17.5 million people now impacted by the housing emergency

Posted 26 May 2021

Race, disability, sexuality and socio-economic status all barriers in the fight for a safe home

One in three adults in Britain (34%) are now impacted by the housing emergency, ground-breaking new research from Shelter shows today. 

The charity questioned 13,000 people in detail about their home and housing experiences. This research has been combined with the latest government data on homelessness to expose the true extent of the housing emergency. Shockingly, when children are factored into the results, the number of people affected by Britain’s housing emergency rises to 22 million.

Shelter’s findings, published in its report, ‘Denied the Right to a Safe Home’, reveal not only the scale of the housing emergency, but also the gross inequality in the housing system:

  • Race: Black people are 70% more likely to be impacted by the emergency than White people; and Asian people are 50% more likely. 1m Black adults (57%) and 1.8m Asian adults (48%) do not have a safe or secure home compared with 33% of White adults.

  • Disability: 54% of people with a significant disability (1.8m adults) do not have a safe or secure home, compared with 30% of people without a disability.

  • Single mothers: 65% of single mothers (1m adults) do not have a safe or secure home, compared with 37% of two-parent households.

  • Socio-economic status: Low-income households on less than £20k a year are 70% more likely to be impacted than households earning £40-45k a year. (4.7m adults on a low-income do not have a safe or secure home.)

  • Sexuality: 40% of gay or lesbian (287,000) and 49% of bisexual people (201,000) are impacted by the emergency, compared with 32% of heterosexual people.

The research, carried out with YouGov, uses eight criteria to measure if someone has access to a safe and secure home. This includes whether their home is unaffordable, unfit or unstable, and if they have been subject to discrimination due to their race, gender, disability or sexuality.

Case study: Single mother Krystalrose, 27, privately rents a one bed flat in London with her daughter. She became homeless when pregnant and lived in a hostel before moving into her current home. There is severe mould and damp, but it is the only place Krystalrose can afford.

Krystalrose said: “I pay good money for this place - I can’t afford a big food shop anymore; I really have to watch how much I eat. I thought for the amount of money it was going to be a proper home. I've tried to make it feel like one, but it's not. The mould has ruined my daughter's cot and all our clothes. We’re living out of bags. I'm asthmatic and we have both become ill because of it. It's just been about coping; I'm on antidepressants now because of the stress. All I want is a home where we can feel safe and comfortable. The simple things like a wardrobe to pack your clothes away; a living room with a sofa to sit on; not having to share a bedroom. My daughter doesn’t know what that feels like. It’s like our lives can’t move forward.”

The charity’s research also reveals the biggest issues people face with their housing. 11.8 million people (23%) are living in homes with significant damp, mould and condensation, or that they cannot keep warm in winter. Unaffordability and insecurity are two other key issues; four million people (8%) report regularly cutting back on essential items, like food and heating, to pay their housing costs. And four million people (8%) state they are worried about losing or being asked to leave their current home. This is largely driven by private renters who live in the least secure housing.

Shelter’s report concludes Britain’s housing system is unaffordable, unfit, unstable and discriminatory – a situation made even worse by the pandemic. To end the escalating housing emergency, it wants the government to build at least 90,000 good-quality social homes a year.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “Decades of neglect have left Britain’s housing system on its knees. A safe home is everything, yet millions don’t have one. Lives are being ruined by benefit cuts, blatant discrimination and the total failure to build social homes.

“Shelter believes a safe home is a human right, but the pain and desperation our frontline staff see every day shows this is still a long way off. That’s why we are fighting for the single mum who has to put her child to bed in a room covered in mould, and the disabled man living on the twelfth floor with a broken lift. We are fighting for everyone impacted by the housing emergency - and as we emerge from the pandemic, we want the public and politicians to do the same.”

With millions denied the right to a safe home, Shelter is calling on the public to join its Fight For Home and stand up against the injustice in Britain’s housing system.


Notes to editors:

Case studies: Shelter has a range of case studies and photographs available. Please contact the press office for further information. Example below:

Gemma, 38, from Devon, works in a school and lives with her husband and two children. Gemma has disabilities, including Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and generalised anxiety disorder. Her son is autistic, and her daughter is a young carer for her brother. Gemma’s family have moved four times since 2017 due to Section 21 ‘no-fault’ eviction notices. The family are currently renting a 3-bed house but face eviction in June.

Gemma said: “As a renter in the private sector, you never feel safe. You’re constantly at the mercy of other people. Something changes, and your home is taken from you.  My husband said to me, 'We're trapped because we're paying so much in rent that we can't afford to save.’

