Poverty in the private rented sector

Last week we held a well-attended seminar in the CaCHE office in the East End of Glasgow. The event was called ‘poverty in the private rented sector’ and featured three speakers and a lively roundtable discussion. This blog gives a summary of the event and outlines CaCHE work looking at the Private Rented Sector (PRS). 

Private renting is a dynamic part of any housing system and has been experiencing rapid and sustained growth in recent decades. Some of this is to be welcomed but it has not come without problems or variability of accommodation quality, tenant experiences and, for some, unaffordable and insecure housing, nor a sense that policy and practice operate sufficiently well or consistently, even when the regulations are on the ‘books’, as it were.

Making sense of a complex and segmented rental market provided by different types of landlords targeting a wide range of demand groups is intrinsically difficult and is made worse by weak evidence and data with which to make sense of the sector. This is compounded by waves of policy and regulatory reforms targeted at landlords, letting agents, tenant rights, dispute resolution mechanisms and more. Scotland has introduced a succession of reforms in recent years and is now a focal point for the need for evidence and data with which to evaluate and monitor the progress of PRS reform.

Professor Nick Bailey started us off with some of his latest work on the rise of poverty in private renting which aims to examine the changing role of the private rented sector (PRS) in housing adults and children living in poverty. Through a series of Lexis surfaces – an established visualisation tool in demography – Nick illustrated the class divides within ‘generation rent’. The data show that a far greater proportion of poor households are living in the PRS when compared with non-poor households. There are regional variations – London is higher, Scotland is lower – but the PRS has been growing for low-income households across the UK, primarily because of constraints on other housing options. However, this growth appears to be slowing, which may be indicative of increasing selection within social renting combined with an easing of access to owner occupation.

Dr Kim McKee then presented her work on the ‘frustrated’ housing aspirations of generation rent. This CaCHE project is a qualitative methods based project that interviewed young people (35 and under) in private renting in Scotland and England. The work highlights the gap between young people’s housing aspirations and expectations: while young people aspire to homeownership they expect it will take a very long time. Those who do ‘make it’ are ‘lucky enough to have family that can help’.

This, then, was the focus of the third presentation by Dr Mark Wong on intergenerational family support for marginalised young people, which he says has become increasingly important for transitions to, and opportunities for, housing for young people in Scotland over the last decade. Mark noted that financial support from older family members, especially the “bank of mum and dad”, could be crucial for young people to become homeowners, but that money isn’t everything. His argument is that we need to consider more diverse forms of intergenerational family support e.g. remaining in the family home is particularly important for marginalised youth.

The three presentations complemented one another extremely well, with one theme, in particular, featuring prominently in all three: precarity. Insecurity in the PRS is similar for both poor and non-poor households but it is clearly a bigger issue for the former who have fewer resources to draw upon to support an unexpected move. As Nick noted, the rapid transformation in the housing situation of poor young households and the impact that insecure tenure has on children, in particular, has not been foreseen in policy and has received little response to date. Kim spoke of the social upheaval and financial stress caused by insecurity, and Mark showed how young people feel pressured by norms around dependence on family support pointing to complex and varied experiences of negotiations and emotions in extending family dependence. Taken together, the evidence highlights some very worrying signs for the future prospects, health and wellbeing of young and poor households living in the PRS.

Private renting is not a well-defined theme within CaCHE’s work programme but it has featured prominently in our initial work and will continue to do so across a range of activities in the next 18 months and beyond. This is not surprising for all of the reasons already mentioned above.

In our first phase of work, CaCHE:

When we held our multiple work programme priorities meetings for phase 2 of our work, the PRS emerged as one of our ten priorities. As a consequence, we are now developing several further work streams around the PRS, including:

  • an assessment of the evidence and academic literature on rent controls, rent regulation and associated debates;
  • further qualitative research but on the growing number of older households living in the PRS;
  • work with UBDC on short-term lets in British cities and their interaction with the mainstream PRS;
  • an early stages assessment of the Scottish PRS reforms from an English/rest of UK perspective;
  • work with UBDC to conduct a doctoral studentship (starting September 2019) undertaking a quantitative natural experiment contrasting Scotland (post-reforms) with England; and,
  • a three-year programme of work with The Dispute Service and Safe Deposits Scotland examining a wide range of matters to do with the sector, dispute resolutions, deposit schemes, regulation and more (more will be said about this, separately, in the early new year).

If you would like to discuss any aspect of our work programme, please get in touch. To keep up to date with the latest CaCHE news, events and publications, sign up for our newsletter.

Professor Ken Gibb is Director of the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence. Dr Gareth James is Knowledge Exchange Associate at the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence


Date: December 13, 2018 12:50 pm

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