland’s housing emergency and addressing the housing needs of people in Scotland, and calls on the Scottish Government to use all the policy levers at its disposal to tackle this crisis, including reversing the delay to its proposed Housing Bill, urgently extending and revamping the Home Owners' Support Fund Mortgage to Shared Equity scheme, and making changes to its affordable housing supply programme grant rules to facilitate the purchases of properties with tenants in-situ to expand stock and prevent further homelessness.”15:24
This is a spaghetti soup of a plan—it talks about action plans, action groups, task and finish groups, rights to a home, joined-up work and of there being no wrong door. The reality is that we have a crisis and the Government’s slick presentation of policy does not build any new homes.
To be fair, new housing has been built in my constituency, in Guardbridge, Gauldry and St Monans. However, those were the first developments of their type for some time and it hides the reality that the Government is in trouble on meeting its housing targets. I think that the minister indicated in her contribution that she is behind the pace of progress that is needed. The Scottish Federation Of Housing Associations rightly pointed out that there has been a 16 per cent cut in new builds and that, so far, only 5,000 homes are being built. We need to get to—
Will the member take an intervention on that point?
I will finish my point first. We need to build 110,000 homes by 2032. It is reckoned that, by 2026, we need to build 38,000, and we are not on track for any of that.
The sector will also have told Willie Rennie that the key issues are Covid recovery, the cost of materials and labour, Brexit and, indeed, inflation, which is running rampant. I am sure that the sector has told him that, because that is what it told me. Those are the key issues.
Yes, of course, but the Government needs to build the houses or people will not get the homes, so what action will the cabinet secretary take to address that? Rather than just complaining about somebody else making mistakes elsewhere, what action will she take, other than the soundbites and slogans that she gave me earlier, especially when she is considering making a £112 million cut to the capital budget to build homes? That is not a response to all the issues that she rightly identified in her contribution.
The action that the Government has taken as a result of the crisis does not match the problems that we are facing, because demand is huge. I have seen people living in suspended animation for years on end, desperate for a home. They do not have enough points—they might have 40 or 50 points, which is nowhere near the 100 points that are needed, although even those on 100 points do not get a home. Thousands of people are in that situation for years on end. That is no way to live a life or build a family.
When we consider the number of children in temporary accommodation, we see life in suspension. Those numbers have doubled. People can wait for up to two years in temporary accommodation, so I was not surprised that Shelter Scotland took Fife Council to court in Kirkcaldy last year. It was infuriated that families were in that position for so long. It succeeded in that case and housing in Fife is now in utter chaos. There is a desperate need to get new temporary accommodation because all the temporary accommodation that was previously available has been turned into permanent accommodation. That is a good result for the affected families, but the situation will be a challenge for everybody else. However, what was the Government’s response? There has been nothing; there has not been one response to that successful court case.
We need a Government that gets real about the problems with housing in this country. Unlike everybody in the chamber, who has a home, people out there are desperate to get something. The situation has been going on and building up for years on end. What is the Government’s response? The response is a £112 million cut to the capital fund to build homes. The Government is way behind its target to build 110,000 homes by 2032, but we would not think that from the cabinet secretary’s response. I think that she needs to get real.15:28
It is undeniable that we face a housing emergency. There can be no dispute that the situation has spiralled out of control under the SNP-Green Government. Since Nicola Sturgeon came to power, the number of households living in temporary accommodation has increased from just over 10,000 to almost 14,000.
In the past year, the number of both homeless households and homeless applications in Scotland have increased by 3 per cent, and applications are taking an average of 19 days to be assessed. However, the Government is cutting local government funding.
After they are eventually processed, many homeless families in my Lothian region are sent 150 miles away to emergency accommodation in Inverness. There are almost 100,000 children on Scotland’s social housing waiting lists. That is 21st century SNP Scotland. That number is simply unacceptable.
Currently, more than 24,000 people with disabilities are on social housing waiting lists. The longest that a person with a disability has been on a waiting list is 60 years—yes, 60 years. A freedom of information response from the City of Edinburgh Council read:
“The longest waiting time a self-assessed disabled applicant has had on the common housing register for social housing is from 1 Mar 1963.”
We can call that an emergency—or perhaps even worse—and an embarrassment to the Government. The Government should be ashamed. It should be ashamed that each of those numbers represents an individual or a household that has been let down. It should be ashamed that they represent a staggering number of children who do not enjoy the safety and security of a stable and warm home, and it should be ashamed that it is seemingly doing nothing to fix that. Warm words do not build houses.
