Cuts to social housing will make a bad situation worse - David Alexander

1st Mar 2024
David J Alexander

There needs to be a concerted effort to build substantially more homes over the next decade, writes David Alexander in his latest column for The Scotsman.

Published 29th Feb 2024, 04:55 GMT Comments This week a letter written by housing campaigners, builders, social housing groups and others was sent to the Scottish Government asking them to reconsider the £196m cut in funding for affordable housing announced in December’s budget. The letter, which came from the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, Homes for Scotland, and others stated that cuts to housing and a 43 per cent cut in the planning budget was “the worst possible decision at the worst possible time”.

With 693,000 Scottish households facing some form of housing need and Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Argyll and Bute all announcing an emergency it is clear that any move which reduces supply will only exacerbate demand.

However, the problem goes wider than just social housing. All-sector new-build starts in Scotland have fallen by almost a quarter over the last year, falling 24.4 per cent from 21,534 in September 2022 to 16,274 the following year.

New-build starts in Scotland have fallen by almost a quarter over the last year (Picture:

This was the lowest all-sector September end annual figure since 2014. The figures show that the private sector fell by 18.8 per cent, with the biggest drop occurring in the social housing sector which saw an annual collapse of 40.5 per cent between September 2022 and September 2023. Just 3,292 social sector new-build starts happened in the latest year compared with 5,535 the previous year. This is the lowest number of social sector new-build starts since the data started being collected in Q2 1996.

At a time when there has never been a greater demand for more housing to see the number of new builds decline is concerning.

The reasons for the decline in the private sector are likely to be due to delays in planning, rising costs, anticipated lower demand due to the cost-of-living crisis and the increase in mortgage costs in the last 18 months. Many of these factors could be improved with an uptick in the market and appropriate planning support.

However, even if supply in the private sector rebounds – as it must surely do given the robust state of the Scottish residential property market – it is essential that the social sector should also be increasing at a record level. If we are not to see continued major shortages of homes in Scotland there

needs to be a concerted effort to build substantially more homes over the next decade.

The concern is that this is unlikely to be the case. The latest statistics relate to the time prior to the announcement of reduced funding for affordable housing in the December’s Scottish Budget, which is a clear sign that the number of properties being built was already slowing.

With tens of thousands on social housing waiting lists, and demand in the private rented sector at an all-time high, the situation will only worsen in the coming years if the volume of new social housing is cut even further. We need more social housing, more private rented sector homes, and more housebuilding in general if demand is to be met.

Without these houses there will inevitably be soaring demand, higher rents, higher house prices, and many more people unable to find the home they want or can afford. This is a situation that must be resolved and transcend the traditional five-year electoral cycle to ensure the Scottish population can be housed in appropriate homes in all sectors in the future.