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Women are some of the biggest losers in England’s broken housing system

Posted 28 Dec 2021

6 in 10 homeless people living in temporary accommodation are women

Sixty per cent of all homeless adults living temporary accommodation in England today are women, despite only making up 51% of the general population, new analysis by Shelter shows.

The charity’s new report, Fobbed Off, uses in-depth interviews with 34 women and one non-binary person with lived experience of homelessness and bad housing, alongside statistical evidence to expose the disproportionate impact of the housing emergency on women.

In the past decade, the number of homeless women living in temporary accommodation has almost doubled from 40,030 in 2011 to 75,410 today – a rise of 88%. To uncover why so many women are being tipped into homelessness, Shelter commissioned new YouGov polling, which shows the dramatic impact of affordability issues:

  • Of those with housing costs, women are 36% more likely than men to be in arrears or constantly struggling to afford these costs – this equates to 4.7 million women.

  • Lone mothers face the most acute affordability issues with almost 1 in 3 in arrears or constantly struggling to keep a roof over their heads – this equates to 321,000 lone mothers.

  • 69% of women who rent privately worry they wouldn’t be able to afford anywhere decent to live if their relationship broke down – this equates to 2.7 million women.

Shelter then collaborated with a team of peer researchers - with direct experience of homelessness and poor housing – to carry out a unique investigation into the biggest barriers women face in finding a safe and secure home.

Using their own lived experience to build trust and provide insight, Shelter’s peer researchers interviewed 34 women and one non-binary person living in Birmingham, Bristol and Sheffield who were either homeless or living in poor housing at the time. Key findings revealed:

  • Domestic abuse is the third most common cause of homelessness. A third of interviewees had experienced domestic abuse, which often triggered their housing problems.

  • Lone mothers are hit hardest - 1 in 38 lone mothers are homeless in England right now. Interviewees said they faced additional barriers to accessing support, with some disclosing that they did not seek help for fear their children could be removed from them.

  • Rising private rents and a lack of affordable social homes are a major issue. Almost three quarters of interviewees were struggling to afford their housing costs. Several said their housing benefit didn’t cover the rent, others had to borrow money from family or friends.

  • Women are more likely to claim housing benefit and be harmed by welfare squeezes. Two fifths reported housing benefit problems, including discriminatory behaviour from landlords, and welfare restrictions like the Benefit Cap meaning they could not afford a suitable home.

  • A common barrier was being treated poorly by professionals. Two thirds said professionals made them feel like a burden or re-victimised them, one woman described feeling “fobbed off”. Over half said they didn't know where to get help or how to navigate a maze of services.

One of the women interviewed was Toni, 38, from Birmingham, who is homeless following a relationship breakdown. She is currently living with her children in unsuitable temporary accommodation, which is mouldy, in disrepair and inaccessible for her disabled son. Toni is now being supported by Shelter to help her find a safer and more secure home for her family.

Toni said: “When you’re homeless you don’t even get spoken to like you’re human. Because you’re in temporary accommodation people make assumptions about you. It doesn’t make me feel great, I’m not homeless through any choice of my own. I put on a brave face for the kids, but we can’t live a life in a temporary flat forever. This will be our fourth Christmas spent homeless - every year I say we'll be gone by the next, but we’re still here. Temporary accommodation doesn't feel very temporary when it's been that long. I feel like we've been forgotten about.”

Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Shelter, said: “Women are bearing the brunt of our escalating housing crisis, and they are being failed at every turn. No mother should have to choose between buying food or paying her rent. No woman should have to stay with her abuser or face the streets.

“The hike in living costs and cuts to Universal Credit mean it’s only going to get tougher for thousands of women barely hanging on to their homes. It’s appalling women are being fobbed off by professionals who are supposed to help them, and it’s no wonder they feel scared and alone.

“If we’re going to turn back the tide on women’s homelessness, we need to listen to women and better understand their needs. For the women who feel like there’s nowhere to turn, Shelter is here. Our emergency helpline is open 365 days a year so no one has to face homelessness alone.”

To donate to Shelter’s urgent winter appeal and give hope to women and families facing homelessness, please visit Just £10 could answer a call to Shelter’s national emergency helpline, enabling a trained adviser to give expert advice and support to help women and families keep or find a home.


Notes to editors:

About the Research:

  1. The number of women living in temporary accommodation on 30th June 2021 is calculated based on household data from DLUHC, Live tables on homelessness, Statutory homelessness live tables, Table TA2. We have compared this to the number of women in England according to ONS mid-year population estimates: Population estimates for the UK, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland - Office for National Statistics (

  2. Data is based on a YouGov Survey, commissioned by Shelter. Fieldwork 16th – 18th November 2021, online. Sample size 3,645 adults (18+) in England, weighted. Data has been analysed for those with housing costs only; sample size of 2,177, 1,153 of whom were women, 140 are women who did not say they had a wife, husband or partner in the household with children under 18 in the household (defined as lone mothers). Population estimates have been calculated by Shelter. The number of women is based on mid-year population estimates by gender and the weighed sample sizes, with lone mothers based on LFS data for families and households and the weighted sample sizes.

  3. Data is based on a YouGov survey, commissioned by Shelter. Fieldwork 6th August – 7th September, online. Sample size 3,561 adults (16+) who live in private rented accommodation in England. Population estimates have been calculated by Shelter using EHS data and the weighted samples. 69% of women who rent privately worry they wouldn’t be able to afford anywhere decent to live if their relationship broke down, versus 51% of men.

  4. Women are more likely to be in receipt of housing benefit according to data from the DWP on the gender of Housing Benefit claimants as of March 2018, when 66.4% of single claimants in England were women. This is the last date for which the gender of all those in receipt of housing support was available due to the rollout of Universal Credit. DWP, Statexplore, Housing Benefit – Data to March 2018.

  5. The most common triggers of homelessness are taken from DLUHC, Live tables on homelessness, Statutory homelessness live tables, Tables A2P and A2R.

  6. Findings are from Shelter's peer-research, funded by the National Lottery, which looked into women’s experiences of homelessness and unfit housing and the barriers preventing them getting the help they need from services they go to for help. 34 women and one non-binary person were interviewed by 14 peer researchers. When we refer to professionals’ treatment being a barrier to women, this includes professionals working in local authorities, accommodation providers, social services, health workers, the police and charities supporting people with their housing. For more information see Shelter's report 'Fobbed off'.

  7. We have calculated the proportion of lone mothers who were homeless and living in temporary accommodation on 30th June 2021 by comparing the number of such households in TA (35,450) with data from the English Housing Survey 2018-19 on the total number of single female parent households in England (1,342,474). DLUHC, Live tables on homelessness, Statutory homelessness live tables, Table TA2.

About Shelter: Shelter exists to defend the right to a safe home and fight the devastating impact the housing emergency has on people and society. Shelter believes that home is everything. Learn more at

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