Will Jeremy Balfour take an intervention?
I am afraid that I do not have time.
No, I bet that you do not.
This is not a new emergency. Yet again, we have heard the cabinet secretary blaming everybody but herself and her Government. The writing has been on the wall for a number of years. The Government has consistently missed its house building targets and allowed the supply of quality affordable housing to plummet during its time in power.
I am afraid that the outlook for the near future is not much better. With the introduction—and now the extension—of rent control measures, we are already seeing the knock-on effects of policies that prevent landlords from renting out their properties. I am already hearing from a number of stakeholders in my Lothian region—particularly in Edinburgh—that they can no longer rent out their properties as a viable option and that they will sell. That will further reduce the number of homes available for those who need them.
Let us be clear: those who are bearing the cost of those policies are not wealthy companies that could potentially afford a price freeze; those who are bearing the cost are the smaller-scale landlords, who simply cannot afford to continue renting out their properties while losing money, and the most vulnerable in our society, who cannot find a stable place to live due to a shrinking market.
I hope that the Scottish Government will wake up and take a long, hard look at itself, because the responsibility for the emergency lies squarely at its feet only, and not those of anyone else.15:32
Many will know that I have a personal interest in the topic of homelessness and a lived understanding of it and how important it is that we tackle it.
I know that people lose a lot when they are homeless—that could be possessions, security or even their sense of self—but homelessness is not a given; it is a symptom of something else and evidence that someone has fallen through a net. Maybe they had to wait six weeks to get their first universal credit payment. Maybe they lost their job due to shameful UK employment rights, or maybe they were failed by insecure housing. Despite what the Tories will try to tell us later today, that cannot be addressed solely by building more homes.
Nonetheless, the Scottish Government is building more homes. It has delivered nearly 113,000 affordable homes since 2007, and it has committed to £3.5 billion of spending on the affordable housing supply programme. However, all that is made harder when our Conservative colleagues insist on propping up a UK Government that has just cut our capital spend on housing by 3.4 per cent in real terms.
More important, the SNP Government is taking a progressive approach to tackling homelessness by looking at the drivers and preventative measures; increasing affordable housing availability by tackling the loss of residential properties to holiday lets and second homes; keeping people in the homes that they already have; and supporting people who are in poverty or are at risk of ending up in poverty.
We have recently seen some great steps forward being taken in the Parliament. There was licensing for short-term lets, which are eating up housing in communities across my region, such as many of those on Skye. Conservatives voted against that. There was the rent freeze, which Conservatives voted against, and there was a moratorium on evictions, which the Conservatives voted against.
Does Emma Roddick realise that both pieces of legislation had to be challenged by bodies outside the Parliament and that the Government has had to delay another piece of legislation by six months because it is unworkable for councils?
I think that the period of time between now and when the housing bill is introduced is exactly why emergency legislation was brought forward. It is a shame that the Conservatives would not support that interim measure, which we know is already supporting people to stay in the houses that they have.
We must be clear that the biggest drivers of poverty today—housing costs and food costs—are linked to inflation, which has been caused by reckless UK Government decisions. My constituents are paying the price—and it is a steep one—for preposterous levels of Tory economic mismanagement. Inflation is eating up the Scottish Government’s budget and the budgets of households across the country, no matter how well off they were just a year ago.
With the best will in the world, that cannot be entirely undone by a devolved Government, especially one that is up against an increasingly litigious Whitehall that stands ready to knock back legislation that it does not like. We are all getting used to that, and it seems almost normal but, if we take a step back, we realise that it is a ridiculous concept that we are making progressive decisions here, such as those on the rent freeze, the new deal for tenants and anti-poverty measures that include the Scottish child payment, within a financial context that has been set by a right-wing Tory Government elsewhere, whose ideas Scotland has overwhelmingly voted down over and over again. It is a nonsense. At this point, the UK looks like a rejected idea for a political dystopian novel.
Everything that we do comes with a “but”. Here in Scotland, the average first-time buyer spends around £100,000 less for a property than is the case in England, but mortgage rates rose substantially after the UK Government’s mini-budget last year. The Scottish Government is tackling poverty through the Scottish child payment, the welfare fund and more, but the UK Tories insist on a five-week wait for universal credit, more sanctions than ever before, a benefit cap and a penalty for being under 25.
The Scottish Government is introducing duties to prevent homelessness, but UK Government decisions keep pushing folk towards it by making life more expensive and poverty harder to avoid.
