Understanding the Housing Aspirations of People in Scotland

This report explores the elements that make up people’s housing aspirations and the drivers of their aspirations. It develops understanding of these factors and makes policy recommendations based on the findings.

2. Policy Context

2.1. This chapter provides an overview of existing knowledge and research into the 'housing aspirations' of Scotland's population, covering issues relating to tenure, property type, location, and differences within and between different demographic groups. It provides necessary contextual information to this study.

2.2. Previous research commissioned by the Scottish Government (Ipsos-MORI 2010) has shown that the majority of the population 'aspire' to homeownership, reflecting its status as the dominant housing tenure in Scotland, whereby 61 per cent of households are owner-occupiers. Household preferences for homeownership are often underpinned by the financial attractiveness of the tenure. Many people perceive it to be more financially advantageous, viewing property as an asset that can be either used as a future investment, or to provide security for their family by passing it on to future generations (Lowe et al 2012; Clegg et al 2007). This sense of ownership has also been cited as providing households with the flexibility and independence to carry out modifications and improvements to their homes, avoiding reliance on landlord-tenant relationships and providing feelings of security, freedom, responsibility and status (McKee 2011; Monk et al 2011). In addition, paying a mortgage may be seen as preferable to paying rent, as the household may eventually reduce their housing costs by paying a mortgage off, as opposed to paying rent to a landlord indefinitely (McKee 2015; Edwards 2005).

2.3. Yet, while homeownership remains a strong future goal for people - even in light of the negative impact of the recent credit crunch (Ipsos-MORI 2010), research suggests that increasing numbers of households find it difficult to realise it. Access to owner-occupation has been affected by a number of factors, including the withdrawal of historic policies such as MIRAS and restrictions in Right to Buy[2] discounts that facilitated home ownership for previous generations, declining affordability as property prices rise ahead of household incomes, and the dual combination of large deposits and stricter mortgage lending criteria (Halifax 2015; Moore 2013). One consequence of this is that homeownership has become unobtainable for many people. Research has highlighted that non-owners in Scotland save the least money towards house deposits each week (£25) compared to other regions of the UK (Halifax 2015). Constrained access to owner-occupation has in turn led to changes in the tenure structure in Scotland, whereby the private rented sector (PRS) has more than doubled since 1999. This recent growth parallels a fall in the number of owner occupiers and shrinkage of the social rental sector (Table 1).

Table 1: Tenure Change in Scotland, 1999-2014 (Scottish Household Survey 2015)

1999 2006 2014
Owner-occupied 61% 66% 60%
Social housing 32% 25% 23%
Private rented 5% 8% 14%
Other 2% 2% 2%

2.4. These trends indicate that particular housing tenures may become more or less realistic, obtainable, and attractive to households at different times according to their framing by wider social and economic policies and processes, as well as individual notions of opportunity and constraint. The proportion of owner-occupiers has declined slightly in recent years, with research undertaken by Ipsos-MORI (2010) highlighting that many people became more aware of financial risks associated with the tenure in the wake of the recent credit crunch. These concerns mirror the findings of other studies, which indicated that some individuals may see homeownership as a financial burden and harbour concerns as to their ability to maintain mortgage repayments in the event of changes to their personal circumstances or income (Edwards 2005). Declining affordability has led to changes in household behaviour amongst prospective first-time-buyers, with evidence suggesting that they are delaying owner-occupation until later in life, as property prices rise ahead of household incomes (Scottish Government 2009). But economics is not the only driver, for as already highlighted government intervention in housing also plays a key role in shaping available opportunities.

2.5. While homeownership remains the largest tenure in Scotland, not all households necessarily desire to become owners. Evidence shows that some households prefer to rent in the social rented sector due to reasons of low and predictable costs, better affordability in relation to incomes, tenure security, and reduced tenant responsibility for maintenance and repair (Craigforth 2015; McKee 2011; Clegg et al 2007). Social housing is perceived to offer a stable and secure home without the risks or expense associated with owner-occupation, with certain demographic groups such as young people and vulnerable households regarding it as a positive and aspirational tenure of choice, particularly if they have at some stage lived in the sector (Smith et al 2014; Clapham et al 2012; ECOTEC 2009). Research by Ipsos-MORI showed an increase between 2007 and 2010 in the proportion of people who, post-recession, viewed social renting as a more stable tenure choice than owning, highlighting the dynamic and changing nature of aspirations in accordance with social and economic trends. Yet access to social housing is constrained for many households, partly due to limited supply but also allocations policies that prioritise those in greatest housing need (McKee and Phillips 2012).

