Rent pressure zones

In December 2017 the Scottish Government passed legislation (Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016) which introduced a raft of measures relating to the private rented sector in Scotland, hoping to tackle issues such as supply, security and tenant rights. One of the headline policies from this piece of legislation was the introduction of Rent Pressure Zones (RPZ’s). The scheme allows local authorities to apply for areas to be designated as Rent Pressure Zones, limiting the ability of private sector landlords in the area to raise rents above a set level. The idea is to use rent control to ensure the market within a particular area remains stable; demand for social housing should not be put under increasing pressure as a result of tenants being priced out of the private rented sector by rising rents.

What’s happened in Ireland?

In the Republic of Ireland, legislation similar to that of Scotland was enacted in 2016. This included measures to introduce RPZ’s to 21 administrative electoral areas, including Dublin and Cork. In these areas, similarly to the Scottish model, landlords can impose a maximum rent increase on existing tenants, but issues with enforcement have proved challenging.  One of the major challenges local housing charity workers are reporting is the termination of contracts of existing tenants, so that landlords can bring in new tenants who they would then be able to charge more, because they are exempt from the terms of the RPZ’s.

Local authorities making a good case is vital

As was mentioned earlier, the responsibility of applying to have an area designated as a rent pressure zone falls on local authorities. One of the consistent challenges raised by academics, researchers, and those working elsewhere within the sector is the lack of data, or at least the lack of detailed, robust, quality data on which applications to designate an area and RPZ can be based. It has been suggested that in order to better support local authorities to make good applications, (which are likely to be accepted) the quality and accessibility of data available to local authorities must be addressed.

Supporting local authorities to increase supply of affordable housing is also important in high rent areas to allow all areas of the housing market to function effectively. Driving quality and affordability in one sector, it is hoped will drive up quality and standards in others to give people access to affordable quality homes in areas in which they actually want to live.

But will rent controls work?

Research conducted by academics on behalf of Shelter sought to review the use of rent controls across Europe. It shows a number of different models and how they have been adapted to reflect changes in the market. The term ‘rent regulation’ is commonly applied across Europe to refer to measures which seek to limit ‘in-tenancy’ rent increases, whilst leaving the rents for new tenancies free to find their place within the market. The research highlights the differing fortunes of those who have tried to impose rent controls, through RPZs and other means. Some have found it has had the desired impact, ensuring rent rates remain manageable for people living in an area. However, in addition to the Republic of Ireland, others have found challenges with implementation and enforcement.

Final thoughts

It will take time for this policy to bed in in Scotland, and for local authorities, government and the PRS to fully understand the impact it will have. It may mean that additional legislation may need to be introduced as a regulation method, or that landlords on the whole recognise the wider benefits to them and their sector which increased security can bring. However, the way that this element of the legislation was brought in (many think as a knee- jerk reaction to rising rents in Aberdeen which have now collapsed with the fall in oil prices) has meant that it has not been especially well thought out and the practicalities of its implementation on the ground have not been fully considered. Its long-term impact on the PRS, and on rent in areas more generally will be seen in the coming years. The rest of the UK will be watching intently to see how the Scottish project works. Ultimately, it could be replicated, particularly in large urban centres in England, including London, Manchester and Birmingham.


If you are interested in this topic, you may also be interested in the following blog posts:

The private rented sector: meeting demand and improving data

A mixed reception for Labour’s housing green paper

Released with nowhere to go: housing solutions for prisoners

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Beyond Brexit? How to assess the UK’s future – a new resource

The EU flag, with the Brexit on it appear, in the form of a jigsaw puzzle.

By Steven McGinty

Although Brexit negotiations are officially underway, there is no clear vision of how the UK will look once it’s left the European Union.  Politicians – including those within government – appear to be divided on the issue, with Chancellor Philip Hammond’s wish for a softer Brexit seemingly at odds with Brexit Secretary David Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

This uncertainty has left businesses, local authorities, and the general public struggling to plan for the future, and in search of answers to help navigate these difficult Brexit waters.

One valuable resource they may turn to is Professor Janice Morphet’s new book, Beyond Brexit? How to assess the UK’s future.

