A tower block and cranes on an orange sky

People's Health Trust's Media and Communications Officer Bradford Watson looks at the insecurity of housing, how the housing system affects health and why it needs to change.

Between 2022 to 2023, the number of people in rented homes evicted as a result of Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions increased by 116 per cent. In addition to Section 21 notices, there are other ways tenants can be pressured to leave a property, such as through sharp rent increases, or landlords allowing properties to fall into disrepair to force tenants to look elsewhere. It is therefore likely that the reported rise in Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions represents only a fraction of those pushed to leave their homes.

In the Spring of 2023, my former landlord evicted my housemates and I at short notice from a home we had lived in for three years. It was a house that had several untreated faults that we’d tried to have fixed for the length of our tenancy. It is now late summer and the house is back on the rental market with a substantial mark-up in price and not one improvement made. There were not many options available to us to challenge the notice, and the time and energy-consuming process plus the additional burden of likely needing to find a new home made this even more difficult. Ours is a mild example of the increasing precarity and lack of suitable alternatives to renting.

The private rented sector is now a transient one. A quarter of all private rented tenants aged 34 or under have been in their homes for less than a year, and 25 per cent of people between the ages of 20 and 39 have lived in twice as many homes as their parents’ generations did throughout their entire lifetimes. It’s not just ‘generation rent’ that are subjected to this: people in their mid 30s to mid 40s are three times more likely to rent than 20 years ago and amongst those aged 55-64, private renting doubled between 2004 – 2022.

An increase in renting is not itself a bad thing: in many countries it is preferred to homeownership. However, the impermanence in the UK rental sector is caused by conditions that have become disconnected from people’s needs, increasingly driven by a broken housing market. Average rent costs reached their highest rate on record in July 2023, and there are still a significant proportion of homes failing to meet basic safety standards. Today’s housing system is far removed from providing people with affordable comfort and security; more than ever it is driving inequalities which are negatively impacting the health of the most disadvantaged.

A 2017 study conducted by Shelter showed that one in five English adults’ mental health was negatively affected by housing issues. Research has linked increased rates of depression, anxiety and low self-esteem in people who need to move house more often. The ability to remain in a home and be situated within a community for a long time not only contributes to greater feelings of security and positive mental health, but increases people’s connections to their community and roots for their social life. In places where the buy-to-let boom over the past decade has led to shorter-term tenancies and greater population transience, neighbourhoods become disparate. Recent reflections from Shale, a leader of our Local Conversation project in Lozells Birmingham, highlighted how these trends make it harder to foster a strong sense of community.

The burden of insecure housing is not shared equally: local authorities with a more ethnically diverse population have a significantly higher rate of eviction possession claims compared to the least diverse according to research from Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Moving home is often expensive, with tenants required to pay deposits, moving costs, and the increasingly common demand for months of upfront rent to secure houses. With minority ethnic households already spending much more of their income on housing costs, it is likely inequality will continue to rise.

A better housing system is possible, and necessary to reduce health inequalities. Communities are coming together to fight for a better system and over the last few years we have seen a significant growth of tenants’ unions like ACORN, Living Rent and London Renters Union highlighting the scale of need for those locked in an increasingly unfair system.

Homeownership is increasingly unaffordable for many, and should not be the only route to a safe and secure home. Both Wales and Scotland have introduced new tenant protections in recent years, however ongoing engagement with renters is needed to understand the impacts on the ground to the constantly evolving sector. Regulation in England is lagging, however the reform and regulation of the private rented sector through the Renters (Reform) Bill, which commits to banning no fault evictions, would be an important first step for addressing these problems in England.

Good quality housing is essential to our health and wellbeing and a fundamental building block of health. More needs to be done to ensure that tenants are not forced to rebuild their lives time and time again. We need greater security through an improved housing system to ensure that the most disadvantaged have a safe and secure home, without worrying about where they live and how long they will be able to stay there.

Bradford Watson

Bradford Watson is Media and Communications Officer at People's Health Trust