Housing, public and private, in Vale of Leven. Picture by Craig Jump.
By Democrat reporter
How can people help others and ensure they stay safe during the current coronavirus crisis, Green Party leader Patrick Harvie from Dumbarton asked the First Minister at Holyrood on Thursday.

Given that the current crisis is an unprecedented challenge for every level of Government, it was a challenge “for all of us to work together as never before, and it is a challenge for our whole society to show that the values of compassion, solidarity and mutual care are what matter at a time such as this.”

The former Dumbarton Academy pupil said: “I want to join with others in expressing our thanks to and concern for the dedicated people working in our national health service and other public services, and those people who have been undervalued for a long time: every carer, cleaner, supermarket worker and many more. Their work is essential to help us all get through this, and they need our support.

“Like other members, I have heard from many people who just want to help, whether that is keeping in touch with family, looking out for a neighbour or making sure that people in isolation in our community have got what they need.

“As social distancing measures become ever more important, that kind of voluntary community help might become more difficult. How can the Government and MSPs make sure that people know how to help one another—and how to do so safely—in the weeks ahead?”

The First Minister replied: “Right now, we are learning a really hard lesson about the fragility of life in the modern world and all that we have come to take for granted, whether that is hugging loved ones, meeting friends for a coffee or jumping on a plane to go on holiday.

 Patrick Harvie, Aileen Campbell and Nicola Sturgeon.

“Perhaps, at the same time, we are also being reminded of what and who really matters in life. We are reminded of the importance of good health, the importance of love, friendship and solidarity and the importance of looking out for each other. In these difficult and dark times—there is no doubt that they are difficult and dark—we should hold on to those values, which are perhaps coming to the fore.

“I have heard so many heart-warming and inspiring stories of communities not waiting to be told or asked, but just getting on with it, looking out for others and thinking about how they can play a part in the challenge that we all face. That is happening probably in every corner of Scotland and we, as the Government, are thinking very hard about how we support and facilitate that, whether through financial or other support.

“That is why part of Aileen Campbell’s statement yesterday was about the provision of funding to help with those voluntary efforts. We will provide MSPs with further information for wider dissemination about how local groups can access that, because it will be really important.

“I visited Age Scotland yesterday morning. With help from the Government, it is expanding its existing helpline so that more older people have somebody to phone if they need advice or help, or if they just need to hear a friendly voice. There will be examples of that activity all over the country and we all need to play our part in supporting it as well as we can.”

Patrick Harvie said there was one group in our society that is most urgently in need of help — “those who are losing their incomes but who still face continued rent demands. I have heard from one constituent who has already seen her full-time income disappear completely. Her boss wants to be kind, but an events company with no events to run simply cannot pay her.

“She has no idea how she will pay her rent or other bills. I have heard of some landlords who are being responsible and recognising people’s needs. However, I have also heard from people who are being forced out of their homes, or threatened with that, on a range of existing grounds for eviction, not just rent arrears.”

He said the Scottish Government’s announcement yesterday will still leave people facing a choice between the threat of losing their home at this dangerous time, or building up unpayable debts over the coming months while, in many cases, their landlords are benefiting from a mortgage holiday. Is it not clear that we need a complete ban on evictions—on any grounds—during this crisis, and a rent holiday for those who need it?


But Nicola Sturgeon assured him:I will rule nothing out, and want to rule as much in as possible. However, I say categorically, as First Minister, that nobody should face eviction from their home because of rent arrears that are accrued as a result of the coronavirus crisis. I hope that everybody across the chamber agrees with that.

“Aileen Campbell set out actions yesterday, but those are not necessarily the end of the road. We continue to look at what more we can do. To put it in context—it is not my intention to be political, or to criticise the United Kingdom Government, I only want to give context to what I am saying—the Prime Minister set out emergency legislation so that landlords will not be able to start proceedings to evict tenants for at least a three month period. We do not need to do that in Scotland, because that is what our current law says. That is why Aileen Campbell set out that we will extend the existing provision to six months.

“In any event, as housing tribunals are not sitting right now, no proceedings will be taken forward. However, I repeat that nobody should face eviction because of the crisis that we are living through. What I have just described applies to landlords in the private rented sector.

“For completeness, I say that the Government will take action if we find that any social landlord is contemplating raising eviction proceedings against anybody in these circumstances. My constituency experience is that we have outstanding social landlords and I would not expect any of them to do that.

“The Government will continue to ensure that if issues arise that put people in an unfair position, we will not hesitate to take the action that is required.”

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