No matter where you live, or how you pay for your home, from private renting, social renting, to home ownership and sheltered accommodation, the breadth of the UK housing crisis has affected millions of people across the country, young and old, and living in many different kinds of households.
This year, with International Women’s Day falling on the same day, 8 March, as the spring budget, we’ve taken a look at the ways in which the housing crisis disproportionately disadvantages women across the UK.
Women earn less, so they pay more, proportionally, in rent
That stubborn gender pay gap means that women continue, on average, to earn less than men. And that in turn means households supported by women are paying larger-than-average proportions of income on rent. The government equalities office says the gender pay gap currently stands at 18%, with more women working part-time or in lower-earning jobs. Across a lifetime, this means much less disposable income, a higher proportion of earnings spent on rent, more difficulty saving for a deposit and less financial security.
Domestic violence services are being cut
In England and Wales, according to charity Refuge, one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime and 8% will suffer domestic violence in any given year. There is huge concern that housing benefit changes are making it harder for women’s shelters to operate and support women who flee domestic violence.
Since 2011, Refuge has experienced funding reductions across 80% of its service contracts. Some services have had their funding cut by 50% – and a number of local authorities now offer no refuge provision. In addition, many local authorities are struggling to house residents presenting as homeless because of the housing crisis, meaning women seeking refuge are turned away, and women in refuges cannot move on as quickly as they would hope to.
Homeless women don’t get the services they need
Many women who become homeless have multiple, complex needs. A 2015 report by Homeless Link found higher rates of drug use among women and a higher incidence of mental health problems. In an audit of the health needs of 3,355 people experiencing homelessness, 33% of female drug-users reported having used heroin in the previous month compared with 28% of men, while 31% of women had taken crack or cocaine compared with 29% of men.
There is also a greater prevalence among homeless women of diagnosed mental health conditions such as depression (women 39%, men 33%). The smaller number of women recorded as homeless means many homelessness services default to the needs of homeless men and can be inadvertently unwelcoming for women. Charities working with rough sleepers also point out that women are more likely to be “hidden homeless”, either by sleeping on friends’ sofas or by avoiding the detection of street outreach workers, for their own safety.
The bedroom tax hits women harder
The government’s decision to reduce housing benefit for every room deemed “unoccupied” particularly affects women. Tower Hamlets council found that of claimants affected by the bedroom tax, 54% were women, 23% were couples and 23% were single men.
Women still bear the brunt of caring responsibilities and are more often the main carers after divorce and separation, which in turn means they are more likely to live in a home classed as under-occupied under the government guidelines, due to children being young enough to share a room or moving out.
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article, help can be found atRefuge and Women’s Aid, or you can contact the 24-hour National Domestic Violence freephone helpline: 0808 2000 247.
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