Ms Roddick, I ask you to bring your remarks to a close, because your time is up.
However bold and ambitious our housing policy is, Scotland is at the mercy of UK Government decisions, and that only reinforces the urgent need for independence.15:37
I begin by thanking all those people across Scotland who work day after day and night after night to prevent homelessness and support those who are at risk of homelessness or who are homeless. In particular, I thank Crisis and Shelter, which do such work and have provided briefings in advance of today’s debate.
It is important to acknowledge just how connected having and staying in a home is to so many other aspects of life, including health and wellbeing, social care and employment. Tackling homelessness is not just about providing homes.
We have a problem with homelessness in Scotland. I do not think that anyone here is trying to deny that. It should be obvious that the pandemic and the current cost crisis have certainly not helped, but it is clear that the problem is not new. Indeed, Shelter says explicitly:
“the housing emergency has been with us since long before the Covid pandemic hit and long before the current cost-of-living crisis”.
Decades of political and economic choices have led us to where we are today.
I know that I am not alone in thinking that the Tories have cynically appropriated the Shelter campaign. Miles Briggs has called on the cabinet secretary to
“acknowledge the scale of the problem ... and outline immediate plans to tackle homelessness and accelerate homebuilding”.
However, if we look at what Shelter’s plan actually says, it is quite clear. It says:
“Any effort to address the housing needs of people in Scotland will work best if the UK Government also uses its powers to improve the benefits system and tackle energy prices.”
Shelter has called for all subsidy for home ownership projects and mid-market rent to be ended. The plan says that we should
“Redirect all subsidy from the Scottish Government’s Affordable Housing Supply Programme exclusively to homes for social rent. Public subsidy should only go to social housing”.
Shelter is saying that the more than £1 billion of investment that has been earmarked for private developers and home ownership support should all go to the not-for-profit sector. In Shelter’s words:
“At a time when the costs of delivering social housing have risen dramatically it can no longer be justified to divert finite public subsidy to benefit private sector developers.”
Shelter’s campaign also highlights the damage to our housing supply that has been done by the right to buy, which is the flagship Tory policy that has been supported by successive Westminster Governments. That policy removed nearly 500,000 homes from the social sector. Shelter is calling for the appropriation of empty homes in the private sector, so that they can be directed to people in need.
Like Shelter, I believe that homes should be for living in, not for profit. I do not think that anyone thinks that the Conservative Party genuinely believes that. I have yet to hear anyone in the party back all of Shelter’s proposals.
Let us look at how the Conservative UK Government has exacerbated the issue for more than a decade. Its attack on social security—the bedroom tax, the benefit cap, cuts to universal credit, the local housing allowance freeze, and so much more—its relentless campaign of othering and marginalising people seeking asylum, and its continued opposition to dealing with the loss of homes to holiday lets or the second homes market all paint a very clear picture of Tory priorities for society. While claiming to care about the homelessness crisis, the Tories have consistently acted in ways that make it worse.
What we need is action—and that is what the Scottish Greens, through the Bute house agreement with the Scottish Government, are taking and will continue to take. We will tackle empty homes and increase the availability of homes in rural areas, and we will embed homelessness prevention and housing rights in law. We are already delivering housing first with local authorities and protecting people from eviction and extortionate rent hikes—and there is more to come.
Yes, we have our work cut out for us. No, none of this will be easy. However, it is right that we work to deliver homes for living in, not homes for profit, and that we tackle homelessness in the round, ensuring that all the elements of support are accessible and available to those who need them. I do not think that the Conservative Party can say the same.15:41
Homelessness is an issue that unfortunately affects people and families across every city, town and village in Scotland. As we heard from the cabinet secretary, it is an objective of the Scottish Government for everyone in this country to have a safe, warm and affordable home that meets their requirements.
The numbers that we have heard are indeed stark. Crisis, which is the national charity for people experiencing homelessness, received 35,230 applications for assistance from homeless households in 2021-22. A few months ago, Crisis conducted a survey that firmly highlighted the role that the cost of living crisis has played in exacerbating the homelessness issue that we are speaking about today. The survey found that almost half of respondents had mortgage or rent increases in the previous 12 months and that just under 10 per cent of low-income renters in Scotland are behind on their rent. Perhaps most shockingly, a third of respondents in Scotland acknowledged that they will likely need to skip meals to keep up with housing costs.
