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#AyeWeCan 7: Housing is key to tackling and reducing poverty

Challenge Poverty Week blog by Polly Jones, SFHA Head of Membership and Policy.

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This week’s new Poverty in Scotland report, by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, demonstrates how poverty in Scotland is lower than in England, because we have more homes for social rent here and these rents are lower.

This shouldn’t distract us from the sobering revelation in the report – that after 20 years of targeted policies to reduce poverty, poverty is increasing in Scotland again.

However, it does make clear how important housing is to tackling and reducing poverty.

Housing associations and co-operatives have a distinct social purpose and operate on a not-for-profit basis. They are not just concerned with the fabric of a building but aim to provide safe, warm and affordable homes in thriving communities, which meet people’s needs throughout their lives.

Perhaps the most important contribution housing associations make to tackling poverty is by setting affordable rents. In the absence of an agreed definition of what is affordable, most housing associations use a rent affordability tool, designed by SFHA and Housemark, to set rents on a ‘moderate incomes approach’ and checked against affordability for different household types, income sources and average rents of other social landlords in the local area. Average rent among housing associations is £78 per week compared to £178 in the private rented sector.

A huge amount of support is provided through housing associations to their tenants, with thousands of staff on hand to help with advice and support on a range of issues, from making sure everyone gets all the income they are entitled to; help with health and well-being; and care for people with particular needs, such as care leavers, those at risk of being homeless and older people.

The roll-out of Universal Credit has had a devastating effect on many people living in housing associations’ homes as income has been cut and administrative errors have caused extremely long delays. We have seen double the number of people build up rent arrears and the size of the arrears increase to double the size for tenants claiming Universal Credit compared to other benefits. This is why we have been campaigning for an end to the five-week wait for any payment at the start of every Universal Credit claim.

Housing associations are also working hard to ensure that the homes they provide are as cheap to run as possible. We know from our own research that 73% of our members reported an increase in the number of tenants experiencing fuel poverty in the last year. These are already built to the highest energy standards in Scotland, but investment is underway to test new building design to identify construction practices that will reduce maintenance and fuel costs in the future.

We also work closely with a range of partners to help meet Scottish Government commitments to reduce child poverty and homelessness.

This week, SFHA is proud to join the Poverty Alliance – Scotland’s anti-poverty movement. We recognise how much we have to learn from other organisations as well as to share about the role housing can play in reducing poverty and inequality. With 137 members, right across Scotland, at the centre of local communities, there is bound to be a housing association or cooperative near you. Tackling poverty will take a long-term concerted effort by us all. #AyeWeCan

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