Women are being priced out of England’s private rental sector

A woman pushes a pram. Image: Getty.

Amanda*, a young mum living in the Midlands where rent absorbs 42 per cent of a woman’s income, was left with nowhere to live after her landlord sold her home and she lost her job. Having been declared homeless two days before her birthday, a now pregnant Amanda and her daughter were housed in a single room without cooking facilities. “They put me in temporary accommodation for 11 months,” she says.

Her story is horrifying – and horrifyingly common. A major report published by the Women’s Budget Group has exposed how, in every region across England, a woman on the median income can no longer afford to rent her own home. For men on the higher men’s median income, private rents are only unaffordable in London and the South East.

The authors compared the proportion of median earnings absorbed by median private rents in every English region in 2018. Housing is considered unaffordable when it consumes above one third of a household’s income.

In the North East, where median private rents are lowest, rent absorbs 34 per cent of a woman’s income, compared to 22 per cent of men’s. In the South West, the region with the highest private rents outside the East/South East, rent absorbs 48 per cent of a woman’s income. This is compared to 35 per cent for men. London is unaffordable to both sexes, absorbing 77 per cent of women’s income and 60 per cent of men’s. 

“I didn’t receive any money,” Amanda explains, “because I was told I wasn’t eligible for Universal Credit. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I was living on £20 a week. I couldn’t even go to the food bank as there was nothing in our accommodation to cook with. We were living off fast food, or what friends could give us. We were housed three bus rides from my daughter’s school.”

Women are trapped in a perfect storm of housing unaffordability. They are more likely to be poorer than men, with the gender pay gap currently at 17.9 per cent. This in turn makes women more dependent on benefits, and therefore disproportionately impacted by recent welfare reforms. The benefit cap in particular, where housing is the first benefit to be cut once the threshold is met, has made it even harder for women to rent a home for themselves and their family. 


Women also tend to have caring responsibilities, and are more likely to head up single parent families. This is a further contributor to the gender housing gap. A mum like Amanda needs at least two bedrooms for her growing family. This is out of reach for a single woman earning the median wage, let alone a mother surviving on benefits or low pay. 

While the report recognises that most people rent as a couple, the authors argue that housing unaffordability traps women in unhappy relationships, and leaves women vulnerable to unequal power dynamics within the home. For women in violent homes, the cost of private rents is pushing them to make an impossible choice: a roof over their head or abuse – even death. With 1 in 5 women turned away from refuges due to lack of space, the authors report that women are staying in violent relationships due to financial pressures. 

A spokesperson from the Department of Communities & Local Government said the government “wants a housing market that works for all and we are making rented housing more affordable. In April we changed the law to protect renters right now by capping tenancy deposits and banning unfair letting agency fees.” 

They added that they’re “committed to increasing the supply of social housing” with plans to “deliver 250,000 new affordable homes of a wide range of tenures, including social rent” by 2022. However, the Women’s Budget Group wants the government to go further, by building more social housing and scrapping the benefit cap. 

After nearly a year in temporary accommodation, Amanda has finally won an appeal to access Universal Credit and has been rehomed. She now lives in a two bedroom apartment with her baby son and her daughter.

“People who have everything, they don’t realise what others go through,” Amanda said. “I had always worked and then things happen that change your life completely. I want to see change that focuses more on mothers and children – to focus on where children are going to live and how they’re going to live.” 

Names have been changed to protect identity.

 
 
 
 

Green roofs improve cities – so why don’t all buildings have them?

The green roof at the Kennedy Centre, Washington DC. Image: Getty.

Rooftops covered with grass, vegetable gardens and lush foliage are now a common sight in many cities around the world. More and more private companies and city authorities are investing in green roofs, drawn to their wide-ranging benefits which include savings on energy costs, mitigating the risk from floods, creating habitats for urban wildlife, tackling air pollution and urban heat and even producing food.

