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What to do about poverty?

Housing is part of the sickness and part of the remedy, says Tamsin Stirling ahead of a plenary session on housing and tackling poverty on the final day of TAI.

Working in housing, it is impossible to be insulated from debates about poverty, its causes and effects. We hear views that social housing causes or compounds poverty, with the remedy being to demolish estates and replace them with mixed tenure developments. That owner-occupation is a way out of poverty as it provides security and an asset. The lack of affordable housing – whether to buy or to rent – and the impact this has on people’s disposable income, features in the news almost every day. We hear strong testimonial from tenants both positive and negative – of social housing organisations that provide money advice, training and job opportunities alongside good quality homes – and of homes that are too expensive to run – the ‘heat or eat’ conundrum. And we have seen an increase in direct action – people acting together to stop evictions and demolition, raise awareness of the negative impact of regeneration schemes on local people and take over empty buildings.

Whatever your own view about how housing and poverty intersect, it is clear is that levels of poverty in Wales in 2016 are unacceptable. The latest figures from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation show that nearly a quarter of our population live in poverty, with levels of in-work poverty on the rise. For children, the proportion is over 30%. For children and those of pensionable age, the proportions living in poverty reduced between 2010/11 and 2013/14. But those improvements are now seriously at risk as changes to the welfare system, including sanctions, impact across Welsh communities. The official figures on poverty are slow to emerge, but evidence from organisations such as Citizens Advice and the exponential increase in the use of foodbanks tell a story that we should not be content to accept in 2016 Wales.

Poverty is not restricted to those who rent – yes, 33% of those in poverty in Wales live in the social rented sector and 28% in the private rented sector – but the remainder live in their own homes. So the housing and poverty interface is not simple and the remedy cannot be either. Shifting government subsidy from revenue to capital, increasing the supply of truly affordable, fuel efficient housing to buy or rent, providing appropriate support and timely access to housing advice, all have an important part to play. However, for me, the fundamental issue is that we need to stop treating housing as an asset class and an investment – and as home, something that all of us need in order to fulfil our potential. Much easier said than done, but it should not be impossible.

I am really looking forward to chairing what I am sure will be an extremely interesting contribution to the debate about housing and poverty. On the last day of TAI16, Professor David Clapham and Dr Lisa McKenzie will provide two very different perspectives on the issue, using different analyses and focused on different aspects of the debate. We will be challenged about the role of housing in creating and/or reducing poverty and also about what action we take personally, as well as in our work. What remedy can we and our organisations provide when it comes to poverty?

Tamsin is on twitter @TamsinStirling1

The session is at 9.55 on Thursday morning. Lisa McKenzie gives a preview about what she’ll be saying about housing and poverty and her book Getting By in the latest WHQ

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