Posted on 25 April 2018
Centre for Housing Policy researchers, Karen Croucher, Alison Dyke, and Deborah Quilgars, commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, worked with participants on low incomes, of all ages and from across the UK over three years.
They found that working your way up the housing ladder for people on low incomes to be a myth, with many trapped on a 'treadmill' of inadequate accommodation. Notably, finding safe and sustainable places to call home is often a struggle, particularly when major life changes – illness, redundancy, relationship breakdown, or having caring responsibilities - had occurred that impacted on income or the capacity to work.
This led some to a 'snakes and ladders' pathway of gaining and losing homes over time, while others remained 'stuck', often in overcrowded or unsuitable accommodation, unable to move on to a better home or a better neighbourhood. Many of those studied reflected that only an unexpected inheritance or another windfall would give them any choice or control over their own housing situation.
One of those interviewed in the report said: "I'm one rent review away, one complaint away from being homeless. It's as simple as that. I feel terribly, terribly vulnerable, I really do. I wake up with it every day I go to sleep with it every night. There's no getting away from it; I'm that far away from my whole world being turned upside-down."
Lead author of the study, Karen Croucher, said: "Let’s be absolutely clear – the individuals whose housing histories and experiences we explored for this report were not 'Benefits Street' stereotypes. Many were working either full-time or part-time, some were retired, some were students, some were ill or disabled, and some were full-time carers.
"Rather than a housing ladder, the closest analogy is perhaps that of a housing 'treadmill', where people were running to stay still, or a game of snakes and ladders where the meanest of the snakes leads you onto the streets or into temporary accommodation."
The study is the first in-depth analysis of the interaction between housing and low income over the course of people’s lives.
The researchers also found that access to a stable and affordable home played an important role in people’s ability to sustain wider family networks and support.
Karen Croucher added: "Debates about housing often focus on numbers – how many units are needed, how many built or not – and while no one would deny we need these figures, perhaps what we need more is policy making that puts the basic human need for a home – a place where you can be warm, comfortable, secure, have some privacy, feel in control, and crucially a place where you can support and care for others, and be supported and cared for – at its centre, and recognises that people’s lives rarely follow an easy or steady course.
"We need housing policy - and practice - that has care at its heart that is attentive to a wide range of different housing needs, and takes some responsibility for making sure these needs are met to enable people to flourish."