Expert highlights rent controls as key to reducing poverty in Edinburgh

The independent chair of a commission tasked with tackling poverty in Edinburgh has called for the introduction of strict rent controls in the city.

Dr Jim McCormick said that high housing costs has been singled out by the Edinburgh Poverty Commission as the biggest barrier to lifting people throughout the capital out of poverty.

Expert highlights rent controls as key to reducing poverty in Edinburgh

Dr Jim McCormick

Appointed in October to lead the Commission over 12 months before making recommendations for change to partners across the city, Dr McCormick has a strong track record working with government, public sector agencies and the voluntary sector, advising on policy and the design of practical solutions to reduce, prevent, and mitigate the effects of poverty throughout the UK.

He outlined Edinburgh’s high average monthly private rents, which totalled £1,087 in January compared to a national average of £799, as having a direct impact on the city’s poverty levels.

Dr McCormick told The Scotsman: “The modern face of poverty in Edinburgh would be you’re under 50, probably working and probably renting. There was a long period of a reduction in poverty numbers driven by both the rise in employment for lone parents and also being supported by in-work benefits like tax credits. That helped to drive poverty down.

“But what we have seen in the last five years is the unravelling of that process and moving in the wrong direction.”

The associate director for Scotland with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation added: “The biggest reason for progress unravelling is the UK benefits freeze. People who are on low wages, yes they have seen their wages rise, but the reduction in tax credits and the benefit freeze has more than offset that.

“In real terms, people are worse off. That’s why working families in the city on low earnings are struggling. Here and now, the single biggest challenge for Edinburgh is housing costs. The pathway to poverty reduction in Edinburgh has a lot to do with getting control of rents in the private rented sector.”

In November, the City of Edinburgh Council urged the Scottish Government to conduct a review into the effectiveness of a rent pressure zone (RPZ) after a report found that the policy is not fit for purpose.

A report conducted by estate agent Rettie & Co has called for the process for councils to introduce a RPZ to be sped up after officers revealed that gathering enough evidence to justify a RPZ being introduced could take between three and five years.

Housing and economy convener Cllr Kate Campbell said: “People are struggling because they simply can’t afford their rent. This is evidenced by the large number of people presenting as homeless coming from the private rented sector.”

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