Young people's future health and the private rented sector
This morning the Health Foundation published the final report from its Young people's future health inquiry. CIH was one of several organisations that supported the inquiry with research, in our case on the impact of housing on young people's health. In her blog, report author and CIH senior policy and practice officer Sarah Davis explains our findings.
Housing policy needs to tackle the problems young people face in the private rented sector to support their better health and wellbeing, now and into the future. Action on the private rented sector needs to be part of an overarching aim to ensure young people have more choice and control over their housing options.
That is the headline message from CIH’s report looking at young people’s health and the private rented sector (PRS). The report is one of a series looking at the key areas of life that underpin young people’s wellbeing – the social determinants of health – commissioned by the Health Foundation as part of their two year, extensive inquiry into young people’s future health. It raises questions as to how well young people can develop the cornerstones of a healthy life and future – good housing, rewarding work and supportive relationships with family, friends and communities.
Jo Bibby, director of health at the Health Foundation recently wrote about the issue of housing raised in their extensive engagement with young people, the critical place that the PRS has as a housing option, and the difficulties many face in getting and keeping a suitable home in the sector. So CIH was asked to focus on the PRS and its impact on young people’s current and future health. The research revealed a significant gap in focus on young people’s housing experience and health impacts, and a similar lack of focus on young people by housing policy makers, which we argue needs to be addressed. The evidence suggests links between the PRS as sub-optimum or sub-standard housing situation and mental health and wellbeing.
Arguably, awareness of our housing crisis became more widely experienced and understood across the general public, as increasing numbers of Generation Rent were unable to buy their own home as previous generations had. The focus of successive governments on the primacy of home ownership, marked by the introduction of the right to buy in 1980, means that young people born since then have grown up with home ownership identified as the tenure of choice, linked with status and security. But changes in housing markets more recently, and particularly since the crash of 2008, have made that unattainable for growing numbers of households and young people in particular. The recent unravelling of the expectation that they will one day own their own home has been shown to have significant effects on their housing aspirations and wellbeing.
At the same time there has been a huge loss of social housing, as a secure and affordable alternative for many young people; CIH has previously highlighted the loss of 165,000 social rented homes in six years. So, the PRS is now a long-term destination for many young people excluded from other tenure options where they lack parental support, either in terms of financial help or the option to remain in the family home. But young people are often at a significant disadvantage compared to other households in the sector, in terms of access to housing, the costs they face, the quality and condition of the housing they can get, security, and being able to make it their home.
Young people can face real difficulty in getting housed in the PRS in the first place; many are not aware of their rights and responsibilities as tenants, or where to go to get help. If they require help to meet housing costs, they are further disadvantaged, being limited if single to the shared accommodation rate. There is evidence that some landlords are no longer letting to young people because of the shortfall between the single accommodation rate and actual rents. The lack of experience and ‘buying power’ of young people leaves them vulnerable to the poorest quality housing in the PRS, often in shared housing which can be overcrowded. Analysis for JRF found 20 per cent of private renters in the UK live in fuel poverty, which has impacts for physical health. Qualitative studies with young people found evidence of stress and anxiety as well related to the poor quality of their housing. The current short-term nature of most private tenancies brings further uncertainty, stress and expense for young people; it limits their ability to make a home with the social and psychological security that offers, which affects levels of wellbeing. The recent proposals to end shorthold tenancies and no-fault evictions is a welcome step but young tenants may still need more help to access and sustain their tenancies, as well as more realistic help with the cost of housing, all of which we call for in our report.
Currently young people trying to move into independence and adulthood are at a disadvantage in our housing system; we need a more comprehensive approach that supports them to have greater choice and control over their housing. For many the PRS is an important stage on that journey. Until we make a significant investment in more affordable social housing, and address the huge gap between house prices and wages, for many young people it will remain their home for a long time, so we need policies that tackle the problems they face in the sector. If we do not, we risk increasing the negative impact on their physical and particularly mental wellbeing into the future. That will not only have personal impacts for young people, but costs to wider society as well.