PARLIAMENT this week debated whether emergency laws brought in to respond to the Covid pandemic should be extended. Those that restrict personal liberty should not last any longer than absolutely necessary, but we should look at what we can learn and build from as we create a fair and green recovery.

In some ways, the emergency situation presented by the pandemic brought out the best of us. We saw the government act quickly and implement practical measures to tackle the pandemic, keep our public sector functioning and protect people who are struggling.

It was truly an emergency response, which of course is what will be needed to tackle the climate crisis too. The response to an emergency must be swift and practical and dynamic, always prioritising human lives and livelihoods and supporting our public sector.

The Scottish Greens agreed it is right that the emergency legislation be extended so that it doesn’t lapse while risks are still there. It’s right that measures intended to make the lives of people who are going through hard times easier are extended. For example, help for people who are struggling with debt, and measures that make it easier to access public services and functions.

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But it does make me think, if we can make life easier for people in struggle, during hard times, surely we can make life easier for them during good times too. Society doesn’t have to be heartless.

I hope we will be able to make some of these measures permanent when the pandemic is over and so make our society that little bit more equal and supportive.

The main measures that we are disappointed haven’t been extended are around the right to housing. Even before the pandemic, the protections we had in Scotland for tenants were poor compared to those tenants enjoy in the rest of Europe.

Now, evictions have resumed. People are losing the roofs over their heads and being made homeless, through no fault of their own.

The fact is the pandemic has hit people with insecure work hard. People are still out of work, or struggling to find work. If the UK winds down the furlough scheme as planned, another huge wave of redundancies may be coming over the next few months. Struggling to pay your rent under these circumstances is not a personal failing. People’s human rights, their right to housing, shouldn’t be at risk due to economic circumstances beyond their control.

The tenant’s hardship loan fund isn’t working. It’s a cruel joke to ask people who have lost work, or whose jobs are at risk, to take on debt, just to make sure their landlord doesn’t face any risk on the investment that they made. Investing should and must incur risk.

People should not be at risk of homelessness, of losing that human right to shelter, just so that landlords can keep the return on their investments. Investors know that returns on their investments are not guaranteed, nor can they be; investing is about assessing risk versus potential reward.

Protecting landlords from the risks attached to their investments and seeing them rewarded by inflicting further hardship on tenants, always with the threat of homelessness hanging over their heads forcing them to pay up, is poor policy. Yet that is exactly what we saw in the first emergency laws last year.

MANY tenants already struggle to pay their rent, forcing them into debt. This means tenants will be able to save even less, robbing their own futures, or they will be able to spend even less, slowing our national economic recovery. Again, poor policy.

This week has been an opportunity to think about what aspects should be kept for the longer term.

For example, the Scottish Greens were very pleased when this Parliament supported our amendment that business support grants shouldn’t be given to companies who use tax havens. This is the kind of conditionality we should apply to all forms of public funding and support to ensure that we are supporting good business – businesses that pay their fair share of taxes, that pay their workers living wages and have fair working practices, businesses that take their responsibilities to their communities and the planet seriously.

This is why I raised the shocking revelations that Amazon is destroying up to 130,000 new items a week at its Dunfermline warehouse rather than given to charity.

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This is a company that has refused to pay the living wage, uses zero-hours contracts and keeps its workers in such a state of desperation that some are reduced to sleeping in tents. It is a company that has resisted trade unions and avoids paying corporation tax. It shouldn’t be getting public money when so many small businesses are struggling.

The state’s role in supporting Covid recovery represents an unprecedented opportunity to reshape the economy along ethical and sustainable lines.

It doesn’t have to cost the earth to make the world a better place, we can use mechanisms, such as conditionality of support, to nudge our economy and society in the direction that we would like it to go, and as so much of the Covid legislation has done temporarily, make our society fairer, more accessible and a little less heartless.