The head of the taskforce charged with drawing up a strategy to help lift families in Edinburgh out of poverty and life on the breadline has demanded strict rent controls to ease their burden.
Dr Jim McCormick, chairman of the Edinburgh Poverty Commission set up in November, has outlined the biggest barrier to reducing poverty levels in the Scottish capital as high housing costs.
Twenty-two per cent of children in Edinburgh live in poverty. Levels are as high as 35 per cent in some parts of the city. Dr McCormick, the associate director for Scotland for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, has also called for restrictions on private rents. As of January, the average monthly private rent in Edinburgh was £1,087 compared to a national average of £799.
Dr McCormick said: “The modern face of poverty in Edinburgh would be you’re under 50, probably working and probably renting. There was a long period of a reduction in poverty numbers driven by both the rise in employment for lone parents and also being supported by in-work benefits like tax credits. That helped to drive poverty down.
“But what we have seen in the last five years is the unravelling of that process and moving in the wrong direction.”
He added: “The biggest reason for progress unravelling is the UK benefits freeze. People who are on low wages, yes they have seen their wages rise, but the reduction in tax credits and the benefit freeze has more than offset that.
“In real terms, people are worse off. That’s why working families in the city on low earnings are struggling. Here and now, the single biggest challenge for Edinburgh is housing costs. The pathway to poverty reduction in Edinburgh has a lot to do with getting control of rents in the private rented sector.”
Edinburgh City Council is lobbying the Scottish Government to allow the introduction of rent pressure zones, which could cap rent increases. Last year council officials revealed city centre rent prices were now starting to level off, having hit an “affordability ceiling”.
The council has appealed to Holyrood for a licensing regime to curb the rise of short-term lets, with reportedly more than 9,000 properties in Edinburgh being advertised for that use.
Housing and economy convener Cllr Kate Campbell said: “People are struggling because they simply can’t afford their rent. This is evidenced by the large number of people presenting as homeless coming from the private rented sector.”