International Women’s Day: inequalities within the social determinants of health

In this blog we hear from Holly Beattie, the Trust's Media and Communications Officer, explores the inequalities women face within jobs and income and housing, two important social determinants of health.

Monday 8 March marks International Women’s Day and a stark reminder that women still face a vast amount of inequalities in the UK which have a negative impact on their long-term health outcomes.

Our life expectancy and quality of health is impacted by the socio-economic circumstances that we live in, these are known as the social determinants of health. As we move forward from the COVID-19 pandemic it is essential that we focus efforts around creating an equal society to ensure equality in health outcomes. There are many social determinants of health in which women experience higher levels of disadvantage than men. An important step in addressing inequalities is understanding where they manifest and the impact they have.

Jobs and Income

Having good working conditions, fair contractual conditions, and stable employment that pays at least the real Living Wage all have a big impact on our health. For people who cannot work or are currently out of employment it is important that the welfare system provides adequate financial support and stability.

The number of women in employment has risen from 52.8% in 1971 to 72.7% in 2020. Whilst this is a welcome improvement which enables women to be more economically active and self-sufficient, women are still disproportionately impacted by insecure employment.

On average women earn £1.65 per hour less than men and are more likely to be on zero hours contracts. This insecurity increases amongst Black and minority ethnic women, who are around twice as likely as white workers to be employed in insecure jobs.

Overall, across the UK, women are more likely to be in poverty than men (20% compared to 18%). Whilst this difference isn’t a stark difference there are some groups of women who are much more likely to be impacted by higher rates of poverty. In Wales, 32% of single females without children, and 44% of single parents (90% of which are women) with children are in poverty. In Scotland in 2015-18, 19% of single female pensioners were in relative poverty after housing costs compared with 13% of single male pensioners.


Issues with housing include physical problems such as damp, cold and overcrowding, as well as issues of instability, temporary housing and rising costs, all of which can contribute to poor physical and mental health.

Data regarding the housing market in England shows that women are far less likely to be able to afford to rent or buy their own home.

There is no region in England where the average home to rent is affordable for a woman on median earnings. Whereas the average home to rent is affordable for men on median earnings in every region except London and the South East.

Local Housing Allowance (LHA) in Great Britain has been frozen since 2016. Research by Shelter found that LHA fails to cover the average rent cost for many private renters receiving welfare support. Shelter found that “outside of London, the shortfall a family renting a typical two-bedroom property would face can be as high as £400 a month, and in London it could be up to a staggering £1,227 a month.”

Women make up 60% of housing benefit claimants in England and so are being disproportionately affected by the LHA shortfall. Data from 2012 shows a similar picture in Scotland where women made up 69% of claimants for those aged under 35, 55% for those aged 35 to 69, and 72% for those aged over 70.

The impacts of less affordable housing costs for women and shortfalls between rents and LHA is reflected in the disproportionate number of statutory homeless people, 67% of which are women. Whilst men make up the majority of rough sleepers, research reveals that the number of women sleeping rough is likely to be missed in official figures.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found the average age of death for homeless women to be 43. This demonstrates the huge impact on health outcomes that access to secure, affordable housing can have.

In order to tackle the healthy life expectancy gap for women and address health inequalities, we must tackle the barriers that women face and realise the serious consequences they can have. Acknowledging the importance of social and economic impacts on health and understanding how women are impacted within the social determinants of health is an important first step towards health equality.

People’s Health Trust funds women’s projects across Great Britain to take control and affect change, enabling them to address inequalities at a local level. Many projects also recognise that people experience discrimination and power imbalances differently depending on their overlapping identities, which can create even more barriers to good health.