In this short guide, Professor Morphet – an expert in infrastructure, the EU and public policy – takes a long term view and attempts to understand the whole range of options that may be deployed by the UK, EU, and other international institutions.

Below we’ve outlined some of the main themes of the book.

Implications for devolved nations and territories

The impact of the EU referendum result has been strongly felt by the devolved nations and territories.

For example, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has argued that Scotland (where 62% voted to stay in the EU) should be recognised in the Brexit negotiations, and that Scotland should be allowed to come to an arrangement on continued EU membership.

Similarly, Gibraltar (where 96% voted in favour of remaining in the EU) is looking to retain access to the EU’s single market and free access across the EU border. There have also been diplomatic tensions, with the suggestion that there should be no UK/EU agreement – that includes Gibraltar – without the consent of Spain.

But beyond these specific issues, Professor Morphet raises the wider point that EU legislation is a fundamental component of specific devolved powers.

This is because much of the powers devolved to Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales are derived from legislation initially agreed within the EU. In Professor Morphet’s view, devolved nations will need clarification on how they’d retain decision-making powers, including whether a new set of powers would need to be introduced. One suggestion discussed is the need to create a federal constitution guaranteeing the devolution arrangements.

Benefits of the EU

During the referendum campaign there was limited discussion on the value of EU membership. Even the Remain campaign focused on the negative impact of leaving, rather than the positive impact of being a member of the EU.

Professor Morphet provides an authoritative look at some of these benefits, including the:

  • importance of being inside the world’s largest market;
  • ability to engage diplomatically as part of a global diplomatic group;
  • development of an EU-wide energy policy, ensuring energy security; and
  • commitment to achieving higher environmental stands across the EU.

Options for future UK/EU institutional relationships

Much of the UK’s future relationship with the EU will be dependent on the current Brexit negotiations. As such, it’s unclear whether the UK will achieve a bespoke arrangement with the EU, gain an agreement similar to another country (such as the Norway or the Swiss models) or if there will be any deal at all.

Professor Morphet discusses this wide variety of options, and considers some of the challenges for the UK Government – who at the moment appear undecided on how far outside the EU they would like to be.

Immediate actions that must be taken by the UK

Before the EU Referendum result many high profile individuals and institutions claimed the UK economy would collapse. This included former Chancellor George Osborne, who suggested there would need to be an emergency Brexit Budget, and the Bank of England’s governor Mark Carney, who warned that the UK risked heading into a recession.

However, even though the economic slowdown has not occurred, there have been signs that the referendum result has impacted the UK on a variety of levels. For instance, Professor Morphet highlights that there has been an effective 11-16% devaluation of the pound, and that inflation is likely to rise in 2017. For her, stabilising the economy should be the priority for the UK government, arguing that it needs to offer a clear view of Brexit to reduce the political uncertainty.

Final thoughts

Professor Morphet’s latest book is a must read for anyone with an interest in how the country will look post Brexit. By her own admittance, the book does not provide all the answers, but it does provide a framework for making sure the right questions are asked during the negotiation period and beyond.


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Women in politics: the long and winding road to equality

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On 9 November, the world woke up to learn the name of the next US president – and it wasn’t the name most people had been expecting. Although the election didn’t turn out to be as historic as it might have been, having a female nominee for president of the United States still marked a milestone on the road to equality for women in political life. But, while the profile of women in politics has never been higher, the wider story of female political participation and representation has been one of slow, intermittent and hard-won advancement.

The path to power

In 1893, New Zealand was the first modern democracy to acknowledge women’s right to vote, while the first European country to introduce women’s suffrage was Finland in 1906. In the UK, women were first entitled to vote in 1918 – but only for property owners over the age of 30. It took another ten years before the vote was given to women on same terms as men. Women in Switzerland had to wait even longer, first receiving the right to vote in national elections in 1971.

