Homeowners and poverty

Researchers: Dr Alison Wallace, David Rhodes
Funder: Joseph Rowntree Foundation 
Duration: January 2016 to December 2016    


Low-cost home ownership

The proportion of households in home-ownership is falling and the current policy emphasis seeks to bolster this tenure’s position. Subsidising access to home-ownership satisfies political pressures to reduce housing and income replacement allowances, but also reflects public support for this tenure and the anxieties that surround constrained access to home ownership and affordability. A range of low-cost home-ownership options are now available, therefore, including expanded opportunities for current social housing tenants to own their own home. In addition, households on relatively modest incomes will be asked to pay more to remain in social housing, bringing them closer to market rents with implications that there will be a greater flow towards (low-cost) home-ownership. 

Support undermined

Simultaneously, however, support to low-income home-owners is being undermined. Home-owners who lose employment will have to wait longer before Support for Mortgage Interest is paid, from 13 weeks to 9 months, undermining home-owners’ and lenders’ ability to bridge that gap and sustain the home. Quite aside from changes to tax credits, the advent of universal credit also suggests fewer home-owners will be eligible for support for help with housing costs, and, moreover, any funds advanced will have to be repaid from the sale of the house reinforcing the expectation of self-reliance among home-owners. 

The study of low-income home-owners waned during the period of the buoyant housing market and the wealth disparities between different age-cohorts and between owners and renters came to the fore. Renewed interest in the relationship between housing and poverty leads to this fresh examination of the experiences of poverty among home-owners.


The study seeks to examine pathways into and flows through home-ownership and poverty, and will consider the impact of current trends on future assessments of the relationship. For example:

  • do poor working age home owners represent an overhang from the period of liberal mortgage lending prior to the financial crisis, or a function of the interaction between UK labour markets, welfare and housing markets?
  • what difference might recent policy announcements that support access to homeownership make to the risk or experience of poverty among homeowners?


The study will utilise the rich data source of the English Longitudinal Household Survey (Understanding Society/ British Household Panel Survey) to provide a cross-sectional description of key factors associated with existing poor home-owners, and longitudinal analysis to identify pathways through home-ownership and poverty. These data will also be deployed to model future changes to the circumstances of home-owners in poverty.

To inform this quantitative data analysis, a series of in-depth interviews with key market intermediaries and policymakers will address issues that potentially mediate the relationship between home ownership and poverty, as well as threats on the horizon and how these issues could be mitigated.

Policy impact

The findings will inform the debates about the restated government support for homeownership and the expansion of options that subsidise access, often at the expense of social housing.

Please contact Alison.Wallace@york.ac.uk for more information

Associated Research   

Housing and life experiences

How housing circumstances and life events impact on the risk and experience of poverty


The links between housing and poverty

Findings from research (2013)