PEOPLE in insecure and overpriced housing have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. With Omicron causing even more uncertainty and anxiety, it is vital that the changes we make in the future respond to the pain that so many have experienced.

Evictions have been the nightmare before Christmas for far too many renters across Scotland. Throughout the pandemic we have pushed for protections for those who are at the mercy of unfair treatment by their landlords.

In 2020 my Scottish Green colleagues and I secured a temporary ban that restricted winter evictions. It was a vital and long overdue change, and one that we are building on in government.

Unfair evictions are a problem I know all too well. When I first moved to Glasgow I had a low-paid temping job and an abusive landlord who wouldn’t give me a stable contract. That ended with him turning up with a group of guys to remove the furniture and fittings and turf me out.

The National: There are fewer houses to rent in Cornwall   Picture: Getty Images

Landlords like that still exist, and it’s vital that we do everything we can to protect tenants from them. Insecurity, poor conditions and bad maintenance are far too common in the private rented sector. Many households have even seen their rents increasing sharply during times when landlords’ costs have been low.

This week, in my capacity as Minister for Tenants Rights, I was delighted to announce a consultation on our plans for the biggest expansion of tenants’ rights since the creation of the Scottish Parliament.

Homes are more than bricks and mortar. They play a key part in our health, wellbeing, and life chances. These changes would significantly improve the lives of Scotland’s tenants and could even set a precedent for other governments across the UK to follow.

Good quality housing is not a privilege, it is a human right and should be treated as such. All tenants should enjoy secure, affordable and warm housing.

The New Deal for Tenants that I have put to consultation includes action on unfair evictions and new rights to allow tenants to make their house a home. This includes simple things like the right to keep pets and decorate, more technical measures like greater penalties for illegal evictions and regulations for energy standards, as well as whole new policy areas such as a national system of rent controls.

We are also investing billions in making homes warmer and greener. From improving insulation, to renewable heating systems, this work will create thousands of jobs.

For private renters in particular, there is a power imbalance where tenants are less able to exercise their rights and continue to have less secure tenancies than those in the social sector. Their voices need to be at the centre of our debate and at the heart of our policy.

That is why we are establishing a tenant participation panel for the private rented sector to ensure that tenants’ voices are given the priority that they deserve.

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It’s not just those in the private rental sector I am concerned about. It is also those in social housing or renting from co-operatives. Their voices are just as important. I want the changes we are pursuing to improve housing for everyone.

A big step will be to expand the supply of housing across Scotland. I am proud that this Government has committed to building 110,000 affordable homes by 2032, with at least 70,000 in the social rental sector and 10% of them in remote, rural and island communities.

It is right to raise standards, but it is just as important to ensure that renting is affordable. On average, people who rent privately spend more than a quarter of their income on rent. In some places that’s even higher, and combined with low and insecure incomes it means people are stuck, unable to save for a deposit to move on.

For many people in this situation the idea of owning their home feels like a pipedream and they have found themselves trapped in a cycle of insecurity and, very often, poverty. It is those people whose voices I want to be prioritised.

As we rebuild from the pandemic, we need to do things differently. 2022 will be a pivotal year in securing the fairer, greener recovery that we need. It must be a year when we work for people and the planet and ensure that nobody and no home is left behind.

There is no doubt that the pandemic has made things even worse. The most recent government statistics show that an estimated 256 people died without a home of their own in 2020 – a rise of 40 on the previous year. Every one of these people will have had a story and people who cared about them.

Right now there are over 42,000 people in homeless households. Approximately 2500 people will sleep rough tonight on our streets. This is 2500 too many. During these winter months the risk to them and their health becomes even greater. It is a preventable tragedy.

Of all the legacies that this government could leave, greater access to housing and a better deal for tenants would be one of the best and one of the proudest. It would change the life chances and experiences of future generations. It is a legacy that I am determined for us to secure.

I would love to be able to go back in time and tell my younger self that the kind of eviction I faced would one day be a thing of the past. But I now have the chance to tell everyone else facing similar threats that change is on the way.