Blog: Challenging poverty through action on housing

Lisa Glass

Lisa Glass

To coincide with Challenge Poverty Week, Shelter Scotland is highlighting that poverty in Scotland can be solved by boosting incomes and reducing costs.  Housing costs, whether it is rent or mortgage payments, are a huge expense and a huge financial burden for many families across Scotland, writes Lisa Glass.

In Scotland, 1 in 5 people are in poverty after housing costs – equivalent to over a million people.  Poverty and housing are undeniably linked.

At the most acute end housing costs push 170,000 more households into poverty, and the lack of affordable housing means the poorest fifth of people across all tenures spend the highest proportion of their income on housing costs – 24 per cent of income compared to an average of 9 per cent.

High housing costs mean less ‘disposable’ income to spend on household essentials such as food, gas and electricity to heat your home, or a warm winter coat for your child.

Living in poverty means less money to spend on housing, leaving people to put up with poor conditions as it’s all they can afford, or leading to rent arrears as people struggle to make daily decisions over heating, eating, or paying the rent. All of which can result in homelessness when people lose the battle to keep up payments for their home.

These are the challenges Shelter Scotland’s Foundations First service deals with every day. Foundations First provides advice and support to families in housing crisis in Renfrewshire.

Families like Graham, a single dad who just moved into a new flat with his two kids.  He needs to furnish his home with the essentials, like a washing machine and a fridge. But because he works he’s not eligible for the Scottish Welfare Fund, and he’s used all the money he has to buy carpets and has nothing left to make his family’s house a home.

Or Sean, who lost everything after a fire and had to leave his home along with his wife and three kids.  Luckily, support from Foundations First meant he got a backdated council tax benefit payment, as well as money for school uniforms and a grant from the Scottish Welfare Fund to help the family settle and overcome some of their loss from the fire.

For Claire, it’s not a crisis situation – it’s just the day to day high costs of housing that she struggled with.  The house she and her two kids are putting up with has dampness throughout, no cooker, and no electricity in certain parts of the house. The Foundations First team are helping her try to find a new home.  She’s been looking for other private lets, but they’re expensive and the high rent and benefit cap means she wouldn’t get the full rent – so if she moves she’ll be setting herself up for a fall.

Unfortunately, for many, this pressure isn’t temporary. Families can wait years for better quality affordable housing. Children could live their whole childhoods under this pressure. Housing costs are a daily, weekly, monthly pressure and for some families there is no choice but to sacrifice essentials in order to protect their children from homelessness.

So what can be done?

Well, the provision of more affordable homes is vital to tackle housing-related poverty. The Scottish Government’s commitment to deliver 50,000 new affordable homes over the next five years is extremely welcome, but we need sustained commitment to provide enough homes to meet demand, and we need to make sure these are in the right size, the right type, and in the right places.

We also need to make sure that everyone has access to the right support at the right time, with a social security system that truly gives people security, and a strong housing safety net that catches everyone if they fall.

Challenge Poverty Week runs from 15-21 October 2017. 

  • Lisa Glass is a policy officer at Shelter Scotland