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Austerity and Welfare Reform Hitting Social Tenants Hard

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Austerity and Welfare Reform Hitting Social Tenants Hard

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Published by Dawn Prentice for Dawn Prentice Communications in Communities and also in Environment, Health, Housing

The combined effects of economic and housing policies, austerity and welfare reform are hitting social tenants hard says research by the Human City Institute thinktank. The research described in HCI’s ‘All in it Together?’ report, supported by social housing providers Aster Group, Trent & Dove and Trident, reveals growing pressures on tenants’ incomes and brings the long-term sustainability of many tenancies into question.

The research tracks how tenants’ incomes, already low at less than £9,000 per annum on average, have lost at least 10 per cent of their purchasing power since the Credit Crunch. This equates to a total loss of real terms income circulating in social housing communities of more than £3bn since 2008. This loss of purchasing power has resulted from above inflation increases in necessities, such as food and fuel, which take up disproportionate amounts of tenants’ incomes. Reforms of welfare will remove a further £2bn from tenants’ pockets by 2015 against a backdrop of Government proposals to cut a further £10bn from welfare.   

John Morris, Trident’s Chief Executive, said: Behind the figures are the human consequences of austerity and welfare reform. Tenants taking part in the research are stretching household budgets to breaking point. Many can’t buy enough food to last the week, have to queue for bargains at cut price supermarkets, rely on food banks or live on toast in the days before wages or benefit cheques are received. Most are struggling with escalating fuel bills, having to put on extra layers of clothes to keep warm, only boil enough water for a single cup of tea, or go to bed early because they can’t afford to feed the meter. For those with cars, every journey has to be thought through since petrol is becoming a very expensive commodity.”

Bjorn Howard, Chief Executive of the Aster Group, said: “The HCI report seeks to assess whether we are indeed ‘all in it together’ in reducing the national debt or if the burden being borne by social tenants is greater than they can realistically endure. I’m afraid the research confirms what many social landlords are seeing on the ground; poor tenants getting poorer and struggling to cope before the majority of welfare reforms have even come into effect. Planned changes in some benefits - especially the ‘Bedroom Tax’, the Benefit Cap, the introduction of Universal Credit and the 10 per cent cut in Council Tax benefit - will leave many living on the margins.”

 Grainia Long, Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, said: “HCI’s research shows how difficult life is becoming for many people living in social housing. The Chartered Institute of Housing is very concerned that the combined effects of austerity and welfare reform run counter to the Government's fairness principle, and this report demonstrates clearly that tenants are among those who are disproportionately taking the strain of deficit reduction. I'm pleased that, alongside articulating the problems, HCI has illustrated the important role housing professionals are playing in providing support for tenants in need.”

The research concludes that social landlords like Aster, Trent & Dove and Trident are increasingly stepping into the breach left by a retrenching local state by directly providing advice on welfare benefits, money and debt, working with food banks, establishing affordable warmth initiatives to tackle fuel poverty, offering furnished tenancies and empowering tenants through employment and training schemes.

 ‘All in it Together: Measuring the Impact of Austerity, Housing Strategy & Welfare Changes on Vulnerable Groups In Social Housing’, by Kevin Gulliver & Paul Smith with a Foreword by Grainia Long, Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing and an Introduction by Bjorn Howard, Chief Executive of the Aster Group is available from 27th November from:

www.humancity.org.uk/publications

 

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