Monday, 11 June 2012

Debunking “the pink pound” – LGBT poverty and place in Scotland

I did a research project recently with our fantastic Research Associate Kirsten Besemer (pictured). One of our finding was so interesting I've invited Kirsten to write this entry - my first "guest blog"! Do get in touch if you want to write something for me.

Over to Kirsten...

Arguably the most pervasive myth about the wellbeing of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people in the UK is that of the “pink pound”, the idea that LGBT people are prosperous, with an extensive disposable income which allows them to afford an abundant range of luxuries. According to this stereotype, LGBT people are childless and somewhat self-centred, with no dependents inhibiting them from spending their ample salaries on a lavish lifestyle. The “pink pound” myth may have its origins in a longstanding association between gay men and high-end fashion, and has certainly been perpetuated by stereotypes in popular media.

Further, in terms of planning and land-use, as LGBT people were often excluded from mortgage markets, they were also one of the groups commonly identified as “urban pioneers” in processes of gentrification – upgrading cheap properties they could afford and investing their sweat equity to improve the neighbourhood. This picture of a cool, hip, young couple living in a fancy loft conversion is all too common in the media. Non-mainstream sexuality is not commonly associated with poverty or economic disadvantage.

Yet there are a number of reasons to suppose that LGBT people are probably more likely to be in poverty than heterosexual people.  Firstly, employment discrimination against LGBT people has only recently become explicitly unlawful in the United Kingdom. It was only after European Union legislation came into force at the end of 2003 that discrimination in the work place on the basis of sexual orientation became officially recognised as against the law. Although there has been fairly little research in this area, there is some empirical evidence that homosexual men continue to earn less than heterosexual men with similar characteristics.

Lack of access to marriage may be another contributory factor linking poverty and sexuality. Until 2004, there was no way for same-sex couples to form a legally-recognised union in the UK. Although the 2004 Civil Partnership Act created a form of union which is very similar to marriage, civil partnerships are not fully identical to marriage in terms of their legal protections and responsibilities. Successive Governments have gradually removed some of these legal differences, for example by extending domestic violence legislation to all couples, by calculating benefits according to household occupation rather than married status and by extending occupation rights to partners and parental responsibilities to all categories of persons.  As these changes have all occurred within the last ten years, particularly older LGBT couples may have experienced a long periods of considerable economic disadvantage resulting from their barriers to marital union. These advantages include, among others, easier access to a mortgage, and various tax advantages including exemption from capital gains tax and inheritance tax in the event of the death of a spouse.

Furthermore, family conflicts and estrangements over coming-out may have considerable economic implications. At the extreme end, LBGT people may experience a sudden need for independent accommodation resulting from severe family conflict over their ‘coming out’. On a more subtle level, they may simply receive less or no family support in times of financial difficulty (See also this pdf working paper).

For all of these reasons, we would expect to see an association between poverty and not identifying as heterosexual. In this light, it is interesting to note an incidental finding from a study recently conducted where we analysed the representation of a number of equalities groups in the 15% most deprived areas in Scotland. From our analysis it emerged that people who identified as heterosexual were significantly less likely to live in the most deprived areas than people with other sexual orientations (p<0.05).  The table below shows just how striking this difference is. If populations are distributed evenly then there should be 15% of that particular group in the most deprived 15% of neighbourhoods in Scotland. As we can see, only 13% of all people who declared themselves heterosexual live in the most deprived neighbourhoods, whereas 17% of those who declared themselves lesbian, gay, bisexual or “other” do so. Quite a finding.

An interesting observation was that of those who refused to answer the question about their sexuality (which was asked as self-completion and therefore anonymous even from the interviewer), were as likely to live in deprived areas as the people who had indicated they were lesbian, gay, bisexual or “other” (LBGO).  Although inferences should be made only hesitantly, it may be that this population is more likely to belong to the LBGO group than to the heterosexual.

Further analysis also showed that people who did not identify as heterosexual were much less likely to live in owner-occupied accommodation, and were overrepresented in the social and private rental sector. This difference might be indicative of earlier-mentioned barriers to access to mortgages.

In terms of the debates around urban regeneration and deprived neighbourhoods this is a really interesting finding. Firstly, we know of no area-based regeneration policies that have specifically focused on sexual orientation as something that might lead to concentrated deprivation. Further, Scotland’s deprived neighbourhoods are not blocks of tenements awaiting gentrification. They are predominantly peripheral social housing estates around our major cities. These are not capable gentrifiers, but people who find themselves in a neighbourhood of concentrated poverty.

Low sample sizes make the LBGT population difficult to study statistically.  However, it may be possible, for example by using merged years of large statistical datasets, to look more closely at possible correlations between sexuality and poverty, and gain a better understanding of why people with non-mainstream sexualities are overrepresented in Scotland’s poorest areas.

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