High rents and benefit cuts push poorer renters out of UK’s cities, report finds - THE GUARDIAN UK
‘Surburbanisation of poverty’ is changing social fabric of cities and widening gap between rich and poor
The social fabric of the UK’s biggest cities is being transformed by sky-high rents and cuts to housing benefits as thousands of low-income private renters are pushed out of central areas, accelerating the “suburbanisation” of poverty, according to a study.
The trend – driven also by the gentrification of once largely working-class neighbourhoods and the selloff of social homes – is excluding poorer people from inner cities and deepening divisions between rich and poor, the study found.
Low-income private renters, who a decade ago might have lived in city centres, are increasingly being displaced to a shrinking pool of affordable homes on the urban periphery and beyond, often with poorer access to public transport, jobs and public services, it says.
One in nine private renters in the UK’s 10 biggest cities were displaced from central locations to cheaper housing areas on the suburban fringes during an eight-year period to 2020, the study by University of Glasgow academics found.
In Bristol, for example, the number of low-income households living in privately rented homes in the inner city fell by 38% during the period. Glasgow saw a reduction of just over 20%, while London, Sheffield and Liverpool all saw reductions of more than 10%.
The findings illustrate political and economic policy shifts over the past two decades that are changing traditional perceptions of inner-city areas as the main locus of poverty and deprivation, and the suburbs as exclusively more affluent places.
The phenomenon, known in academic circles as the suburbanisation of poverty, is especially visible in countries such as the UK, Canada and the US, where private rented housing has been deregulated and social security has been whittled away.
Prof Nick Bailey, a co-author of the study, said: “Continuing cuts in housing benefit levels, combined with the rising costs of inner-city renting, are engineering a fundamental change in the social fabric of our cities.
“We need to examine the impacts this has on the welfare of poorer households as they are pushed to locations which tend to have worse public transport and worse access to jobs and vital services. But we also need to be asking whether this is the kind of city we wish to create – one marked by deepening spatial divisions between richer and poorer.”
The phenomenon in part reflects the growth of privately rented housing in the UK over the past three decades. While one in 10 households lived in this tenure in 1991, it now houses one in five households, including many families. More than one in three children in poverty live in privately rented homes.
A decade ago roughly 20% of UK privately rented homes were affordable for households in receipt of housing benefits, according to the Glasgow study. This fell to 9% by 2020. Housing benefit rates have been frozen since then, making inner cities, where private rents have risen fastest, even less accessible to poorer people.
Joseph Elliott, of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, a poverty charity, said: “It’s clear that, in large cities in particular, the diminished role of the state in providing social housing and cuts to support through housing benefit have resulted in people in poverty being priced out of areas with access to the amenities we all need, such as easy access to work, shops and transport.”
Paul Swinney, the director of policy and research at the Centre for Cities thinktank, said policymakers must consider the potential economic impact of the displacement of increasing numbers of low-income workers away from city centre jobs in sectors such as hospitality and public services.
A government spokesperson said: “We’re helping to ease the pressure of rising rents and investing over £30bn on housing support this year on top of record financial support worth around £3,300 per household. We’ve also maintained our £1bn boost to local housing allowance while our discretionary housing payments provide a safety net for anyone struggling.”