• A quarter of those in the bottom 20% of the income distribution and 14% of 16–24-year-olds and 25–34-year-olds have high housing costs relative to income.
  • A higher proportion of all minority ethnic groups have higher relative housing costs (11–23%) than white British people (6%).

This chart shows the groups of people more at risk of living in a household that is spending more than a third of its income on housing costs. It shows comparatively how the proportion has changed in terms of income and age over 10 years. Comparable data by ethnicity is not available.

Housing affordability matters for health, both directly and indirectly. Difficulty paying the rent or mortgage can harm mental health, while spending more on housing leaves less for other essentials that influence health, such as food and social participation.


Housing costs relative to income for the bottom income quintile are higher than for the rest of the income distribution. This is partly because these households have a lower income.

  • 21% of those in the bottom income quintile spent more than a third of income on housing costs, compared with only 3% of those in the top income quintile.
  • This relative inequality has deteriorated by 3 percentage points in the past decade due to rising unaffordability in the bottom income quintile.

This inequality is also partly due the composition of different income quintiles by housing tenure. Private renters and social renters make up more of the lower income quintiles and tend to have worse housing affordability, due to both income and cost factors.


Younger age groups are more likely to have a housing affordability problem. A total of 14% of people in both the 16–24-year-old and 25–34-year-old age groups spend more than a third of income on housing costs, compared with 11% of 35–44-year-olds and 7% of 45–54-year-olds. This is partly due to older working-age groups tending to have higher incomes and being more likely to have lower housing costs because they own their homes.


A higher proportion of all minority ethnic groups have higher relative housing costs (11–23%) than white British people (6%). Other ethnicities not covered by the categories and ‘white other’ ethnic groups were identified as being most at risk for being in a household with a housing cost burden – around three times more likely than those identifying as ‘white British’.

Support for housing costs through housing benefit has been reduced relative to rents over the past five years, with support becoming increasingly inadequate compared with prevailing rent levels. Support for private renters has been partially restored during the pandemic, but is still below previous levels of support, when the bottom half of rents in an area were covered, rather than 30%. Increasing housing benefit would be one way of improving affordability for social and private rented households.

  • Housing affordability is measured here as housing costs (net of housing benefit) divided by household income. It is adjusted dependent on household size to produce a ratio. If the ratio exceeds 0.33, the household is counted as having an affordability problem. Housing costs, including rent and mortgage interest payments, also include utility bills, such as water and council tax, as well as ground rent and service charges for owner-occupied homes.

Source: Department for Work and Pensions, Households below average income

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Trends in housing affordability by tenure


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