Two new reports demonstrate the importance of housing costs in relation to poverty rates in the UK. While new research by the University of Glasgow found that the poverty rate in Scotland is now lower than in the rest of the UK – 18% compared to 22% elsewhere, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has also produced research which finds that increasing numbers of families in Scotland living in the private rented sector and paying high rents threatens Scotland’s progress in this area.
Glasgow’s research, which was funded by the JRF found that Scotland’s improved poverty rates were mainly due to lower housing costs and better labour market performance than the rest of the UK and not due to policy changes since devolution.
The JRF report warns that the falling number of people in Scotland living in social housing and having to rent from the private sector is driving more people into poverty as private rents far outstrip social sector rents in the country. The number of people living in social housing has fallen by 17% over two decades while those living in private housing have doubled.
The Glasgow report points out that the UK Government has encouraged social housing providers to charge higher rents, while the Scottish Government has not, which may contribute to Scotland’s better position in relation to England on poverty rates.
Poverty among social housing tenants has almost halved, while it has doubled among private sector tenants suggesting a strong correlation between availability and the affordability of social housing and poverty rates.
The JRF report calls for more support for those low income households living in the private sector and a “similar consensus around affordability and quality of housing in the private sector” as that demonstrated by opposition to the bedroom tax and support for social housing tenants subject to it.
Glasgow’s report celebrates the fact that Scotland’s poverty rate has fallen behind the rest of the UK – if it had continued to be above UK rates an additional 200,000 people in the country would be in poverty – and hopes that policy in future will take greater consideration of the importance of housing costs in relation to poverty.