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Low poverty 'is a historic shift'

POVERTY in Scotland is now lower than in the rest of the UK according to a new report, partly because of better economic performance but largely because Scottish households spend a lower proportion of their income.

Campaigners hailed the news as a "historic shift" but will warn this week that an increased dependence on privately-rented homes is threatening to undermine that position.

Ahead of the independence referendum, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) commissioned the Glasgow University analysis and a separate study by the New Policy Institute (NPI).

Nick Bailey and Ken Gibb of the University of Glasgow detail how lower poverty has been achieved in their report, which describes Scotland's position in relation to the rest of the UK as a historic shift.

Mr Bailey said poverty in ­Scotland, historically higher than elsewhere in the UK, was now lower across a range of measures.

The report cites the fact that 22% of households or 25% of those with children face material deprivation north of the Border, compared with 25% and 27% respectively in the rest of the UK.

However the NPI report said incomes risked being eaten up by higher rents as more and more Scottish families now live in the private rented sector due to a lack of alternative accommodation for low income families.

The authors also warned the taxpayer was likely to pick up the tab for some of the additional costs, through the housing benefit bill.

In the last five years, they say, the number of Scottish households renting privately and relying on housing benefit to pay some or all of their rent has risen by 52% from 60,000 to 97,000.

Private renting has doubled over the last 20 years, while the number of households in social rented housing has fallen 17% from 830,000 to 575,000 it says.

The reports are being published ahead of the fifth annual Scottish Assembly for Tackling Poverty, organised by the Poverty Alliance and supported by JRF.

The two day event A Scotland Without Poverty, which opens in Edinburgh on Monday, will bring politicians and academics together with people living in areas of deprivation, community groups, trade unions and faith groups to discuss how to make progress in reducing poverty in Scotland.

Tom MacInnes, co-author of the NPI report, said: "Affordable ­housing, often social housing, has been key to tackling poverty in Scotland.

"As the stock declines, low income families increasingly find themselves in more expensive, private rented accommodation. This undermines the Scottish government's hopes of reducing poverty and tackling high living costs."

The report adds that the change occurred around 2003/4 because the poverty rate for people of working age improved in Scotland, whereas it has not changed in the rest of the UK.

Within that group, people ­without children and those in work have seen the most improvement.

Jim McCormick, Scotland adviser to JRF, said: "The focus of debate on housing during the referendum campaign has been dominated by the so-called bedroom tax.

"While this is an important policy to mitigate against, both sides must not lose sight of the bigger picture: more families facing higher housing costs and rising levels of poverty among those living in private rented homes."

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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