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No Room Of Her Own: The Truth About The Gender Housing Gap

In 1929, Virginia Woolf’s essay A Room of One’s Own was published. Its premise was simple: women writers had not had the opportunity to express their genius because a lack of money and privacy presented a huge barrier to them doing so.

In writing "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write," Woolf was at once acknowledging her own privilege – as a wealthy woman with multiple rooms of her own – and laying bare the unequal and gendered economics of wealth and creativity.

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It’s fitting, then, that the Women’s Budget Group has referenced Woolf in the title of its new report, "A home of her own: women and housing" which concludes that nowhere – not a single place – in the United Kingdom right now is housing affordable for women.

Just as there is a gender pay gap in Britain, the Women’s Budget Group’s new data confirms that women also face a gender housing gap.

Woolf’s 'room' was always about more than space to write. It was a metaphor for economic independence at a time when very few women were able to afford spaces of their own. Almost 100 years later, this report tells a similar story.

Britain is currently facing a housing crisis of epic proportions. You probably already know this; the odds are that it is affecting you in some way. Things are now so bad that at the end of last year, housing charity Shelter declared the situation to be "a national emergency".

Since 2011, rents in England have risen 60% faster than wages. On top of that, the average house price is now eight times the average income of ordinary working families, meaning that unaffordable and often unstable private rented accommodation is the only option for a growing number of people. All this has pushed more people into homelessness, seeing the number of families who are homeless but in work go up by 73% since 2013.

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Routes out of these problems are dwindling before our eyes. Housing affordability is now at its lowest level since the global financial crisis and growing numbers of young people – up to a third, to be precise – face the prospect of renting throughout their entire lives.

There can be no doubt that the housing crisis has hit women harder than men. According to the Women’s Budget Group’s new report, here are the main ways in which Britain’s housing crisis disproportionately disadvantages women...

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Government and local authority cuts have hit women hardest

Britain currently faces a social housing shortage. This has forced many people who received housing benefit into the private rented sector.

However, since 2012, there have been cuts and caps to housing benefit while rents have continued to rise. This, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, has meant that 90% of private renters on housing benefit since 2015 are struggling to cover their rent.

Sixty percent of people who claim housing benefit are...wait for it...women so this affects women more than men. The transition to Universal Credit has also worsened the situation, with delays and waiting times causing people to fall behind on their rent.
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The truth about women and domestic abuse

Refuges for domestic violence and abuse victims and survivors are at breaking point. Many have been closed or currently face closure because local councils’ funding for refuges has been cut by nearly £7m since 2010.

Women’s Aid says this means one in five people who try to access refuge services are being turned away.

We know that being able to leave an abusive home and then have a safe space to rebuild a life is crucial for anyone who has been in a domestic abuse or violence situation, so the shortage of affordable housing presents a huge barrier.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247.
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The majority of homeless people are actually women

When we think about homelessness, we often think of people sleeping rough. It goes without saying that this is a growing problem in Britain right now.

However, the majority of people recorded sleeping rough are men (84%) while the majority of statutory homeless people (67%) are women. They are often what’s known as ‘hidden homeless’, not sleeping on the streets but sofa surfing with friends and family.

Overall, women are less able to afford housing and, because they are more likely than men to have caring responsibilities, they often have specific complex needs when it comes to securing a suitable home for themselves and their children.

That’s why single mothers make up two-thirds (66%) of all statutory homeless families with children and homeless women are likely to have experienced abuse.
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Women earn less than men so buying housing is more expensive

On the whole, women have lower incomes than men, which means the crisis in affordable housing affects us more acutely.

When it comes to buying, women need over 12 times their annual salary to be able to buy a home in England, while men need just over eight times.

This is even more pronounced in London and the southeast where women need nearly 18 times (while men need 16 times) their annual earnings in order to afford a house.

Because most people tend to buy homes in couples, this means that the housing crisis is particularly serious for single women. And because the gender pay gap is greater for those in part-time work, there is an added burden for any woman who is trying to balance work and childcare.

The widest gap in housing affordability between women and men was found to be in the southeast and east of England, which is also where the gender pay gap is largest.

The Women’s Budget Group looked at data from the Office for National Statistics and found that, when it comes to buying a house with a typical mortgage, women’s incomes fall over 50% short of what’s needed in almost every part of the country apart from the northeast, northwest and Yorkshire and Humber.

There were, however, only two places where men’s earnings fell over 50% short: London and the southeast.
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When it comes to renting, women are at a disadvantage too

For housing to be considered affordable, Shelter says it should take up no more than a third of a household income. Sadly, we know that rents are often costing much more than this, and not just in London.

The Women’s Budget Group found that there is no region in England – that’s right, none – where private rented housing is affordable based on women’s average earnings.

Worst hit was London, where rents take up an average of 68% of women’s earnings. This was closely followed by the southeast, where it was 52%, and then the east of England and the southwest where it was 48%.

Contrast that with the fact that they found men could afford an averagely priced rented home in every part of the country apart from London.

Race comes into it, too. The Women’s Budget Group also points out that the gender housing gap for some groups of BME women – particularly women from Pakistani & Bangladeshi and black African backgrounds – was larger than it was for British women because they have lower average earnings.

We’ve come a long way since 1929. We have the Equal Pay Act, free, safe and legal abortion in England, Scotland and Wales, and more women than ever go to university. But this report shows that when it comes to something as fundamental as women’s right to housing – safe, secure and affordable homes of their own – we’ve still got a very long way to go.
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