New research finds changes to social housing ‘penalty’

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An investigation into the effect of growing up in social housing on child development reveals significant changes since the 1970s.

The study looked at how the gap in child development between children in social housing tenure and non-social housing tenure has changed over time by comparing data from the 1970 British Cohort Study and the Millennium Cohort Study.  

Information on 5-year-olds participating in the studies was used to analyse differences across three child development measures – cognitive, non-cognitive and health – for those children growing up in social housing and those in private rented or owner occupied housing.

In both 1970 and 2000, children in social housing tenure fare worse in all child development measures than children growing up in non-social housing tenure. However, the ‘tenure-inequality’ in non-cognitive development has increased over time; relative to peers in private rented and owner occupied housing, children born in social housing in 2000 exhibit worse social, emotional and behavioural development at age 5 than those born in 1970. In contrast, the tenure-inequality in child cognitive and health outcomes has reduced over time.

Children in social housing born at the turn of the century belong to families that are relatively poorer and more disadvantaged, than those in social housing born in 1970. This helps to explain the increase in the tenure-inequality in children’s non-cognitive outcomes. The reduction in the tenure-inequality in cognitive and health outcomes, however, has taken place despite this increasing level of disadvantage of social housing tenants. This suggests other factors may have improved the cognitive and health outcomes of children in social housing over time.  

The new study is thought to be the first to compare tenure-inequalities in child development over time. The study is also the first to consider the association between housing tenure and three separate aspects of child development over time; cognitive, non-cognitive, and health.  

The 2011 Census shows that almost a fifth of all households (4,100,000) reside in social housing across England and Wales, with the greatest concentrations of social rented accommodation in London and other large cities. Local authority waiting lists for social housing have increased by 80 per cent since 2001, from 1 million to over 1.8 million households by the end of 2014.  

The study author, Dr Bilal Nasim said: “The findings show that, over the last forty years, tenure-inequality has changed. It has narrowed for children’s cognitive and health development, but has greatly widened for children’s social, emotional and behavioural development  

“Further research is needed to tease out exactly how housing tenure influences these three aspects of child development – cognitive, health, and non-cognitive development – and what other factors give rise to the differing trends in tenure-inequalities.

“All three aspects of child development are associated with employment, health and socio-economic status in later life. An understanding of the factors that underpin tenure-inequalities is relevant to future housing policy and to efforts to reduce inequality of opportunity and improve life chances,” he said.  

Further information  

Read the full paper “The association between social housing type and children’s developmental outcomes” by Bilal Nasim (2015), published as part of the QSS Working Paper series at UCL Institute of Education.