Unaffordable housing in the UK affects the mental health of homeowners more than renters

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housingHow much does your housing situation affect your mental health? Social scientists have used two household datasets from the UK and Australia to explore the relationships between different forms of housing and people’s mental health.

The report was created using data from the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS), the predecessor to Understanding Society. The study is based on 9,184 responses collected from 2,269 participants aged between 25 and 64 years during 2001-2008. This data was used in conjunction with data from The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey.

What were the key findings?

In the UK:

  • The mental health and wellbeing of home purchasers significantly worsened when housing became unaffordable*; they experienced higher levels of stress and anxiety.
  • Private tenants in the UK were much less likely to experience a decline in mental health when experiencing unaffordable housing; this was compared to home owners.
  • Those private tenants who did experience a fall in housing affordability had more generous forms of governmental support to call upon (Housing Benefit) and, potentially, access to a far larger stock of social housing than Australia– with 17% of the stock either council or housing association-owned.

In Australia:

  • In contrast to the UK, when housing became unaffordable for private tenants, they experienced a significant decline in mental health, but that was not observed for home purchasers whose housing became unaffordable.
  • In Australia, private tenants as a group were under considerable stress over the period 2001–2008, with 40% being low income with unaffordable housing costs (occupying unaffordable housing).
  • Further, compared to Australia’s small proportion of social housing (4%) the UK has a substantially larger social housing stock (17%), with approximately 9% of the housing provided by governments -councils – and a similar proportion provided by other social landlords – the housing associations.

One of the authors of the report, Professor David Pevalin said of the study, “This paper was the first to attempt a comparative analysis using the two large scale panel data sets available in both countries – BHPS and HILDA. We wanted to explore the relationships between forms of housing tenure and mental health but in two countries which face comparable but different challenges especially in the role and scope of social housing.”

Policy recommendations

Professor Pevalin said, “Policy should be tailored to the different challenges faced by buyers and renters. Social housing has a protective effect on mental health and thus a strong social housing system would have population level benefits for mental health, especially among households at risk of unaffordability.”

*In this study, unaffordable housing was classified if a person’s rent or mortgage payments exceeded 30% of their gross household income; an indicator of housing cost burden.

NB Please note that this news article has been reposted from the Understanding Society website.