‘Pandemic could lead to surge in demand for social housing from women and single parents’

Social housing support needs to be targeted at those likely to be worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic – in particular women and lone parents, says a new study.

woman with empty purses


Women and single parents are likely to be most negatively impacted by Covid-19 which could lead to a surge in demand for social housing, according to a new study.

The study by researchers at the University of East Anglia found women make up the majority of those in social housing. It says early evidence suggests the pandemic has hit them harder in the job market – particularly those on low incomes, with single parents more likely to have to reduce their hours as a result of a lack of childcare.  A reduction in household income means that a surge in demand for social housing seems inevitable, says the study.

Dr Emiliya Lazarova, associate professor in economics, and Pierre Bruton, a third year undergraduate student in UEA’s School of Economics, combined data on social housing availability and waiting times with regional employment data and industry evidence and found that local authorities with a high proportion of single parents and people working in industries struggling as a result of Covid-19 will be the most strongly impacted, facing a large rise in demand for social housing. They say authorities will have to target those in need to appropriate housing and reduce the period it takes for the application process to complete.

Dr Lazarova said: “Covid-19 has spread globally but its impact across industries, ethnicities, ages and genders has been felt very differently and we may see a widening of gender inequality.

“The pandemic has had a big impact on female-dominated industries and with children at home requiring attention, women and lone parents have been faced with the greatest struggles. As schools reopen in September, there is urgent need for social housing. However, the rise in demand could vary across different local authorities.”

The researchers show there is substantial variation between the most common industries worked across local authorities and in the percentage of the population working in them. They also find that proportionally more women work in industries that have been worst hit by the pandemic.  In Barking & Dagenham, for example, the researchers say there are many single parents and a large proportion of the population work in a struggling industry, which means demand for social housing may rise significantly. However, they point out that Richmond upon Thames has very few single parents and many residents work in an industry that has not struggled so much throughout the coronavirus pandemic. While they use evidence from local authorities in London and Norfolk, the researchers say the issues they raise have implications more widely.

“We see that the gender employment gap may be a worsening issue in certain areas,” said Dr Lazarova. “As many government support schemes such as the furlough scheme are being wound down, evidence highlights that women, and especially those with children, are already experiencing a drop in working hours. Therefore, women are likely to be working less and receiving a lower income. For lone parents without the support of another income earner in the household, this is a pressing issue.”

The researchers also point to issues around the slow housing application process and rigid registration standards, as well as reported increases in domestic abuse cases during lockdown. They say domestic abuse victims will be in urgent need of social housing.

Bruton said: “If the government allow flexibility within their policies, permitting local authorities to work to their needs, we will see efficient housing allocation suitable to the demand of their population. This means that policies such as ‘Build, Build, Build’ may provide more appropriate support for each locality in the long run, but targeted measures are needed here and now.

“In this climate, we need to be aware that women may be more negatively impacted by the consequences of Covid-19. If left unaddressed, gender inequality is set to worsen significantly. Providing suitable and flexible social housing is an
urgent requirement now.”

Meanwhile, ONS figures out today show 12% of the workforce remain on furlough leave, with 67% of furloughed employees receiving top-ups to their pay. And analysis by Centre for Cities shows that one in six UK workers have returned to the office, with worker footfall in cities at 17% of pre-lockdown levels during the first two weeks of August. The report, which looked at Britain’s 63 largest cities, found that employee footfall in London was 13% of pre-lockdown levels, while in Cardiff and Edinburgh it stood at 14%, with Belfast’s rate at 18%.

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