THE Scottish Government’s announcement of a housing bill and rent controls in the Programme for Government last week is the chance to right 40 years of wrongs.

In the 1960s, the Conservative government encouraged councils to use compulsory purchase orders to forcibly buy up properties from landlords who were charging unfair rents, to ensure more people had access to affordable housing.

By the 1980s, everything had changed. One of Thatcher’s most abiding legacies is her impact on our housing. The policy of Right to Buy decimated the UK’s council housing stock. In 1981, more than half of Scotland lived in social housing.

Since then, the policy has deprived Scotland of nearly a quarter-of-a-million homes, more than 40% of which are now rented privately. Encouraging people to buy their council home has deprived Scottish public finances of approximately

£18 billion and permanently changed the perception of social and council housing as an integral part of the UK’s housing make-up.

In combination with Thatcher’s scrapping of rent controls, this unleashed – very much deliberately – a storm of rent increases that would trap tenants in poverty for decades to come and force many to rely on housing benefits to cover rent.

By shifting government funding from building new homes to subsidising unaffordable rents, she began a transfer of wealth from public to private hands which now sees billions handed out each year directly into the pockets of private landlords.

Right to Buy, which Scotland scrapped in 2016, did deep damage to our country. It is hard to overstate the impact it has had not just on the wellbeing of tenants but on the whole economy.

Spiralling house prices have shifted huge amounts of capital from productive uses such as manufacturing to reckless speculative gambling on housing markets. Half-hearted government schemes such as Help to Buy have ploughed public money into keeping house prices high while doing nothing to address inequality exacerbated by access to housing.

Tenants continue to be left behind by government legislation. The average tenant spends four times the percentage of their salary on housing compared to mortgage holders so it is no wonder tenants are incapable of saving for a deposit or even contemplating home ownership. The 2008 financial crisis – from which wages have still not recovered – was, after all, a mortgage crisis.

But it wasn’t always like this. For almost 80 years, successive governments understood that private renting was – by a long way – the worst form of housing, and deliberately helped people out of it.

We demolished 32,000 slumlord-owned properties in Glasgow in the decade after 1954 and replaced them with publicly owned social housing. We penalised landlords for their excesses. Policy was designed in a way that recognised housing as a public good, not an asset for speculators.

The Scottish Government announced plans for a housing bill that will include rent controls, policies that have come out of the SNP-Green Bute House Agreement. Both of these policies are absolutely urgent and finally offer the opportunity to completely change how we approach renting in Scotland. They offer the chance for us to prioritise our human right to housing over the profits of a few.

Living Rent, Scotland’s tenants’ union, has been fighting tirelessly for the changes that we so desperately need – rent controls, better protection from eviction, improvements to our housing quality, meaningful enforcement of rights and the recognition of the houses that we rent as our homes.

Landlords, of course, are up in arms. Deep-pocketed legal challenges, well-funded lobbying, and ongoing blackmailing (“accept this rent increase or we will evict you later as punishment”) have been the response to the rent freeze and subsequent rent cap. Landlords know rent controls could change everything and they will continue to do all they can to sabotage, water down, delay and weaken it.

Despite all the hysteria and doom-mongering about what a disaster rent controls would be, people can see the issues for what they are. When we look around our communities, we see the impact of landlords putting profits before our right to a home. We see the rising homelessness, the empty homes, the queues outside letting agents, the holiday let lockboxes.

We all have our own horror stories of being a renter. We have seen the consequences of landlords’ neglect. It doesn’t have to be like this, and the Scottish Government has a choice to make. The policies Living Rent are calling for are common sense and are practised in countries all around the world. They were also carried out here in the UK for decades. Landlords have shown time and time again that they cannot be trusted to exercise restraint.

In the last decade, as the private rental sector has rapidly expanded, landlords have increased rents by more than 80% in Edinburgh and Glasgow. At the same time, our homes continue to fall further into disrepair. More than half continue to have disrepair to critical elements and a similar amount have the lowest energy efficiency, continuing to leak heat and money.

That is why regulation and rent controls are so necessary. It’s also why an overwhelming majority of Scots support their re-introduction. And the Scottish Government has accepted this. The Bute House Agreement stipulates a new system of rent controls to ensure everyone has somewhere safe, secure and affordable to live. But in order for a new system to actually achieve this, MSPs need to understand that they must pick a side.

The rent freeze and subsequent cap have been welcome for tenants, but rent increases between tenancies or for those in joint tenancies highlight the need for long-term, tangible change to bring our rents down and ensure tenants have the power to properly challenge rent rises.

In a country that is serious about social justice, there cannot be any reconciliation with putting profit ahead of our basic human rights.

The Scottish Government has a chance to showcase leadership and vision in putting social justice first now. Tenants in Scotland have been forgotten for too long now and we can’t wait any longer.