Social housing tenants in Scotland are facing “unprecedented” levels of deprivation, a new report has warned.
The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) launched the report yesterday at the House of Commons, revealing what it says is the “devastation” caused by the cost-of-living crisis.
The publication adds bitter context to the announcements in last week’s Autumn Statement, and the recent rise in the energy price cap.
The report – titled It’s Your Life’s Opportunities – finds that among the biggest drivers of deprivation is the “exorbitant” costs of food and energy, with more than 95% saying that they are struggling with the costs of putting food on the table and heating their home.
Amid the current dire economic outlook, the report has described how people living in Scotland’s social homes have resorted to skipping meals, disconnecting their energy supplies, and even cutting back on visiting friends and families to make ends meet.
The vast majority (86%) of tenants feel worse off than this time last year, the report claims.
Sally Thomas, the SFHA’s chief executive, said: “It is simply not right that in one of the worlds’ richest economies we have so many people facing the level of need uncovered here. And we have to be clear – this is a direct result of political choices.
“Housing associations provide safe, warm, affordable homes for life: But our members are still seeing tenants struggling. Over 70% of Scotland’s social tenants receive some form of social security, so if people cannot feed their families or heat their homes, then it’s clear that the system is not fit for purpose.”
Over a quarter of Scotland’s population rent their homes from social landlords, the SFHA points out. Despite housing association rents being half of those in the private rented sector, it adds, most social tenants are on lower incomes and are therefore more susceptible to economic shocks.
In response to the report’s findings, SFHA has called on the UK government to urgently reform the social security system, and support social tenants with a direct energy cost intervention.
The housing body has also said that the UK government should introduce a social energy tariff, a discounted energy bills rate, to support vulnerable customers and prevent self-disconnection.
The organisation said: “Reforming Universal Credit and introducing a social tariff for energy are measures that the UK government could take now: And as we head into another difficult winter, the need has never been more urgent. They must act now.”
According to the SFHA, more than 60,000 people across Scotland are kept out of poverty because they rent socially. Recent figures reveal that an additional 30,000 people in the private rented sector would be lifted out of poverty entirely were they to rent from a social landlord instead.
As well as the severe financial implications the cost-of-living crisis has had for Scotland’s social tenants, the report also explores the “widespread impacts” on physical and mental health.
Almost nine in 10 tenants surveyed found that the crisis has had an adverse impact on their health, with two thirds of them also saying their mental health had worsened. Nearly one in two tenants has admitted to skipping meals with the majority also cutting back on fruit and vegetables.
Those with specialist needs have also been hit hard, the report says – some tenants living with diabetes are unable to afford the food required to manage their condition; whilst others who require specialist medical equipment cannot afford to power their devices.
David Linden, SNP MP for Glasgow East, welcomed the report’s publication and backed calls for reforms to social security.
He said: “In Parliament I have consistently called for the UK government to introduce essentials guarantee that would provide social security claimants with a minimum income, protecting people from not being able to afford essentials like food, household bills and travel costs.
“As well as continuing to call for the reintroduction of the £400 energy bill rebate, immediate action must be taken to tackle the soaring food prices, similar to policies we currently see being introduced in France.
“I cannot thank the SFHA enough for taking the time to produce the report, and giving a voice to social tenants across Scotland, who are suffering most at the hands of a Westminster-made cost of living crisis. The UK government can and must go further to help mitigate the worst effects of the cost-of-living crisis, and I hope that this report reinforces the need for them to act sooner, rather than later.”
Image credit: Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock
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