The campaign to be the next First Minister of Scotland was fractious to say the least. All the candidates were more than willing to drill down into their opponents records and shine a light on perceived weaknesses. However, there been one area which all three candidates were worrying silent; housing. Or, more accurately, the lack thereof.

Their silence is as worrying as it is confusing. Scotland is unquestionably in the midst of a housing emergency, driven in large part by decades of underinvestment in social housing.

The housing emergency manifests in communities across the country. It is reflected in the record numbers of children, more than 9,000, without a permanent home. It is seen in the tens of thousands of open homeless applications placing an unbearable weight on council housing officers. How can it be anything less than an emergency when the Scottish Housing Regulator warns that our local homelessness services are on the brink of systemic failure.

Every administration since devolution has talked a good game on homelessness but here, at the dawning of a new era in Scottish politics, we are stuck with a broken housing system which is failing thousands and three candidates for the highest office with little to say on the matter.

They cannot claim ignorance as an excuse. Countless experts from across the sector have told Ministers repeatedly that investment in social housing is the only way to end homelessness. The knock-on effects of homelessness and insecure housing on health, education, and child poverty are well documented. They know this.

Perhaps then it is embarrassment that kept them silent on the big housing issues. Mere weeks ago, the Government they will now lead passed a budget which guts the funding available to build social housing.

The candidates’ silence on housing issues echoes John Swinney’s own reticence on the subject throughout the budget process. Even though figures demonstrating the record-breaking extent of homelessness emerged shortly after the first draft of the budget was published, the Deputy First Minister kept his peace on the matter and chose to press on with cuts that he and his colleagues know will have disastrous consequences for the fight against homelessness.

The choices made by the Scottish Government recently will condemn previous social housing commitments to the bin, perpetuate a broken housing system and set the next First Minister up to fail on homelessness. That none of the candidates expressed any concern about the hand they are being dealt, or a willingness to change direction is ominous.

Sometimes the business of politics can be complex. In this case it is simple. Investing in social housing is the only way to end homelessness in Scotland. The Scottish Government can choose to do so, or it can choose not to do so. The choice made by the current administration is set out starkly in the budget.

Will our new First Minister make a different choice? The 9,130 children in Scotland without somewhere to call home, the families that care for them, and the thousands of people stuck in miserable and unsafe temporary accommodation, will certainly hope so.

About the author

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Alison Watson

Alison is Director of Shelter Scotland, and has been with the organisation since 2002.