The cost of living crisis is affecting everyone, but its disproportionate impact on those on the lowest incomes must be highlighted. That includes tenants who are already struggling with housing costs, people who are out of work and people who are unable to work for reasons outwith their control. People in such households already find it very hard to manage rising bills, so any further financial pressure will no doubt push more people towards homelessness.
The simple fact is that all of us in this country are paying the price for grotesque economic mismanagement at the hands of the Tory Government in Westminster. Tory members will say that I am just looking for someone else to blame, but I am talking about the cold, hard facts. I have to give credit to the Conservative Party for bringing this debate to the chamber, because it cannot be accused of playing on safe ground.
Inflation has soared to its highest level in nearly 40 years, hitting 10.5 per cent in December. Brexit added almost £6 billion to UK food bills in the two years to the end of 2021, disproportionately affecting the poorest households. I see that today Mark Carney was again criticising the effect of the Brexit decision on the UK economy. In response to the autumn statement last November, the Institute for Fiscal Studies noted that the UK was now
“reaping the costs of a long-term failure to grow the economy”,
which was worsened by a
“series of economic own goals”
by the UK Government.
Although I could continue to list ways in which we are all suffering due to Tory economic mismanagement, I will instead comment on ways that the Scottish Government has yet again had to mitigate the economic woes inflicted on us.
People renting their homes will be among the hardest hit. Tenants, especially in the private rented sector, spend a greater proportion of their income on housing than people who own their homes. As we have heard, the Scottish Government took decisive action, legislated accordingly and introduced a rent freeze and a moratorium on evictions. The aim of that bill was to protect tenants during the cost crisis. I should add that the Tories were the only party in the Parliament to vote against the introduction of those measures. In addition, the Scottish Government extended the eligibility criteria for the tenant grant fund, which allows local authorities to use any remaining funds to help households who are in arrears as a result of the cost of living crisis.
Other measures include the £84 million in the budget for discretionary housing payments, to directly mitigate the impact of UK Government policies such as the bedroom tax. The Scottish Government’s investment of £2.6 million to mitigate the benefit cap is helping more than 4,000 families meet their housing costs.
All that is in addition to policies such as the Scottish child payment, which will make a great difference to many of my constituents in Coatbridge and Chryston.
It is ironic that I am coming up to my four minutes, as I still have loads to say about mitigating—
I am afraid that you will have to save that for another day, Mr MacGregor, because you need to conclude.
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
Try as the Scottish Government might to combat poverty and homelessness, its actions are consistently undermined by the UK Government’s frankly cruel welfare policies, which actively push people into poverty. We are at the mercy of UK Government decisions, and it is my view and, it seems, increasingly that of many others, that that reinforces—
Mr MacGregor, I had asked you to conclude.
The situation reinforces the urgent need for independence.
I advise members that we have no time in hand.15:45
Let me make this clear from the outset of my speech: whatever words the SNP Government chooses to use to make the situation sound better than it is, Scotland is in a housing emergency, on its watch. Some 330,000 Scots, including nearly 100,000 children, are stuck on social housing waiting lists; there are almost 47,000 homeless people, nationally; and there are almost 14,000 households in temporary accommodation, according to Scottish Government figures.
Those numbers are so big that they are hard to comprehend, never mind tackle, but behind every one of those figures are real people. Those people include some of the most vulnerable in our society, such as hundreds of veterans and many disabled people, who have been forced on to the street. They include struggling families who need urgent help to make ends meet. They include young children who are growing up without a stable home and a roof over their heads.
The most worrying thing is that the number of people who need help is rising. The situation is getting worse, not better. The number of homelessness applications from adults and children is rising, and applications are taking longer to deal with. The number of homeless people dying has gone up by an estimated 50 per cent. That is not just a housing emergency; it is a national tragedy.
All that is happening while more than 55,000 domestic properties across Scotland lie unoccupied. Homes that could be in use are lying empty. That should be a wake-up call to SNP ministers that something is deeply wrong with their approach.
Will the member give way?
Will I get the time back, Presiding Officer?
I am afraid that there is no time in hand; you would have to absorb the intervention.
I am sorry, I will not take the intervention.
The failure is the consequence of years of missing affordable homes targets and broken promises to build enough homes for the social rented sector. It is what happens when the SNP Government takes its eye off the ball, just as it did with Scotland’s drug death crisis. Those national tragedies are linked.
For all its talk of tackling poverty, the SNP Government has forgotten so many of Scotland’s most deprived communities and most vulnerable people. SNP ministers live in a Holyrood bubble that seems to ignore the reality of what happens in working-class communities across Scotland.
