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  • Over a quarter (26%) of people on the lowest incomes, 15% of 16–24-year-olds and 13% of 25–34-year-olds have high housing costs relative to their income.
  • A higher proportion of people from all minority ethnic groups have high relative housing costs (13–19%) than white British people (9%).

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

This chart shows the groups of people who are more at risk of living in a household that has to spend more than a third of its income on housing costs. It shows comparatively how the proportion has changed in terms of age, ethnicity and income over 10 years.


People in younger age groups are more likely to find housing unaffordable. A total of 15% of people aged 16–24 and 13% of people aged 25–34 spent more than a third of their income on housing costs in 2019/20. 

This compares to 11% of 35–44-year-olds and 8% of 45–54-year-olds. This is partly because older working-age groups tend to have higher incomes and are more likely to have lower housing costs because they own their homes.

Over the past decade, housing affordability has improved across all age groups, except for people aged over 55 years. The proportion of 55–64-year-olds with unaffordable housing has increased by 25%.


A higher proportion of people in all minority ethnic groups have high relative housing costs (13–19%) compared to white British people (9%). 


Housing costs relative to income are higher for people on the lowest incomes (the bottom 20% or quintile of the income distribution) than for people on higher incomes.

  • 26% of households on the lowest incomes spent more than a third of their income on housing costs in 2019/20, compared with only 3% of those in the top income quintile.
  • This relative inequality has increased by 3 percentage points in the past decade, largely because housing has become even less affordable for people on the lowest incomes.

This inequality is also partly due to there being more people renting either private or social homes in the lower income quintiles, for whom housing tends to be less affordable.

Support for housing costs has become increasingly inadequate compared with rent levels, with housing benefit reduced relative to rents over the past five years. Support for private renters has been partially restored during the pandemic, but is still below previous levels, when the bottom half of rents in an area were covered, rather than the bottom 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 depending 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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