Progress towards greater representation of women in politics has also been protracted. Again, Finland led the way, electing 19 female members of parliament in 1907. But it wasn’t until 1960 that the world’s first woman prime minister was elected (Sri Lanka’s Sirimavo Bandaranaike). Twenty years later, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir of Iceland became the first woman to be elected as a head of state (she was subsequently re-elected three more times). In 2015, for the first time, Saudi Arabia allowed women the right to vote and stand in municipal elections (21 female candidates were elected out of 2106 seats).

Women in politics today

In 2016, Theresa May followed in the footsteps of Margaret Thatcher, to become the UK’s second woman prime minister. Meanwhile, after a decade in power, Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is widely regarded as one of the world’s most influential politicians, and she recently announced she’ll be seeking re-election for a fourth term in 2017.  In addition, there are now female heads of government in a variety of countries, from Chile to Bangladesh, Liberia to Norway. There are also women first ministers in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and a growing number of female mayors in cities such as Paris, Rome, Montevideo and Baghdad. In October’s Icelandic election, 48% of those elected were women – enabling it to claim the title of the most equal parliament in the world.

It may seem that the tide has turned for female representation in politics. But a closer look uncovers a less rosy picture:

  • Of the 193 member states of the United Nations, only sixteen (8%) have a woman president or prime minister.
  • Seven countries have no women in their national parliament, while 35 have fewer than 10%.
  • Out of 650 contested seats, 191 women were elected to the House of Commons at the 2015 UK general election (29% of MPs).

Breaking down the barriers

Earlier, this year, we reported from the Women in Public Life conference held in Edinburgh. The discussions highlighted the low proportion of women elected to the UK’s local councils and devolved assemblies with a particular focus on Scotland.  The May 2016 elections did little to improve on this situation.

  • 45 women (34.9%) were elected to the Scottish Parliament, the same proportion as in 2011, and down on the high point of 39.5% in 2003.
  • 2016 saw 25 women (41.7%) elected to the National Assembly for Wales, a higher proportion than the other devolved assemblies, but down on the 2003 Welsh Assembly, which had an equal number of women and men.
  • In the Northern Ireland Assembly elections, of the 108 seats contested 30 were won by women – up on the 20 elected in 2011, but still only 27.8% of the total.

The conference also debated some of the ways in which the barriers to female participation and representation in politics might be overcome. These included:

  • creating a forum for women councillors in local government;
  • promoting a cross party consensus on encouraging women candidates to stand in local and parliamentary elections;
  • creating a mentoring scheme to encourage more young women to participate;
  • promoting flexible working patterns, including reducing the number of late night debates
  • statutory measures, such as quotas, to advance the role of women in elections.

Supporters of gender quotas point to their effective deployment in countries such as Bolivia, South Africa and Sweden as ways of redressing women’s exclusion from public life. Following the Scottish Parliament elections of 2016, a team of University of Edinburgh researchers argued that without quotas women’s representation would remain slow and incremental at best:

“For real and lasting progress, warm words must be backed up with statutory measures to embed quality in our political institutions.”

In the Republic of Ireland, legislation was introduced in 2012 with provisions that the major political parties would lose half of their state funding unless at least 30% of their election candidates were female. The first national test of the new quotas came in the general election of 2016, which saw 35 women (22.3%) elected to the lower house of the Irish parliament. This amounted to a 40% increase from the election of 2011, where 15% of the successful candidates were women. While some attributed this to gender quotas, an early analysis of the results suggested that it may take one or two more election cycles to determine the full impact of quotas on Irish elections.

Role models for the future?

Increased representation for women in politics is important for the positive impact it can have on both gender equality issues and social policy more broadly. But might the presence of female politicians also inspire interest in political participation among young women?

Studies into the effectiveness of women politicians as role models have produced a mixture of conclusions:

  • A 2006 study by researchers at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, found that increased visibility of women politicians increased the likelihood of adolescent girls’ intention to be politically active.
  • In 2012, research from the University of California, Berkeley, reported that the election of additional women in US state legislative elections had “no discernible causal effects on other women’s political participation at the mass or elite levels.”
  • Research published in the American Journal of Political Science in 2015 suggested that role models are important for improving women’s representation, but only in its early stages.

