Housing ladder no longer exists – people on low incomes are stuck on a housing treadmill

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation respond to research by the National Housing Federation showing that almost half a million people over the age of 50 have been forced to make drastic decisions to cover the cost of their rent, including borrowing money from their own children, taking out loans and not buying food.

This echoes the findings of a new report from JRF based on research conducted by the University of York which showed that many people experience a housing “treadmill”, trapped in housing that doesn’t meet their needs and can become precarious when circumstances change.

Campbell Robb, Chief Executive of the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation said:

“Everyone should be able to access decent and secure home. When you don’t have a place to live that meets your needs at a price you can afford, it is not just your home that is affected. Expensive insecure housing traps people in poverty and impacts on their health, their ability to work and their ability to see their loved ones. For people on low incomes, there is no such thing as a housing ladder: they are struggling to keep pace on a housing treadmill. That's not right.

“Just as the housing system was designed, we can choose to redesign it so it works for those on low incomes. By increasing the supply of low cost rented homes we can loosen the grip of poverty. The forthcoming Social Housing Green Paper offers ministers a chance to take decisive action. Without it, lives will instead continue to be altered and governed by the housing treadmill”.

One of those interviewed in the report said of their precarious housing situation:

“I am managing but if I fell ill I would be in trouble – I can’t afford to fall ill. If somebody gets in my taxi that’s got a cold, I say “Get out!” I can’t afford to be off for two weeks.”

The Housing and Life Experiences report found:

  • The type of housing available to people on low incomes is poor at adapting to life events and changed circumstances, leading to many people facing an additional struggle at the most difficult times in their lives. Many of those studied reflected that only an unexpected inheritance would give them any choice or control over their own housing situation.
  • Poor housing can restrict choices and govern life decisions, rather than reacting to the choices people make freely. Those who have bought homes in the past are not immune from the problems, with many people on a “ladders and snakes” pathway of gaining and then losing homes.
  • While there were instances where housing providers (particularly in social housing) had been able to support people through life events, there were overwhelming examples of the housing situation adding more difficulty and complexity and actively changing the course of people’s lives.