Social Issues Spotlight: Unaffordable, insecure and unsuitable housing

Across the UK 8.4 million people are living in unaffordable, insecure or unsuitable homes. This issue is less reported and visible than homelessness, but has a huge impact on the financial security, mental wellbeing and access to education of nearly 7% of the population. Here are five ways in which negative housing affects people across the country. 


1. Unaffordable rents can push families into financial crisis

For low and middle income families home ownership is not easily achievable. The average UK house price is almost eight times the average salary. When this is combined with a shortage of social housing, many people are left paying high levels of rent to private landlords. The impact of this is made clear when we consider that 18% of private tenants are in relative poverty before housing costs, but this rockets to 38% when housing costs are taken in to account; by contrast, housing costs make little difference to the poverty rates of home-owners (9% are in poverty before housing costs and 11% after housing costs).


High rents put people in a precarious financial position, with 45% of working renters saying that they would be unable to pay their rent after only one month if they lost their job. This means that any change in financial situations can cause a housing crisis in a short space of time, as highlighted in Shandor and Billy’s story.


2. Children in unsuitable homes often have worse outcomes 

Growing up in cramped or poor quality homes can be detrimental to children in terms of their education, health and wellbeing. Poor housing conditions increase the risk of severe ill-health or disability by up to 25% during childhood. Education is also impacted, with children in bad housing twice as likely as others to leave school without any GCSEs. In overcrowded homes the difference for children can simply be that there is no room for a kitchen table to do their homework, and associated health conditions can mean that children miss school and lose out on vital educational and social interactions.

“I feel sick sometimes… With five people in a [bed]room I feel ill. I can’t breathe sometimes and that makes me feel ill. I have to miss school because I have a headache or feel sick.” Naseem, aged 13. (Interviewed by Shelter)


3. Young workers can’t begin adult life

For young workers the high cost of housing can mean that they are either living with family for longer or end up dependent on shared or short term accommodation. This can be appropriate for some young adults with fewer financial obligations, but as they move on in life and want to start families it can prove a challenge. In the UK 13% of adults under the age of 45 who are in a couple (1.8 million people) say they have delayed or decided not to have children because of their housing situation. Rising costs also mean that some people are forced to move away from an established support network to find cheaper housing, at a time in life when this network may be vital to balancing work and raising a family.


4. Unsuitable housing excludes older people

Unaffordable and unsuitable housing also has large impacts on the older generation’s ability to thrive. Well-designed places, including homes and shared community space, are key to older people’s ability to contribute economically and socially. Although this age group is more likely to own a home outright, this doesn’t always mean they can find a house fit for their needs; 93% of homes in the UK fail accessibility standards. Older people are also often provided with ‘appropriate’ properties of a certain style, however having a property they love to call home is vital to quality of life for many in this age group.


5. Insecurity of housing impacts mental health and communities

The number of UK households housed in temporary accommodation has increased by 45% over the last 5 years. For families, insecure temporary housing can mean that they move multiple times and that they are unable to properly create a home. This in turn impacts wellbeing, with 13% of adults stating that their mental health was affected by their housing situation. The development of communities is highly important in addressing many social issues, but communities themselves are also unable to grow in places with high levels of temporary homes.


The problems are complex but there are some inspiring innovators working to solve them.

The kohab is an inter-generational community which aims to address the housing issues facing both young workers and older people in a unique living space. Dot Dot Dot is a social enterprise making renting affordable through guardianship. Older Women’s Co housing is a group of women over 50 who have created their own community in a new, purpose-built block of flats in North London. Homes for Good is a Glasgow based social enterprise letting agent and Room for Tea is a network which connects interns with spare rooms in older people’s homes.


What can businesses do?

Unaffordable or bad housing affects people across the UK — including your employees, customers and the communities you work with though your CSR and sustainability programmes. Not all businesses need to create the next new housing innovation to make change; there are a number of things that you can do now to have real impact in different areas.

  • On employees, do you understand the housing issues that they face? Do you have a housing deposit scheme and other moving home policies? Have you considered the housing cost implication of your office location? For example, are your apprentices or graduates required to live in an expensive city to take part?
  • On society as a whole, could you use your profile and voice to advocate for change in the housing sector? Have you considered quality of housing as well as homelessness within CSR and community investment programmes?
  • For financial businesses who offer products which finance homes and serve customers who may be dealing with the financial implications of poor housing, do you know how to signpost customers to the right information if you are made aware of a bad housing situation? Do you have products and services which can help people access permanent or decent housing? Can you create breathing space, such as mortgage ‘holidays’,to free up resource for home improvement?
  • To those designing and building property, have you considered the importance of shared community spaces specifically for people living in bad housing? Are you embracing the need for affordable housing? Do you have waste products which could be donated to organisations which will use them to improve someone’s housing quality?
  • And those businesses focused on home improvement or adjustments, have you considered how your products can be used to make housing appropriate for older people? Do you have additional products which can be donated to improve bad housing?


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