Housing policy plays vital role in protecting the poor

Published: 2 July 2010

Government policy can play a crucial role in weakening the links between poverty and poor housing, according to new research.

Government policy can play a crucial role in weakening the links between poverty and poor housing, according to new research funded by the European Commission as part of its Programme for Employment and Social Solidarity.

The study, led by Mark Stephens, Professor in Urban Economics at the University of Glasgow, highlights the importance that housing plays in welfare provision and labour market performance.

Teams from six European countries took part in the research and found that housing outcomes such as affordability, physical and space standards and neighbourhood quality are driven by housing conditions in the country as a whole, reflecting not only general living standards but housing interventions.

Housing allowances – income transfers to help households with their housing costs – were found to have the strongest impact on helping lower income households. This finding is especially relevant in the light of the UK’s Government’s proposals to limit housing benefit as outlined in the Emergency Budget.

Mark Stephens said: “The UK has a high dependency on Housing Benefit because our social security benefits do not make any allowance for housing costs. Consequently, the impacts of restrictions are likely to be severe.”

The report finds there is a need to ensure that work pays in terms of housing as the working poor have only marginally better housing outcomes than unemployed people. This is in part caused by lower levels of receipt of housing allowances among families in low paid work.

In addition, the study finds housing systems need to play a stronger role in labour market strategies, as they are often inflexible when dealing with people who have fluctuating incomes, insecure employment or who need to move areas to find work.  

Where strong welfare systems are in place, short-term labour market change rarely leads to homelessness. However, long-term labour market marginality is often an important driver of homelessness.

Tight housing markets can also generate high levels of homelessness, and can make it difficult to meet vulnerable people’s housing needs, even in countries with very high levels of welfare protection.

Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick, until recently Director of the Centre for Housing Policy at the University of York, who led the homelessness strand in the project, added: “This is especially the case in pressurised regions and where social housing providers are not obliged to prioritise those in greatest need.”

The report can be downloaded at www.york.ac.uk/inst/chp/Projects/euexclusion.htm

For more information contact Nicolas White in the University of Glasgow Media Relations Office on 0141 330 3535 or email n.white@admin.gla.ac.uk

First published: 2 July 2010

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