In our last blog post we covered some of the issues we face in the project just using statistical data to understand LGB lives in the UK.
In the first of two blog posts, we now want to present some initial findings from our project where we have analysed data from Understanding Society, the UK Longitudinal Household Survey. This follows a representative sample of households across the UK, surveying them at regular intervals, with regular recruitment to ensure that it remains representative of the UK population.
Due to the different welfare benefits system, and different social attitudes and legal positions for LGBT+ in Northern Ireland, in our analysis we only look at data from Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland).
The main focus of this research project is welfare benefits, but we are actually going to start by looking at housing. This is for two main reasons. Firstly, for many people housing costs are their largest outgoing in terms of rent or mortgage payments. These costs can also vary wildly from extremely expensive rents in the private rented sector (PRS) across many places in the UK; to lower social-rents for people who rent from a local council or a housing association; to people with no, or very-low, housing costs if they are fortunate enough to own their home outright (as a third of people in the UK now do).
Secondly, housing has a complicated relationship to the welfare benefits system. In many countries, governments ensure that people can pay their housing costs by just ensuring that income from welfare benefits is enough.
In the UK we more closely link housing costs and welfare benefit levels through Housing Benefit, and now through the housing portion of Universal Credit. For tenants in social housing, of working age, welfare benefits will pay all your rent if you are out-of-work, and a portion of your rent if you are in low-paid work. If you live in the private rented sector then you will receive Local Housing Allowance (LHA) – this is calculated based on local rents. Things get more complicated if you’re over pension age and for people who are paying off a mortgage.
Welfare reform also had a big impact on this. The most high-profile change was the “Bedroom Tax” (formally the under-occupancy charge) which reduced housing benefit for people who were deemed to have a spare bedroom. Other changes were a reduction in entitlement for people under-35 which meant, for many people this age, they could only claim LHA at “single room rate” – the amount needed to rent a room in a shared house or flat. Finally, the Department for Work and Pensions has not carried out the regular reviews of local rent levels that are used to calculate LHA, and it was also frozen from 2016 to 2020, which have steadily eroded its value.
We did say it was complicated!
What do we know about LGB and housing from our initial analysis. The table below provides basic figures. We can see from this that LGB people are more likely to rent in the PRS, and gay men and bisexual women are more likely to rent from a social landlord (these are the differences that are statistically significant at a 95 per cent confidence interval).
|Socially rented||Private rented||Homeowner|
As we discussed in our previous blog post, though, young people are much more likely to live in the PRS and LGB people are also more likely to be young. Therefore, the statistics in the graph could just be an artefact of these LGB people still settling-down, or like many younger people, being unable to afford to purchase their first home.
For this reason, we produced a series of regression models, as discussed in our previous post. In our first model, we put all lesbian, gay and bisexual people together to see if there was a difference with heterosexuals. Initially this suggests there is a negative impact on rates of homeownership for LGB people because they are LGB (i.e. they are less likely to own their own home) even though they are younger, or might share other characteristics that make them less likely to be homeowners.
However, an issue with this approach is women are very different from men, and so lesbians and bisexual women are likely to have very different outcomes from gay men and bisexual men. To deal with this, in the first modelling approach we can include a variable that intersects non-heterosexuality and female gender. When we do this, our results become statistically insignificant. This suggests there is something about gender and sexual identity that has an impact on homeownership, but the sample size is insufficient in this dataset for us to identify what is really happening.
Another approach which we have tried is to create separate variables for lesbians, gay men, bisexual men and bisexual women. When we do this, we bump into the issue of sample size again and a lot of our results become statistically insignificant.
The dataset we are using, Understanding Society, asks participants who are homeowners the value of their home. This is where we do get some interesting findings with this modelling approach. In our analysis this suggests that lesbian homeowners own lower-value homes than their heterosexual counterparts. This is slightly counter-intuitive as other analysis (including of Understanding Society data) suggests lesbians, on average, earn more so should be able to afford a more expensive home.
Conversely, we find that while gay men are less likely to own their own home than heterosexual men, if they do own their own home, it is likely to be worth more than a home owned by a heterosexual man. This does suggest that, when gay men do get on the property ladder, the “double-income-no-kids” stereotype might be true.
From this complex picture, we might conclude that in terms of housing, there is nothing for us to be concerned about in terms of LGB people and their access to housing, and any welfare issues that flow from this.
However, we would argue there are at least three practical concerns we must consider. Firstly, as mentioned above, housing benefit (or the housing portion of Universal Credit) has been substantially reduced for people under-35. While it seems that the higher proportion of LGB people renting in the private-rented sector might be a product of their lower than average age, this still means that this group, along with all younger populations, have been disproportionally affected by this cut in welfare benefits.
In practice, this means in the qualitative interviews we have carried out, that young people are being forced to live with their parents until aged-35 because they simply cannot afford to move out. Some of these people are concerned about their safety sharing a home with strangers.
For this reason, we would strongly encourage, and hope that, the UK Government does increase welfare benefits in-line with inflation in the budget this Thursday, 17 November 2022. Reversing some of the punitive reductions in welfare benefits imposed over the past decade would also help LGBT+ people considerably.
Secondly, this could also mean there is “trouble ahead”. Home-ownership rates are falling in Great Britain, and the average age of purchasing your own home is increasing. If these young LGB people do not manage to get on the property ladder now, then they could miss the opportunity to own an asset that is very important for individual welfare in later life. As we will explore in our next post, there is some evidence that LGB might really struggle to afford home-ownership.
Thirdly, we can already suggest that this may be the case with lesbians. That they own properties that are worth less than heterosexual women, means they will have fewer assets to draw upon when they are older, which could impact on their quality of life.
As the project progresses, we will be repeating this analysis with other datasets to see if these patterns recur. In particular, we will be analysing the Wealth and Assets Survey which has more detail on house values and mortgage debt. We will also be interested to see whether these inequalities relating to one financial asset (housing wealth) also extend to other key aspects of wealth such as pensions savings.
The project has been funded by the Nuffield Foundation, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation. Visit www.nuffieldfoundation.org