The First Minister grew up in Ayrshire, but she has not done anywhere near enough to help the people who still live there. Shelter Scotland has said that Nicola Sturgeon should spearhead a Scottish housing emergency action plan. She must listen.
However, action cannot stop at just another plan, strategy or national mission. The SNP Government needs to do more than get a few good headlines. A nice press release will not put a roof over anyone’s head. Public relations soundbites will not give people the homes that they deserve and need.
For once, the Government needs to commit to a clear target and actually deliver it. We need a realistic target, with a clear, well-funded, smart plan to deliver it. The plan must produce more homes, especially affordable homes and social housing. It must reduce the bureaucratic hurdles and the issues that people face when they try to build. It must slash the red tape that prevents empty business premises in some areas from becoming good-quality homes. It must produce a framework to bring long-term unoccupied properties back into use.
Most of all, the Government must support Miles Briggs’s motion and treat this dire situation as a housing emergency.15:49
The Scottish Government’s vision is for everyone to have a safe, warm and affordable home that meets their needs. Since 2007, the SNP in Government has built more than 110,000 affordable homes, and is working towards delivering another 110,000 by 2032. In recent years, we have invested millions to prioritise settled accommodation for all and introduced rapid rehousing transition plans.
Councils have a duty to provide advice and temporary accommodation to anyone who is experiencing or threatened with homelessness. Although there is a large number of homeless people in Scotland, we should note the important statistic that, 20 years ago, 10 per cent of applicants had been rough sleeping the night before making their homelessness application, but last year, that figure was down to 4 per cent. That is welcome progress, but we cannot be complacent.
Scotland has powerful protections in place for people who are experiencing homelessness, but prevention is often best, and the best way to end homelessness is to prevent it from happening in the first place. The Scottish Government will introduce new prevention duties in its forthcoming housing bill, which I hope all members will support.
That is the SNP’s record; now let us look at the Tories’ record. Last week, Miles Briggs highlighted the ambition for affordable housing in national planning framework 4.
Will the member take an intervention?
No—I have no time in hand.
The Conservatives voted against that. When the Parliament approved the Housing (Scotland) Act 2014, which abolished the right to buy in order to keep up to 15,500 homes in the social sector over the following decade, the Tories voted against it. In light of spiralling energy and food prices, the Scottish Government chose to implement a rent freeze to protect tenants and prevent homelessness, and the Tories voted against that, too.
Thankfully, the Tories are outnumbered by progressives in the Parliament but, unfortunately, Scotland also has a UK Tory Government that we did not vote for. It is a UK Government that vetoes Scottish Parliament laws and prioritises cutting taxes for the wealthy; it has destroyed the economy and let inflation run away, which will push more people into poverty.
To reduce homelessness, we must tackle poverty. Many employers in Scotland now pay the living wage, meaning that people earn enough to cover the cost of living. The UK Government has the power to make that the legal minimum wage, but it chooses not to exercise it. The Scottish Government introduced the Scottish child payment—a game changer in tackling child poverty—but then the UK Government cut universal credit. When the Tories introduced the bedroom tax, the SNP mitigated it, which means that the public purse in Scotland is paying the price of the UK Government’s disgraceful decisions.
The Scottish Parliament can do only so much with one hand tied behind our back, so homelessness is a strange topic for the Conservatives to raise. The Tory UK Government’s policies are causing misery and hardship for people across the country, and the Tories’ voting record in this Parliament is loaded against supporting tenants and keeping people in their homes.
The Scottish Government will continue to invest in social and affordable housing and to mitigate the worst effects of the UK Government’s policies, but the best way forward for Scotland is for this Parliament to have the full fiscal powers and levers that we need, so that we can get rid of Tory Governments that we do not vote for, end homelessness and build a fairer and more prosperous country. That can only be achieved with independence.
We move to the closing speeches. I note that a member who participated in the debate is not in the chamber for the closing speeches, which is a discourtesy to all other members. I expect that member to be duly advised and to make an apology.15:55
A warm, safe, affordable and accessible home is a human right but, as we have heard today, that is not the reality for too many people in Glasgow and across Scotland.
Glasgow has the fastest-increasing rate of homelessness in the country. Last year, there were nearly 7,000 homelessness applications to Glasgow City Council, and the situation has been getting worse every year since 2017. As the cost of living crisis drives more people into homelessness, I genuinely fear for the lives of people across the city, if the issue is not addressed. Indeed, as research from Crisis found, one third of respondents in Scotland will need to skip meals in order to keep up with housing costs this winter. People are being forced to choose between heating and eating. In Scotland in 2023, that is shameful.
