How does unaffordable housing affect mental health?

Unaffordable housing in the UK affects the mental health of homeowners more than renters, says social scientists that have used two household datasets from the UK and Australia to explore the relationships between different forms of housing and people’s wellbeing.

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 homeowners significantly worsened when housing became unaffordable*; they experienced higher levels of stress and anxiety.
  • Private renters 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 renters in the UK 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 in 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 renters they experienced a significant decline in mental health, but that was not observed for homeowners whose housing became unaffordable.
  • In Australia, private renters as a group were under considerable stress over the period 2001–2008, with 40% of them having 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 –local councils – and a similar proportion provided by other social landlords – such as the housing associations.

What survey questions featured in this research?

  • Many people find it hard to keep up with their housing payments. In the last twelve months, have you ever found yourself behind with your rent/mortgage?
  • Does your household own this accommodation outright, is it being bought with a mortgage, is it rented or does it come rent-free?

Why is this research important?

This article highlights how housing can affect people’s wellbeing and shows that social housing has a protective effect on mental health and thus a strong social housing system would have 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.

Where can I read more research like this?

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