The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s ‘A stronger Scottish lifeline in the economic storm’, a briefing paper published yesterday, is a good starting point for debate about what needs to be in the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government in September to stave off the most devastating economic impacts of the crisis in the immediate term.
Jobs: 628,000 workers have been furloughed, 23.5 per cent of the workforce. 148,000 Universal Credit claims made in less than three months, 86,429 for those out-of-work and 61,810 from those in employment. The council areas with the highest UC claims are those with the highest levels of child poverty. One in three jobs are “exposed” to the crisis, while the number of new job vacancies has dropped by more than half in six local authorities.
JRF recommends that the UK Government kick-starter scheme to tackle youth unemployment is beefed up through a Scottish wage subsidy to ensure it pays the real living wage and extended from six to 12 months with training. The briefing also proposes employment programmes for those over-25 aimed at low-income families and disabled people, so as “to avoid the mistakes of the last decade” with rising in-work poverty.
Housing: Seven in ten families receiving Universal Credit are cutting back on at least one essential to meet rising food and energy costs, while half are cutting back on two: food for adults (37 per cent), children’s items (26 per cent) and energy (25 per cent). More than half of these households have had to borrow money, 24 per cent from friends and family and 21 per cent using credit cards. The strain on low-income households in Scotland is huge: two-thirds say money worries are having a significant (25 per cent) or moderate (40 per cent) impact on their mental health. 45 per cent of those in the private rented sector have seen their incomes fall since March. With evictions able to start again from September, JRF finds that eviction orders have already starting to be scheduled from July with the Housing Tribunal Service.
The authors’ state that it is “critical we take a strong, preventative approach in Scotland over the coming months, if we want to ensure a new cohort of those threatened with homelessness does not emerge”, arguing that “growing financial pressure on renters already looks to be unsustainable”. If measures aren’t taken to further support tenants come September, when a “rising tide of job losses” is also expected, then “housing, homelessness, advice and representation services are likely to be overwhelmed”.
The report recommends an extension on halts to evictions from September for at least another 12 months. It finds that the Scottish Government’s new £5 million scheme to support landlords who have arrears “could create upwards pressure on future rents”, and that “the best way to avoid evictions is to prevent arrears building in the first place”, by “keeping rents manageable” and “topping up tenant incomes if necessary”. A “freeze on rent increases for the rest of 2020” is proposed. Interestingly, in light of the Scottish Government establishing a Private Rented Sector Resilience Group which contained no tenant representation, JRF also calls for “an ongoing commitment to boosting participation, where low-income tenants help to shape development of housing policy and practices as equal partners, on the same footing as social and private landlords”.
Social security: JRF argues that jobs and housing protections are the two main areas the Scottish Government can act on, but that social security powers can also be used to provide an “income lifeline for families on low incomes”. Recommendations include a temporary payment of £10 a week for each eligible child as a bridge until the Scottish Child Payment is introduced early next year and a take-up campaign to ensure new Universal Credit claimants know what they are eligible for.
After reading this report, it is all the more remarkable that the Scottish Government resisted introducing modest measures in May to support tenants with a rent freeze and halt to evictions based on arrears. JRF has shown that the fears about tenants facing the perfect financial storm are absolutely not hyperbole. The Scottish Government has the evidence, it has the power – it has no excuse not to act.
Source Direct is a free morning newsletter providing you with all the latest Scottish news in your inbox each morning, including:
- Analysis of the key stories
- A summary of what’s in the Scottish papers
- The latest on Source
- Interesting opinion pieces from around Scottish media
- A letters section
To sign-up for Source Direct, click here.