United Kingdom

Polarisation by housing tenure

Graphs on this page:

Supporting information:

Key points

  • Half of all people in social housing are in low income compared to one in seven of those in owner occupation (using the Government’s main measure of low income, namely 60% of median income after deducting housing costs).  Both risks are similar to a decade ago.
  • In two-thirds of households in social housing, the head of household is not in paid work.  This compares to a third for heads of owner-occupier households.  This situation has remained broadly unchanged throughout the last decade.  The differences are, however, much greater than thirty years ago: in 1981, the head of the household was not in paid work in ‘only’ half of households in social housing.
  • Half of heads of households aged between 25 and 54 in social rented housing are not in paid work compared to just one in fifteen of those in owner-occupation.
  • Three-quarters of heads of households in social housing in Northern Ireland are not in work, more than in any other part of the United Kingdom.  By contrast, for owner occupiers, the proportion of head of households in Northern Ireland who are not in work is similar to the United Kingdom average.
  • Wales has a notably high proportion of workless heads of households in owner-occupied housing.

Why this indicator was originally chosen

The growth of owner occupation, although it has spread home owning across the income distribution as a whole, has nevertheless left a larger proportion of the poorest, and particularly those without paid work, in social housing.  Some of worst affected estates now have unemployment rates three times above the average. 1  This indicator reflects that polarisation.

The indicator is only a partial measure of polarisation; for example, low income ethnic minority groups and those with disabilities are not so concentrated in social housing; 2 and there is also considerable local variation within the social rented sector.  Even so, the degree of polarisation between different tenures at the national level is now very marked, in contrast to 20 years ago.

Definitions and data sources

The first graph shows the proportion of people in low-income households for people in social housing compared to people in owner occupation.

The data source for the first graph is Households Below Average Income, based on the Family Resources Survey (FRS).  For 2002/03 onwards, the data relates to the United Kingdom whilst the data for earlier years is for Great Britain (FRS did not cover Northern Ireland until 2002/03).  Income is disposable household income after deducting housing costs and the low-income threshold is the same as that used elsewhere, namely 60% of contemporary median household income.  All the data is equivalised (adjusted) to account for differences in household size and composition.  The self-employed are included in the calculations.  Note that in 2007 DWP made some technical changes to how it adjusted household income for household composition (including retrospective changes) and, as a result, the data is slightly different than previously published figures.

The second graph shows the proportion of households where the ‘household reference person’ (the person with the highest income in the household 3) is not in paid work, with the data shown separately for households who are social renting and for owner occupiers.  The term ‘head of household’ is used in the graph to refer to the ‘household reference person’.

The third graph provides, for the latest year, a breakdown by age group and tenure.

The fourth graph provides a breakdown by region.  To improve its statistical reliability, the data is the average for the latest three years.

The data source for the second, third and fourth graphs is the Labour Force Survey (LFS) and relates to the United Kingdom.  The figures for each year are the average for the four quarters of the relevant year.  Note that the data for 1981 is for Great Britain only.

Overall adequacy of the indicator: high.  The FRS is a well-established annual government survey, designed to be representative of the population as a whole.

External links

Relevant 2007 Public Service Agreements

None directly relevant.

The numbers

Graph 1

Year Proportion of households who are in low income
Social renters Private renters Owner occupiers
1994/95 51% 50% 14%
1995/96 51% 46% 14%
1996/97 56% 48% 14%
1997/98 54% 46% 14%
1998/99 55% 43% 14%
1999/00 54% 43% 14%
2000/01 54% 40% 13%
2001/02 52% 41% 13%
2002/03 52% 41% 13%
2003/04 49% 40% 12%
2004/05 47% 37% 12%
2005/0647% 38% 14%
2006/0748% 42% 13%
2007/0847% 39% 14%
2008/0947% 40% 14%

Graph 2

Year Proportion of heads of household who are not in paid work
Social renters Private renters Owner occupiers
1981 52% 44% 31%
1997 71% 40% 34%
1998 71% 40% 34%
1999 70% 39% 33%
2000 69% 38% 33%
2001 69% 42% 34%
2002 70% 36% 33%
2003 70% 35% 33%
2004 69% 34% 33%
2005 69% 34% 33%
200668% 32% 34%
200767% 32% 34%
200866% 31% 34%
200967% 33% 35%
201068% 33% 36%

Graph 3

Age group Proportion of heads of household who are not in paid work
Social renters Private renters Owner occupiers
Aged under 25 70% 43% 10%
25 to 54 51% 23% 7%
55 to pensionable age 64% 37% 29%

Graph 4

Region Proportion of heads of household who are not in paid work
Social renters Private renters Owner occupiers
East 62% 27% 34%
East Midlands 67% 33% 35%
London 62% 26% 30%
North East 71% 44% 37%
North West 72% 41% 36%
Northern Ireland 78% 43% 35%
Scotland 67% 36% 34%
South East 61% 27% 35%
South West 66% 30% 38%
Wales 72% 40% 40%
West Midlands 69% 36% 36%
Yorkshire and The Humber 71% 38% 35%
1. Hills (1998) The state of welfare
2. Lee and Murie (1997) Area measures of deprivation, Joseph Rowntree Foundation. 
3. More specifically, the household reference person is the householder, i.e. the person who: a) owns the household accommodation, or b) is legally responsible for the rent of the accommodation, or c) has the household accommodation as an emolument or perquisite, or d) has the household accommodation by virtue of some relationship to the owner who is not a member of the household.  If there are joint householders the household reference person will be the one with the highest income.  If their income is the same, then the eldest householder is taken.