Urgent action is needed, and that starts with making more homes available. There is simply not enough housing to meet demand. In response, the SNP has raided the house-building budget, thereby cutting off supply when we need it most. That is not good enough.
My region, Glasgow, has one of the longest waiting lists for housing in Scotland. In 2019, there were 20,000 people waiting for a home in the city, and—as Sharon Dowey noted—figures are consistently rising.
Although I appreciate the impact of Covid on construction, the truth is that not enough homes are being built to meet demand, which was a problem before Covid. We cannot address the issue by building fewer homes and, with the number of new homes being built having dropped by one third, I worry that people will be left out in the cold for years to come. We urgently need to get back on track. I agree with Willie Rennie that the action that is being taken does not address the challenge.
The Government must make good on its commitment to deliver affordable homes by 2032 and it must address the fact that we need homes for people, now. Ten years is a long time for anyone, but if a person does not have a roof over their head it can feel like a lifetime. For some people, it could well be a lifetime. Those people cannot afford to wait for the Government to get its act together.
The impact of the housing crisis is stark, but as Miles Briggs said, it is about people. We see that every day on our streets. Not having a roof over their head or living in inadequate housing robs a person of dignity and can lead to physical and mental ill health. People without homes struggle to access healthcare, have nowhere from which to register for a general practitioner and have no address from which to apply for work. Homelessness can even lead to early death: the life expectancy of a homeless woman is 43 years old. The loss of opportunity is devastating. I agree with my colleague Emma Roddick’s characterisation that it is a symptom of failure.
Against that backdrop, incredible third sector organisations in Glasgow and across Scotland are stepping in to support people—Shelter Scotland, Glasgow Centre for Inclusive Living, Housing Options Scotland, Living Rent and the Homeless Project Scotland, to name but a few. They work tirelessly to represent and organise tenants, to find homes and, in the case of the Homeless Project Scotland, to feed people. We are so lucky to have them all. I—like Maggie Chapman and others—want to record my thanks to them, although they, too, are struggling.
Sadly for one organisation in my region, the council and the SNP Government are far from helping; they are making things worse. The Homeless Project Scotland provides an invaluable service to people in Glasgow. I have visited it several times and have seen that for myself. I have been blown away by the work that it does and the people whom it helps. It has been trying for months to find premises to allow it to carry out its vital work, but so far the council has been difficult at best and obstructive at worst. It desperately needs a building. If people must rely on such services for food, the least that we can do is ensure that they eat their meals in dignity and in shelter.
Previously, I wrote to the First Minister about that, and I have repeatedly called on the Government and the council to do more to find premises for the project. I was concerned to learn that, far from helping, a spokesperson from the council has been quoted in various news outlets stating that Homeless Project Scotland has had three offers of accommodation but has rejected them. However, the project says that that is not true. I hope that all future correspondence on that matter will be honest and transparent.
Worse still, today Homeless Project Scotland has reported shocking news about more and more children queuing up—including some in prams. For more than a year, it has been doing its work outside. I again ask the cabinet secretary to act to find it a building so that the people whom it helps do not have to spend another night eating in the cold. If the First Minister visits, she will see the work for herself. She will also see that it is helping more women, children and disabled people than before. As in all crises, people who face inequality are hit hardest—as Jeremy Balfour outlined.
The picture is bleak, but there is some good news. There are steps that the Scottish Government can take, and as is often the case, local activists, women, disabled people, homeless people and third sector organisations have the solutions. The Government must step up and tackle the housing crisis—as the motion in my colleague Mark Griffin’s name says. It must make the right to housing a reality by designating a single housing minister with direct responsibility for tackling the housing emergency.
The Government must reverse the delay to the proposed housing bill. It must embed women’s rights in all housing policy and strategy and take urgent action to ensure that accessible homes are delivered. Crucially, it must ensure that local authorities have the money that they need to meet their commitments and to address the blight of homelessness in regions including Glasgow and places across Scotland.
We must all work tirelessly to do that so that homelessness no longer exists and every person has a safe and secure affordable and accessible home. I and my Labour colleagues will do that; I hope that others across the chamber will do the same.