Final thoughts

Time will tell whether we ever see a woman elected to the role of American President. But while it’s important and exciting to see more women winning political office at the highest level, equal representation for women across the board, from grassroots and local council level upwards is as vital. And, as a recent Holyrood magazine article underlined, the presence of women in political life is not only important for women:

“…if we cannot yet manage equal representation for half the population, how are we to achieve real representation for other parts of society such as BME people and those with disabilities who are actually in a minority?”


Further reading

Women in public life: breaking the barriers – conference highlights

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The Men’s Sheds revolution spreading around the world

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by Stacey Dingwall

Last week I attended ‘Men’s Sheds: the movement in Scotland and the big picture internationally’, an event, organised by the Centre for Research & Development in Adult and Lifelong Learning (CR&DALL) at the University of Glasgow.

Our blog on the Men’s Sheds movement was one of our most popular last year. The movement originated in Victoria, Australia in the 1990s, as a place for men to socialise and take part in practical activities. 23 years later, there are now close to 1,000 such spaces in Australia. Sheds have also proven popular in Ireland (350 Sheds and counting) and Scotland (at least 38 up and running, with 30 in the start-up phase).

Research has indicated that loneliness and isolation are a particular issue for certain groups of men, which is reflected in higher suicide rates. Evaluations of Men’s Sheds have found participation to have a range of positive effects for these groups of men, predominantly in terms of their mental health and wellbeing.

The movement in Scotland …

The first speaker of the day was Willie Whitelaw, Secretary of the Scottish Men’s Sheds Association (SMSA). Willie highlighted two key points, which were themes throughout the rest of the afternoon:

  • The importance of Sheds not being regulated by outside agencies, e.g. government – this was something that those involved in Sheds felt particularly strong about. As noted by Professor Mike Osborne, the Director of CR&DALL, at the start of the afternoon, the reduction in government support for adult education has created a need for people to organise themselves in order to access lifelong learning opportunities. Thus, those who attend Sheds feel strongly about preserving the independence of the space, as well as its democratic dynamic.
  • How to ensure the sustainability of Sheds, and community projects in general – Willie described how the SMSA can support Sheds across Scotland by offering advice on applying for funding, how to keep things like rental costs low, and using mechanisms such as the Community Empowerment Bill and Community Asset Transfers to their advantage. Noting the difficulty that many community projects face in sustaining themselves long-term, Willie highlighted the Clydebank Independent Resource Centre (CIRC), which has been running for over 40 years, as a rare but good example of how sustainability can be achieved.

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…and the big picture internationally

The second speaker of the day was Professor Barry Golding from Federation University Australia. Barry is the most prolific researcher in the area of Men’s Sheds, and published The Men’s Shed Movement: The Company of Men last year. Barry described the origins of the movement in Australia, and suggested it took off due to its provision of the three key things that men need: somewhere to go, something to do, and someone to talk to.

Barry also emphasised the importance of not formalising Men’s Sheds, and particularly not promoting the spaces as somewhere where men with health issues go (not a very attractive prospect to an outsider!) This point was also picked up by David Helmers, CEO of the Australian Men’s Shed’s Association. David described the experience of one Australian Shed who had a busload of patients arrive after being referred by health services. The point of the Shed is to create a third space for men (other than home or work) where they can relax and socialise with their peers. Any learning or health improvements that arise from this is coincidental and not forced.

Barry and David were followed by John Evoy of the International Men’s Shed Organisation (IMSO). John focused on the experience of Sheds in Ireland, noting the impact of the recession as a particular reason why the movement has taken off in Ireland. The IMSO’s aim is to support a million men through Sheds by 2022.

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Strengthening the movement and using evidence

To finish the afternoon, two panels comprising Shed members and researchers considered the questions of how to strengthen and sustain the Men’s Sheds movement, and how research might be beneficial to this.

Shed members on the panel and in the audience suggested that changing the stereotype of Sheds as spaces for older men with health (particularly mental) issues is important. In fact, men of any age are welcome to attend their local Shed, and current members are particularly keen to encourage this in order to support the intergenerational transmission of practical skills that are otherwise at risk of being lost.

