UK Policy Briefings
Autumn Budget 2021: Housing
Date Posted: Thursday 21st October 2021
“Private rental is unaffordable on women’s median earnings in every region in England, whereas men can afford every region except London. Women who rent privately spend on average 43% of their median earnings on rent, as opposed to 28% for men.”
Differences in income and life circumstances translate into gendered effects in housing. Although our understanding of these effects is limited by gaps in official housing data, the evidence suggests that women are more affected than men by unaffordability, unsafe conditions and overcrowding.
Because they earn less than men do and have less capital, women are particularly impacted by housing unaffordability. They are less likely to own their own homes: the median home in England costs over 12 times the median wage for women, as opposed to eight times the median wage for men. The Help to Buy initiative benefits the relatively privileged; in March 2021, the average household income for those using the Help to Buy scheme was £63,229.
The average private renter spends 32% of their median earnings on housing, which breaks down as 43% for women and 28% for men. Private rental is unaffordable (defined as costing more than one-third of income) on women’s median earnings in every region in England, whereas men can afford every region except London.
Although men are the vast majority of those sleeping rough (84%), women are the majority of people who are statutorily homeless (67%). Households containing single mothers comprise one-quarter of all families with children, but two-thirds of homeless families. Women’s homelessness may be underestimated, according to recent research, because women rough sleepers make particular efforts to be inconspicuous; it has distinct causes that include domestic violence, which increased markedly during the pandemic.
“Households headed by single mothers comprise one-quarter of all families with children, but two-thirds of homeless families.”
Covid has exposed and exacerbated existing inequalities. Housing has always been a significant public health issue: even before Covid, poor housing cost the NHS upwards of £1.4 billion a year. In the pandemic, areas with higher rates of overcrowding – which is disproportionately likely to affect people from Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Black African and Arab backgrounds – have suffered the highest Covid mortality rates. And in the summer of 2020, at the end of the first Covid lockdown, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that a million renting households were worried about imminent eviction, with BAME renters, those with children, and those on low incomes (who are disproportionately women) particularly affected.
Housing is also a key lever for working towards an environmentally sustainable economy: greenhouse gas emissions from housing contribute 22% of the UK’s carbon footprint, with energy for heating and hot water contributing 15%. Women and children are disproportionately impacted by poorly insulated, cold and damp housing, because they spend more time at home.
The Women’s Budget Group is calling for: prioritising the building of more social housing; restoring the link between the Local Housing Allowance and actual rental prices; increasing the number of women’s refuges and providing more funding for specialist domestic violence services; and considering housing as a right, rather than as a financial asset, as recently recommended by the United Nations.