I call Shona Robison to wind up on behalf of the Scottish Government. You have up to five minutes, cabinet secretary.16:00
Unfortunately, this debate—and, probably, the next one—can be summed up by looking at some of the Tory speeches. They are essentially against anything, attacking everything, having no positive ideas and voting against every measure, including short-term lets, helping tenants to afford their homes, prevention of eviction and even the fourth national planning framework. Yet, the Tories come to the chamber and lecture us on poverty and deprivation. They have absolutely no self-awareness whatsoever.
Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention?
I want to move on to the housing budget, because it is important, as I explained to Miles Briggs at the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee meeting last Tuesday. Unfortunately he obviously did not listen to the reality or to the facts—[Interruption.]—about the housing budget.
The housing budget remains the same, at £3.5 billion over the course of this Parliament. The profiling of that budget will vary from year to year. Willie Rennie is not correct that there has been a £112 million cut. There is a net decrease of £36.87 million, which is a 4.7 per cent net decrease on the previously published capital figure. That is mainly due to cuts in capital budgets from the UK Government and the challenges that those cuts bring.
However, as I set out to the LGHP Committee last Tuesday, that is being offset by financial transactions, with a £15 million transfer from the energy budget and income from charitable bonds. The £3.5 billion commitment for the housing budget remains the same over the course of this Parliament.
I do not think that the cabinet secretary’s own colleagues bought what she was saying at committee either, to be quite honest, so we need to make sure that we get more clarity on exactly why the Government thinks a cut is not a cut, when it certainly is.
However, I ask the cabinet secretary this. In relation to this debate, how bad do things have to get in Scotland for you to recognise that there is a homelessness emergency today?
I remind members that they need to speak through the chair.
First, I am happy to provide any information about the housing budget. The £3.5 billion investment will remain a commitment over this session of Parliament.
I have never shied away from the fact that there are challenges, but not one Tory member has had the guts to address the cost of living crisis in this debate. They try to airbrush it out of every debate, but that does not wash. If we ask people out there, they know who is to blame for the financial circumstances that they face. It is the Tories, who are, ironically, sitting on the left of the chamber.
The other matter that I want to tackle is delivery. There is a stark contrast, if we look at the facts. Across the four years between 2018 and 2022, in Scotland 59 per cent more affordable homes have been built per head of population than were built in England. We have also delivered over nine times as many social rented homes per head of population. [Interruption.] I know that the Tories do not like to have their record on delivery exposed, but it is what it is. I know that there is a low bar, but we have nine times as many social rented homes per head of population, as well as per capita spending on affordable housing that is more than three times that of the UK Government, so I will take no lectures whatsoever from the Tories on affordable homes. [Interruption.] Yes, we have more work to do to deliver more. We acknowledge that, but I will take no lectures from the Tories on the matter.
However, if the Tories want to know what they can do to be helpful, there are some practical things that they can do. They can have a word with their colleagues down south, because there are three areas where they could take action now that would absolutely help to move more money into addressing homelessness.
At the moment, we are having to make £83.73 million available to local authorities to spend on discretionary housing payments, with £69.68 million of that being used to fully mitigate the bedroom tax. That tax should be scrapped at source. I raised that issue with my UK Government ministerial colleagues just this morning, when I asked them, yet again, to scrap the bedroom tax at source, because that money could then be spent on addressing homelessness.
We have allocated £6.15 million to mitigate the benefit cap. Why do the Tories not scrap that, so that the money could be used for other purposes?
Finally, £7.9 million has been used to mitigate the damaging impact of the UK Government’s welfare cuts, including the on-going freeze of local housing allowance rates. The Tory Government has frozen local housing allowance rates for three years, which is making it more difficult for tenants to afford their rent in all the areas that Tory MSPs represent, yet they have not mentioned that in the debate.
Cabinet secretary, you will need to conclude.
Why do Tory members not have a word with their UK Government colleagues to get those things fixed? That would help the homelessness budget no end.16:05
I stand to support the motion in Miles Briggs’s name, as the cries of, “Where’s Willie?” ring out across the chamber. [Laughter.] I am sure that he will have a few words to say.
There is not much to be said that has not already been said in this short but important debate. Shelter Scotland said that it was delighted to see the debate being held in the Parliament because the motion reflects many of the concerns that it holds. That is something that some members ought to have reflected on before making their contributions. Despite the inevitable cries of whataboutery and “I will take no lectures” that we so often get from members on the Government benches when we talk about serious social issues such as homelessness, that is the whole point of using our debating time in the chamber to address those issues.
