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Social landlords’ efforts to tackle youth poverty work but face a precarious outlook, claims research

Research has revealed that efforts made by social housing providers to help young people increase their independence and employment prospects helps to reduce youth poverty, but face a precarious future.

The research, carried out by the Cambridge Centre for Housing & Planning Research (CCHPR) and funded by the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC), found that initiatives aimed at helping those aged 16-25 was helping to reduce poverty.

Researchers from the CCHPR reviewed evidence from across Europe, analysed secondary datasets on housing and youth poverty in the UK, and undertook 10 case studies of housing providers engaged in new schemes to address youth poverty across the UK.

“We found that many projects run by housing providers have the potential to prevent or alleviate poverty amongst young people by improving personal skills, employability, confidence and the ability to maintain independent living,” said lead researcher Professor Michael Oxley.

In developing these schemes, social landlords are going well beyond their expected role in providing a roof over people’s heads.

“People ask us why they do it,” Oxley added. “Quite simply it’s often because no-one else is taking the initiative.”

The study finds that housing providers are currently addressing poverty among young people in three main ways:

  • They run schemes to help people improve their incomes by finding work or gaining qualifications to enable them to find better-paid work
  • They help young people manage their incomes better by providing financial and budgeting advice and support
  • They can reduce housing costs by, for example, providing shared housing

Examples of successful schemes identified by the research include:

  • West Midlands-based housing association EMH’s full-time, nine-week traineeship for unemployed 16-24 year-olds lacking qualifications. The scheme included employability skills training, functional skills qualifications in Maths and English, and a work placement
  • The Hyde Group’s five-day training course which focuses on living independently, banking, borrowing, income, budgeting, debt management and benefits. The partnership-run scheme helped participants set goals for how they spend and save their money. It also taught how to read an electricity meter, plus skills for shopping on a budget and cooking. In its first two years of operation, the scheme’s 63 ‘graduates’ who had been at risk of falling into arrears had successfully kept their tenancies

“Our quantitative analysis suggests that getting out of poverty is, for young people, often associated with other changes in their circumstances,” Oxley points out. Education, qualifications, employment, independence and mobility, in the broadest sense, can all be part of the route out of poverty.

Couple formation was found to be strongly associated with moving out of poverty. Of single parents who were in poverty in 2001 aged 16-25 but who had left poverty by 2011, four out of five were living with a partner and children, and only 12% were still single parents. For single parents overall, nine out of 10 remained in poverty.

Improving qualifications was also strongly associated with moving out of poverty in early adulthood: the likelihood of being out of work fell with each increase in qualification levels.

Actions by housing providers that promote such changes are therefore likely to help alleviate or prevent poverty, researchers say. The evidence shows that housing providers are having a positive impact on, for example, the employment prospects of young people through new training and education initiatives.

Despite their success, the future of these schemes is precarious, researchers warn. The initiatives are not the result of a national or local strategy for poverty reduction among young people, but are typically the result of local leadership and individual vision. Financially, none of the investigated schemes were cheap to run. Most worked with small numbers of young people and had high costs per client.

“Funding is usually ad hoc and short term, and all the schemes investigated faced challenges to their financial viability and sustainability,” Oxley said.

Rather than being embedded in a coherent set of wider actions designed to tackle a problem, the activities of housing providers are frequently ‘random events’ that receive very little recognition.

“To succeed in longer term poverty reduction, these activities ideally need to be embedded in locally-led strategy that responds to local needs and operate in less risky environments, where resources are secure for several years,” Oxley said.

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