Home » Why can’t women in the UK afford to buy their own houses? We ask an expert …

Why can’t women in the UK afford to buy their own houses? We ask an expert …

by Narges Mohammadi

Sara Reis, of the nonprofit Women’s Budget Group, says there is nowhere in the UK where an average-earning female can afford her own place.

It is well known that the UK’s astronomic property prices have locked many people out of home ownership – especially if you’re single. Indeed, there is no region in the UK where a man or woman on median earnings could buy on their own. But a damning report has revealed there is no region where a median-earning woman can even rent alone. I asked the report’s author, Sara Reis, why.

The title of A Home of Her Own borrows from Virginia Woolf’s 1929 essay where she writes that a woman “must have money and a room of her own”. Woolf is talking about writing conditions, but I wonder if women have ever had the space they need.
I don’t think this situation is necessarily new. But we know that, say, 30 years ago, wages and house prices were much closer than they are now. So housing affordability has decreased for everyone, but women still earn less. And if you have a gender pay gap, you will have a gender housing affordability gap.

It can’t help that more than 3 million women have unpaid caring responsibilities. And some have high expenses, such as single mothers.
Absolutely – this group really struggles to make ends meet. Two-thirds of homeless families with children are single parents. So there are groups of women for whom housing affordability is even worse.

Who are the others?
Well, your ability to afford a home is linked to your income. Disabled women, on average, earn less and have the added challenge of finding an adapted home. And there are race disparities. Women from black, Bangladeshi and Pakistani backgrounds have lower earnings.

Which was my mum. Single parent, too, so I’ve seen how those factors intersect. It’s like a really dystopian version of Power Rangers where the Race Ranger, Gender Ranger, Class Ranger and Ill-health Ranger, put their rings together. Mind you, I was a kid in the 90s and the situation seems worse now. Why?
It’s due to the lack of social housing. Before 2010, housing benefit was linked to the median private rental; now it’s linked to 30% of local rents. Some buy-to-let mortgages make not renting to people on benefits a condition, because it’s considered high risk.

How did you calculate the report in terms of rent?
For renting to be affordable, it needs to absorb no more than a third of someone’s wages, and we found nowhere in the UK where renting is affordable for the region’s average woman. That leaves women vulnerable to domestic abuse. If you can’t afford a home of your own, you may not be able to leave a relationship that is dangerous; it’s more dire when there are children involved. Yet rents made up less than a third of men’s median earnings in all regions, except London.

So is London the worst for women?
It’s actually not the region where you will find the largest gender housing affordability gap, though it is unaffordable for everyone.

Very 2022 for equity to be achieved by being crap for everyone. Where was the biggest gap?
The south-east. It’s where there’s the widest gender earnings gap, too.

What’s the best … actually “best” doesn’t seem like the right word.
Least bad?

The north-east. Rent here absorbs 34% of women’s salaries, so just above the affordability line, and 22% of men’s.


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