One-in-six young people live in poor quality housing, and it is worsening their physical and mental health

Around one-in-six people aged 18-34 – 2.6 million people in total – live in people poor quality housing, and it is having a detrimental impact on their physical and mental health, according to new research published today (Saturday) by the Resolution Foundation.

The briefing Trying Times – supported by the Health Foundation – uses data from a new YouGov survey of 10,122 adults to examine how people are coping with housing payments during the cost-of-living crisis, the extent of poor quality housing across the UK, and its impact on peoples’ health.

The report notes that renters are most likely to report that they have fallen behind on their housing costs over the past three months – with one-in-seven (15 per cent) social renters and one-in-ten (10 per cent) private renters in this position, compared to fewer than one-in-twenty (4 per cent) mortgagors.

However, with over a million mortgagor households rolling onto new far more expensive fixed-rate deals over the course of the year, the Foundation says that this picture could change as higher housing costs become a concern for an increasing number of homeowners.

But housing problems run far deeper than simply keeping up with costs, says the report, with one-in-ten people across the UK (6.5 million in total) saying that they live in poor quality housing – defined as living in homes that are not in a good state of repair, where heating, electrics or plumbing are not in good working order, and where damp is present.

The research finds that poor quality housing is concentrated among young people, low-income families and those from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Around one-in-six people (18 per cent) aged 18-34 live in poor quality housing (rising to 26 per cent among 18-24 year olds) – triple the rate of those aged 45 and over (6 per cent). Encouragingly, just 3 per cent of people aged 65 and over report living in poor quality housing.

Poor quality housing is also concentrated among low-income families – with the poorest fifth of households more than five times as likely to report living in poor quality housing than middle or higher-income households (22 per cent vs 4 per cent).

People from Pakistani or Bangladeshi backgrounds are the most likely to report living in poor quality housing (36 per cent), followed by Black families (26 per cent).

High incidences of poor quality housing among these groups help to explain why people living in London (which has a higher share of young and ethnic minority residents than the UK as a whole) are twice as likely to experience poor quality housing (16 per cent) as those as those living in Scotland (8 per cent).

The research uncovers a strong association with poor quality housing and poor health – with the former twice as likely to experience poor health as those not living in poor quality housing (22 per cent vs 11 per cent).

The author notes that a significant share of this huge health divide between those who do and do not live in poor quality housing can be explained by people’s characteristics that carry a higher incidence of poor health – such as their ethnicity, employment status, income and level of deprivation.

However, the Foundation’s analysis shows that even controlling for all of these characteristics (as well as other characteristics such as their age, gender, family type, region, housing tenure, disability, if a full-time student, and if using pre-payment meter) living in poor quality housing is associated with poor general health (9 per cent vs 5 per cent) and poor mental health (16 percent vs 10 per cent).

The Foundation says that policy makers need to focus on tackling these two related housing crises in Britain – high housing costs and poor housing quality. That means as well as doing more to build more affordable housing to rent or buy in high demand areas, further action is needed to boost standards in our existing housing stock, particularly in the private rented sector.

It adds that the cost of failing to address these crises will go beyond hitting families’ finances and could have a wider detrimental effect on their health, and public services like the NHS.

Lalitha Try, Economist at the Resolution Foundation, said:

“The UK is blighted by two housing crises. High housing costs are causing many renters in particular to fall behind on housing payments, while poor quality housing is leaving millions of people having to deal with damp and malfunctioning heating, plumbing and electrics.

“High costs and poor housing quality can make life miserable for people, and can damage both their personal finances and their wider health.

“It is critical that policy makers tackle both of these crises – by building new affordable housing, and improving the quality of the housing stock we already have.”

Notes to Editors

  • The research uses data from an online survey of 10,122 adults aged 18+ conducted by YouGov, and supported by the Health Foundation. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Fieldwork was undertaken between 6 – 12 March 2023. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+). The figures presented from the online survey have been analysed independently by the Resolution Foundation. The views expressed here are not the views of YouGov.