Housing research to reveal impact of welfare benefit changes
Published by Roisin Rowley-Smith for Riverside in Communities and also in Central Government, Health, Housing
Social landlord, Riverside is carrying out research to investigate the impact of the changes in welfare benefits on its tenants.
The research project – Challenging Times, Changing Lives – is following 20 families, single people and couples over the next three years to assess financial and economic changes.
Riverside researchers are carrying out in depth interviews every six months as part of a longitudinal study, to gain a more detailed understanding of the impact of welfare reform and wider economic impact on Riverside households. The study will also inform the support structures the social landlord puts in place to offset the impact of welfare benefit changes.
Households are based in Wirral, Southwark, Lambeth, Lewisham and Carlisle, with a mix of people in work, on benefits, retired and with health issues. The results of the first set of interviews, carried out over the summer will set a benchmark against which to monitor future changes.
The key findings include:
- Immediate causes of unemployment are redundancy, health problems and caring responsibilities
- Just under half the participants are repaying debts on unsecured credit or arrears in rent, council tax or utility bills
- Budgeting techniques include turning off or reducing heat consumption rather than searching for lower tariffs
- The majority of households are living with long-term physical or mental health problems and feel increasing isolation and loneliness.
Hugh Owen, director of policy and communication at Riverside, said: “The results of the first interviews have revealed some interesting themes, which defy the notion that people living in social housing are irresponsible benefit scroungers. People are doing their best to keep their heads above water in very difficult times.”
Riverside actively campaigned against the introduction of the bedroom tax, which penalises those on benefits who are deemed to have a spare bedroom. It has employed money advisors to support people with financial difficulties, as well as those who will feel the impact of cuts to their benefit when the bedroom tax is introduced in April.
Gill Payne, director of campaigns and neighbourhoods for the National Housing Federation, said: “Up to one million people across the country could struggle with their rent and end up in debt due to the Government’s welfare shakeup. These are the biggest changes to benefits in a generation and they will impact on people who are working hard to make ends meet in tough financial times. More than 10,000 extra working people every month need housing benefit to help pay their rent.
“The long-term research by Riverside on the impact on individual families, couples and single people will be an invaluable way of tracking the financial, economic and human costs of these changes.”
Hugh Owen added: “This research should support the housing sector’s opposition to introducing any more stringent cut backs that affect the very poorest in society.”