A recent report in the UK suggested that the green roof market there is expanding at a rate of 17 per cent each year. The world’s largest rooftop farm will open in Paris in 2020, superseding similar schemes in New York City and Chicago. Stuttgart, in Germany, is thought of as “the green roof capital of Europe”, while Singapore is even installing green roofs on buses.

These increasingly radical urban designs can help cities adapt to the monumental challenges they face, such as access to resources and a lack of green space due to development. But buy-in from city authorities, businesses and other institutions is crucial to ensuring their success – as is research investigating different options to suit the variety of rooftop spaces found in cities.

A growing trend

The UK is relatively new to developing green roofs, and governments and institutions are playing a major role in spreading the practice. London is home to much of the UK’s green roof market, mainly due to forward-thinking policies such as the 2008 London Plan, which paved the way to more than double the area of green roofs in the capital.

Although London has led the way, there are now “living labs” at the Universities of Sheffield and Salford which are helping to establish the precedent elsewhere. The IGNITION project – led by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority – involves the development of a living lab at the University of Salford, with the aim of uncovering ways to convince developers and investors to adopt green roofs.

Ongoing research is showcasing how green roofs can integrate with living walls and sustainable drainage systems on the ground, such as street trees, to better manage water and make the built environment more sustainable.

Research is also demonstrating the social value of green roofs. Doctors are increasingly prescribing time spent gardening outdoors for patients dealiong with anxiety and depression. And research has found that access to even the most basic green spaces can provide a better quality of life for dementia sufferers and help prevent obesity.

An edible roof at Fenway Park, stadium of the Boston Red Sox. Image: Michael Hardman/author provided.

In North America, green roofs have become mainstream, with a wide array of expansive, accessible and food-producing roofs installed in buildings. Again, city leaders and authorities have helped push the movement forward – only recently, San Francisco created a policy requiring new buildings to have green roofs. Toronto has policies dating from the 1990s, encouraging the development of urban farms on rooftops.

These countries also benefit from having newer buildings, which make it easier to install green roofs. Being able to store and distribute water right across the rooftop is crucial to maintaining the plants on any green roof – especially on “edible roofs” which farm fruit and vegetables. And it’s much easier to create this capacity in newer buildings, which can typically hold greater weight, than retro-fit old ones. Having a stronger roof also makes it easier to grow a greater variety of plants, since the soil can be deeper.


The new normal?

For green roofs to become the norm for new developments, there needs to be buy-in from public authorities and private actors. Those responsible for maintaining buildings may have to acquire new skills, such as landscaping, and in some cases volunteers may be needed to help out. Other considerations include installing drainage paths, meeting health and safety requirements and perhaps allowing access for the public, as well as planning restrictions and disruption from regular ativities in and around the buildings during installation.

To convince investors and developers that installing green roofs is worthwhile, economic arguments are still the most important. The term “natural capital” has been developed to explain the economic value of nature; for example, measuring the money saved by installing natural solutions to protect against flood damage, adapt to climate change or help people lead healthier and happier lives.

As the expertise about green roofs grows, official standards have been developed to ensure that they are designed, built and maintained properly, and function well. Improvements in the science and technology underpinning green roof development have also led to new variations on the concept.

For example, “blue roofs” increase the capacity of buildings to hold water over longer periods of time, rather than drain away quickly – crucial in times of heavier rainfall. There are also combinations of green roofs with solar panels, and “brown roofs” which are wilder in nature and maximise biodiversity.

If the trend continues, it could create new jobs and a more vibrant and sustainable local food economy – alongside many other benefits. There are still barriers to overcome, but the evidence so far indicates that green roofs have the potential to transform cities and help them function sustainably long into the future. The success stories need to be studied and replicated elsewhere, to make green, blue, brown and food-producing roofs the norm in cities around the world.

Michael Hardman, Senior Lecturer in Urban Geography, University of Salford and Nick Davies, Research Fellow, University of Salford.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.