Holyrood is being urged to amend emergency coronavirus legislation to help Scots in the period after the pandemic – with Greens calling on ministers to bring in a rent freeze for two years.
Scottish Green MSP Andy Wightman said this is one of the changes his party wants to see made to the Scottish Government’s second Covid-19 Bill.
While Holyrood unanimously endorsed the general principles of the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) Bill – which legislates to give those in receipt of Carer’s Allowance an additional £230 payment next month and gives students new rights to terminate accommodation contracts – Wightman outlined a number of amendments the Greens will be putting forward.
He told MSPs: “As we now know, this pandemic is not only affecting people during the crisis, it will have an impact beyond the emergency period, on indebtedness and importantly on housing.
“And our contention is that these are Covid impacts and they will need to be addressed.”
He argued housing “has always been a public health issue”, saying: “As we continue to stay at home, people need greater security to allow them to plan for the future and deal with any financial difficulties that many will be facing.”
He said a rent freeze is necessary as “tenants will continue to face hardship over the coming months and years as a result of already high rents and reduced incomes”.
Introducing this for two years after “the expiry of the emergency period” will give tenants “some limited certainty in a world so full of uncertainty”, he added.
The Greens also want to amend the Bill to “ensure that any arrears as a consequence of Covid-19 can never be grounds for eviction in future”, and to introduce a hardship fund for tenants.
Wightman added that to “ensure that women’s rights to access reproductive health care is not curtailed by the crisis”, the Greens will seek to change the legislation so pharmacists can supply the contraceptive pill for free, saying it is currently only available for free with a GP prescription.
He told Holyrood: “This deadly virus is going to be around for some considerable period to come. We welcome the Government’s emergency Bill to make further adjustment to the law to deal with Covid-19.
“But we are also clear now, in a way that we weren’t when the first Bill was passed, that we now need to think beyond strictly the emergency period to ongoing impacts, that are Covid-19 impacts, that will continue to affect people’s lives beyond the expiry of this Bill.
“There is a strong case for making some provisions now that will give some confidence and certainty to Scotland’s tenants in particular.”
The Greens will also support moves to repeal changes to freedom of information (FoI) laws that were included in the Scottish Government’s first emergency coronavirus Bill.
Other opposition MSPs raised this as an issue, with Conservative Adam Tomkins saying: “The way we have left our freedom of information laws after last month’s Bill left a sour taste in the mouth and is deeply unsatisfactory.
“I give notice that I intend to bring amendments at stage two of this Bill that will seek to put that right.
“In a time like this that is neither justification nor excuse for ministers to seek to shield themselves from the glare of openness and transparency.”
Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said the changes to FoI had been opposed by every party other than the SNP – but when MSPs voted on the first Bill the balance of MSPs in the chamber was “skewed”.
Meanwhile Labour’s Alex Rowley suggested the Bill may need to be altered to take account of the “massive expansion of health and safety reps” that will be needed in workplaces as lockdown restrictions are eased.