“Moving constantly takes a massive toll on your health. I was diagnosed with the anxiety disorder after the first Section 21; I've never had anxiety issues before. My son is autistic, and the frequent moves are very disturbing for him. It can take months for him to settle down. And every time we've got settled, we have to move again. I want a home that can be our real home, rather than living in fear that we’ll be asked to leave. Whether it's social housing or a long-term rental – somewhere that we can feel safe and secure. Just somewhere to call home.”

About the research:

  • Shelter commissioned YouGov to conduct an online survey among 13,268 adults (18+) in Great Britain, to ask them about their home and housing experiences. 4,410 of the respondents were experiencing the housing emergency. Fieldwork was undertaken between 6 – 14 April 2021, and the figures have been weighted to be representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

  • The survey asked respondents whether they agreed or disagreed with 8 statements which were used to create an overall measure of the housing emergency. If a respondent agreed to at least one of the 8 statements below, they were categorised as ‘impacted by the housing emergency’:

  1. I/we do not have enough bedrooms in the home, meaning there is a need for unsuitable room sharing (for example parents sharing a bedroom with children, older children sharing a bedroom with siblings of the opposite sex, living spaces used for sleeping).

  2. My home has a significant mould, condensation or damp problems

  3. I cannot keep my home warm in winter

  4. My home has safety hazards such as faulty wiring, fire risks, or hazards that could cause a fall

  5. The home I live in is not structurally sound (it has significant defects/issues to the walls and/or roof)

  6. I/we regularly have to cut spending on household essentials like food or heating to pay the rent/ mortgage payments on my home

  7. I worry that I might lose/ be asked to leave the home I am currently living in (e.g. through eviction or repossession, or being forced out at short notice)

  8. Thinking about the home I currently live in; I/we found it hard to find a safe, secure and affordable home because I experienced discrimination because of my race, gender, sexuality, nationality, or religion

  • Numbers of people are estimates calculated by Shelter using the survey results in conjunction with official statistics on population sizes.

  • The combined measure of people who have significant damp, mould and condensation, or that are hard to heat in winter is anyone who agreed to either My home has a significant mould, condensation or damp problems; or I cannot keep my home warm in winter.

  • The estimate for single parents and two parent households is calculated using respondents’ answers to I live with a wife/husband or partner and I live with Own/ partner's child(ren) 16 years or younger. Where a person has children under 16 in the home, but do not live with a wife/husband or partner they are identified as single parents. Shelter further filtered the data by gender of respondent to get Single Mother estimates

  • All population estimates use the % result from the survey against the Office for National Statistics Mid-Year population estimates for adults (51,220,471) or adults and children (64,903,140).

  • Ethnicity categories have been set up in line with the Office for National Statistics guidance on ethnicity. Each participant was asked to describe their ethnicity from a list of 18 options, these were combined along the proscribed lines, to 5 broad ethnic groupings. Details of the groups are found here.

  • To estimate populations by ethnicity Shelter has used the 2011 census data on the proportions of each ethnicity. Details can be found here – Shelter has assumed the proportions in this data (England and Wales only) are not significantly different across GB as a whole. More accurate estimates will only be available when the 2021 census data is published.

  • To estimate the proportion of the population with disabilities Shelter has used the Family Resource Survey 2019/20 estimates and combined its headline estimate of the disabled adult population (9.7m) with the estimated proportion of disabled people that said their day to day activities are limited a lot by their disability (34% of all people reporting some form of disability in the survey data) and Shelter’s combined measure of the housing emergency. Details for the Family Resource Survey can be found here.

  • To estimate Gay/Lesbian and Bisexual populations Shelter has used the proportions reported by the Office for National Statistics in their 2018 Sexual Orientation release. Shelter has used the proportions reported here and combined it with ONS mid-year population estimates and survey results.

  • To estimate the number of single mothers in the population we have used the Family Resource Survey 2020 and combined this with survey estimates for single mothers. Details can be found here.

  • Homelessness was accounted for in Shelter’s analysis of the total housing emergency, using the government’s Temporary Accommodation (TA) statistics, published quarterly by MHCLG – details of which can be found in Tables TA1 and TA2 of the Statutory Homelessness live tables (Q4 2020). Equivalent data for Wales can be found in Homelessness accommodation provision and rough sleeping: February 2021, and for Scotland, equivalent data can be found in Homelessness in Scotland: update to 30 September 2020 and March 2021 Covid-19 dashboard.

About Shelter: We exist to defend the right to a safe home and fight the devastating impact the housing emergency has on people and society. We believe that home is everything.