I do not have a problem with saying that we are not in a safe space—none of us is when we talk about such issues, and we make no apologies for raising them in the chamber. We are using our precious time to debate housing and homelessness, which is why it is depressing that so few members are in the chamber to debate those issues with us.
There are an estimated 47,000 homeless people in Scotland. I also point out that there are 600 homeless veterans in Scotland. I do not disagree with Graeme Dey, who valiantly made his point that all levels of government are doing their very best for that cohort of people. The worst thing that the UK Government did was to sack Johnny Mercer as veterans minister and the best thing that it did was to reinstate him in that portfolio, because I believe that he is passionate about the subject. However, passionate as he is, he cannot magic up homes in Scotland that do not exist, which is the problem.
Of course, homelessness is not unique to Scotland, the UK or indeed the western world, but it is a problem that is felt acutely here due to its tragic consequences. National Records of Scotland reports that the homeless death rate in Scotland is 35.9 per million, which is more than double the rate in England. Of course, it is not a race to the bottom, but that statistic should concern us all. Drug misuse consistently accounts for more than half of Scotland’s homeless deaths, which is a point that Miles Briggs made.
Members were right to point out that homelessness is a complex issue because poverty, addiction and some wider economic factors all play their parts in the scenarios in which some people find themselves. I accept that there are many issues and they are governed by both devolved and reserved competences, but it is simply wrong to say that homelessness is a new problem that has magicked itself up overnight. It is simply wrong to say that it is all Westminster’s fault or all the Tories’ fault. That is a very naive proposition because it does not admit that there is a problem in Scotland that has been a long time coming over successive years and under successive cabinet secretaries and Governments.
Equally, homelessness can happen to anyone. The idea that, somehow, only people who are on benefits or people in certain social classes or structures will end up in that scenario is wrong, because anyone—even well-paid professionals—can find themselves homeless. It can happen as a result of the break-up of a relationship, the loss of a job, a mental health breakdown or a person finding themselves with an addiction problem. Those challenges are not unique to any social class. It is how we deal with those problems, or how we do not deal with them, that matters.
I admit that building new homes is not a magic bullet, but it is a good start. Shelter Scotland raised alarm bells as far back as August last year, when it told us that, due to drastic underfunding of local councils, it was having to turn homeless people away and that some of them were being sent to England for help. It pleaded for the First Minister’s help and called on her to
“get a grip on the crisis”.
Let us think about that language, because it is a crisis. Homelessness is not just about sleeping rough. As we have heard, there are huge numbers of people in temporary accommodation, couch surfing or relying on their friends to get by. The implications of that are huge. Homeless children miss an average of 55 days of school a year due to disruption, and homeless people are five times more likely to be admitted to a mental health facility and twice as likely to end up in an accident and emergency department. Further, we heard from members who spoke in the debate the shocking statistic that the average age of death for a homeless woman or man is just a few years higher than my age. That should shock us all.
However, the situation is fixable. Let us reflect on what happened when Covid landed upon us. Many of us were members of Parliament at the time. What did we do? We managed to clear the streets of homeless people in a week by offering safe sanctuary under the premise of our reaction to the pandemic. Everyone who wanted a roof over their head got one. Why did it take a pandemic to raise our collective willpower to get that fixed? Why were so many people turfed out into the streets at the end of the emergency? We are all shamed by the end of that scenario. The fact that there are homeless people out there right now who had a roof over their heads during the pandemic is a great source of shame for this Parliament.
We do not need to build new homes to deal with the situation. There are already homes out there. We have 67,000 unoccupied homes in Scotland.
Will the member take an intervention?
I do not have time.
I spoke to people from a housing association in Scotland who are baffled by the situation. They have excess stock, but they simply do not have the funding packages in place to refurbish them and get people into them. There are Ukrainian refugees living in boats and families living in bedsits, and that housing association told me that it has the necessary stock but the councils do not have the money. That is the problem right there, in that one sentence.
The problems are piling up. The time that is taken for people to get out of temporary accommodation is increasing. The number of children in temporary accommodation is increasing. The number of people on social housing lists is increasing. People are entering the homelessness system and getting stuck in it, and there is a severe lack of available housing. If that is not an emergency that is worth debating, I do not know what is. If that is not an emergency, how bad does it have to get before it is declared to be one?
All the charities that are involved in the sector—including Shelter, Crisis and Homeless Project Scotland—are doing great work, but they care less about the politics of this than about the outcomes. They simply want politicians of all colours to listen to them and act. We are listening, but is the Government acting?