In terms of available evidence, it was noted that research on Men’s Sheds is still scarce, and focused on the Australian experience. Catherine Lido, a lecturer in psychology in the university’s School of Education, discussed the pros and cons of carrying out a systematic evaluation of the movement in the UK. Again, the importance of the democratic nature of Sheds was raised – allowing outside agencies, particularly government, to come in and carry out research would involve the loss of some control. Any research conducted would have to be participatory, in order that Shed members did not feel like they were the subject of an ‘experiment’. Barry Golding highlighted, however, that there is currently almost no data on UK Sheds available; rectifying this could strengthen Sheds’ chances of being successful in applications for funding to support their running costs.

If you enjoyed reading this, you may also be interested in our previous blog on ‘makerspaces‘, which have drawn comparisons with the Men’s Sheds movement.

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Irish eyes aren’t smiling: how a change in policy on charges for water brought thousands onto the streets

Domestic water charges might seem an unlikely issue to mobilise a nation.  But in the Republic of Ireland, water charging has provoked mass protests not seen in the country for decades. The policy was instrumental in bringing down the last Irish government and may well be a deciding factor in the formation of the next. And although some elements in the story are unique to Ireland, the introduction of water charges has lessons for central and local government elsewhere.

A controversial policy

The roots of the problem lie in 2010, when Ireland had to accept an €85 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund after the collapse of almost all of the country’s big private financial institutions. One of the bailout conditions was a restructuring of the water sector and the introduction of domestic water charges before the end of 2013.

Since the formation of the Irish state, costs for water supply and treatment have been covered through the central taxation system and water charges on businesses. But in 2013, the government established a new water utility company – Irish Water – to take over the control of infrastructure and distribution from local authorities, and to collect water charges. The pricing model adopted by Irish Water was confusing, but indications were that the average annual cost per household would be between €278 and €584.

Irish Water’s first few months of operations were dogged by  a series of controversies concerning data protection, bonus payments to staff and wasteful expenditure that undermined the new body’s credibility. At the same time, although the government said there were no plans to privatise Irish Water, opponents of the scheme expressed concern that the utility company could prove attractive to commercial buyers.

The public response

Coming on the back of four years of public sector cuts and additional taxes, the water charges were deeply unpopular. While some objected to the principle of paying for water, others felt they were being made to pay twice, both through taxation and the new charges.

Throughout 2014 and 2015, thousands of people took part in mass demonstrations in the biggest public backlash against government policy for many years. At one demonstration, the deputy prime minister’s car was surrounded by protesters for almost three hours. Smaller-scale, but no less heated protests prevented Irish Water workers from installing water meters. The rebellious mood was not confined to the streets. The first bills were sent out at the start of 2015, but by the summer it was clear that less than half of Irish Water customers had paid up.

A vote-losing policy

Water charging was a significant issue during last month’s Irish general election campaign. The coalition government defended the policy, while the main opposition parties called for water charges to be scrapped.

After an inconclusive election result, the future of water charging now hangs in the balance.  The horse-trading between Ireland’s political parties means water charges will be up for discussion among politicians hoping to form a government.

But even if agreement on scrapping the charges is reached, proceeding from there may not be straightforward.  Abolition could be in breach of the IMF loan conditions and could also lead to fines from the European Commission. At the same time, money still has to be found to maintain the country’s water supply, to repair Ireland’s decaying water infrastructure and to promote water conservation.

Lessons from across the Irish Sea

For some, the domestic water charges may appear to be an Irish stew of maladministration, miscommunication and recrimination. But the policy reform contains lessons that could reverberate beyond Ireland.

Concerns about who supplies water in the Republic of Ireland are echoed in the UK, where different models of water provision exist in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The debate over whether public or private ownership provides the better service shows no sign of abating, and the uproar in Ireland demonstrates that water can be an emotive and explosive issue.

The shambolic reform of Ireland’s water sector has provoked such enormous resentment that the new system may ultimately cost more than it raises. Earlier this month, an opinion poll found that only 22% of respondents intend to pay their next water bill.

The Irish water charges controversy is a reminder to policymakers everywhere that public confidence in a policy can make it or break it.


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