UK Policy Briefings
Spring Budget 2022: Housing and gender
Date Posted: Tuesday 8th March 2022
The evidence suggests that women are more affected than men by housing unaffordability, unsafe conditions and overcrowding.
The economic crisis caused by the pandemic has sharpened the impact of structural weaknesses in the UK housing system on vulnerable and poorer households. Problems of affordability have got worse, prices have gone up, overcrowding has increased sharply, and there has been an uptick in the number of households accepted as homeless and in temporary accommodation. The evidence suggests that women are more affected than men.
Because they earn less than men do and have less capital, women are particularly impacted by housing affordability. 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.
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. Average rents use up 43% of a woman’s median earnings but 28% of a man’s.
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.
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 containing single mothers comprise one-quarter of all families with children, but two-thirds of homeless families.
Housing has always been a significant public health issue: poor housing costs 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 – suffered the highest Covid mortality rates. 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 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.