2.6. The difficulties in accessing homeownership and social housing have contributed to a growth in the private rented sector in Scotland, particularly amongst certain demographic groups such as young people, lower-income families, and more vulnerable households. The flexibility of the PRS may be attractive to certain demographic groups, including young professionals, students and seasonal workers for whom the tenure may offer particular lifestyle advantages (Robertson et al 2014; Kenyon and Heath 2001). However, evidence shows that tenant experiences of the PRS are sometimes problematic due to issues of affordability, tenure insecurity, quality, and relationships between tenants and landlords (McKee and Hoolachan 2015; Scottish Government 2009; Smith et al 2014). It does not at present meet the requirements of all households, illustrated by survey data indicating a decline in people's desire for private renting when they next move (Ipsos-MORI 2010).

2.7. In addition to tenure, it is also important to recognise the interrelationship between housing type, tenure and location. While households may have aspirations for a particular tenure, they may also have subjective preferences for particular locations or property types. For instance, evidence has shown that the moving aspirations of social renters in Scotland tend to be related to desires for a better location or different property type to meet specific household needs, within the social rented sector (Ipsos-MORI 2010). Locational preferences can have a strong influence on housing aspirations, evidenced by the popularity of some house types in one area, and their unpopularity in another, showing that apparently undesirable house types may be viewed positively if located in particular areas (Townshend 2006). Moreover, the literature on residential mobility has long highlighted that people wish to live in areas with people 'like themselves' (Hedman et al 2011; Rossi 1955), which may contribute to patterns of segregation. Indeed, the changing socio-economic profile of social housing tenants since the 1980s has been a factor in reducing the perceived attractiveness of living in the sector (McKee and Phillips 2012; McKee 2011; Damer 1989; Forrest and Murie 1988).

2.8. Housing aspirations have an additional spatial dimension, in that the housing decisions that people make are intertwined with locational characteristics and attachments, and involve trade-offs between pragmatic concerns and the satisfaction of particular goals. The cost of living in particular areas can enhance or prohibit the aspirations of people and their ability to exercise 'choice' in the housing market, while research shows that links to labour markets, services, and transport are important factors that influence residential mobility (McKee and Hoolachan 2015; Hickman et al 2007). The latter issue is especially important in rural communities, which often experience out-migration as households migrate or commute to find work (Stockdale 2006; Jones 2001). In addition, locational preferences include the physical, social and historical attachment that households have to places, where family and community networks are highly valued and people elect to live in particular neighbourhoods according to notions of identity and belonging (Cole 2013; Paton 2013).

2.9. It is clear that the notion of housing aspirations is complex and that there are a number of factors to take into account when trying to understand how aspirations are formed and shaped. Aspirations can vary over time, place, and are influenced by the evolving needs, preferences, and expectations of different demographic groups at different periods in the lifecycle, and within specific social, cultural, economic contexts (Beer et al 2011). High importance may be placed on particular property characteristics, for instance families often aspire to live in larger homes (Clegg et al 2007), and having adequate space, warmth and quality are seen as fundamental necessities regardless of tenure (Gannon and Bailey 2013). Aspirations are also likely to vary according to demographic groups. For instance, living in homes with specific adaptations and amenities strongly influences the housing decisions taken by disabled people (Mackie 2012; Dean 2003), while the needs of minority ethnic communities vary in terms of dwelling size, location, tenure, and cultural dimensions which may necessitate particular property types and homes (Netto et al 2011; Houston and Allen 2004).

2.10. While housing aspirations are often equated with tenure within the policy literature, with household preferences for homeownership being the dominant theme, this review has highlighted the need to consider a broader understanding. Moreover, if we look beyond the housing literature we begin to see a more complex understanding of 'aspirations', which draws attention to how personal goals evolve and interact with social, economic, cultural and geographical contexts (Speilhofer et al 2011). This suggests a need to consider people's subjective preferences in tandem with their objective conditions (e.g. economic resources, local housing opportunities), in order to deliver a more holistic and nuanced understanding. This is the approach to aspirations we adopt in this research project.


Email: Julie Guy

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