Are half of all renters really ‘one pay cheque away’ from homelessness?
Dr Jen Harris, Head of Policy and Research at TDS, explores this claim and its implications for the PRS.
Dr Jen Harris, Head of Policy and Research at TDS, brings a critical perspective to light as she addresses a prevalent claim in a thought-provoking analysis. The claim that 'half of all renters are one pay cheque away from homelessness' has caught the attention of many, prompting Dr Harris to scrutinise its accuracy and implications.
At one point in time, I too believed that almost anyone could become homeless, and all it takes is a run of bad luck for it to happen. However, whilst completing my doctorate on this topic at the University of Bristol, I learnt that the commonly held assumption that homelessness is widely distributed across the population is not supported by existing research and can do more harm than good.
Addressing the intricacies of homelessness risk, Dr Harris highlights the influential role of poverty.
As explained by the renowned homelessness academic Suzanne Fitzpatrick, existing UK survey research shows that certain systematically disadvantaged groups have a much higher probability of homelessness. Poverty is the most powerful predictor of homelessness and many groups in society are cushioned from experiencing it by protective factors. Narratives that suggest ‘it can happen to [almost] any of us’ are problematic because they distract attention away from the policy initiatives which are needed to prevent homelessness amongst those who are most at risk.
Acknowledging the challenges within the private rented sector, Dr Harris cites recent research conducted by the TDS Charitable Foundation
It is, of course, important to recognise that affordability is an issue in the private rented sector. In a recent survey of privately rented tenants in England and Wales carried out by the TDS Charitable Foundation, almost one in three said they are finding it difficult to afford their rent, and around half are regularly cutting down on household essentials to meet their rental payments.
It is, however, also important that we recognise the key role that the sector can and does play in providing good, settled homes. This does not imply that we disregard the importance of the social rented sector, or that we ignore the challenges that private renting can pose. However, as reported by Homeless Network Scotland, rather than fuelling a sense of inevitability about mass flows of people from the private rented sector into homelessness, we should look at those initiatives that help to facilitate access to and maximise opportunities to prevent homelessness from the sector.
Improving standards and developing policy in the private rented sector
The Dispute Service supports an evidence-based approach towards improving standards and developing policy in the private rented sector by providing a range of resources. Here you can find information and our responses to key policy proposals affecting landlords, letting agents and tenants.
About the author
Dr Jennifer Harris, Head of Policy and Research at TDS
Dr Jennifer Harris is Head of Policy, Research and Strategy at The Dispute Service where she is establishing a new department to support an impartial and evidence-based approach towards improving standards in the private rented sector. Jennifer holds a PhD from the University of Bristol Law school. Prior to joining The Dispute Service she led the Raising Standards in the UK Private Rented Sector research programme within the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE) and has also worked as the Research Manager at the national organisation Homeless Link.
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