UK Government cuts to housing benefit have led to a 10% rise in mental health problems among private sector tenants, according to new research from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), University of Oxford and London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
In April 2011, the coalition government reduced the amount private renters can receive in Local Housing Allowance (LHA) from 50% of average local rents to just 30%.
A cap was also placed on the maximum amount an individual can claim in LHA each week, similar to ‘bedroom tax’ for social housing tenants: £250 per week for one bedroom, £290 per week for two, £340 for three and £400 for four or more bedrooms.
The Institute of Fiscal Studies estimate the average loss to be £1,220 per year, affecting about 1.35 million individuals. The changes could also plunge between 27,000-54,000 children into severe poverty.
[contextly_sidebar id=”he9tF2IBtwjBkzxOlVbkDa6yu6l0UUmO”]The experiences of 179,000 private renter were documented by researchers over a four-year period (2009-13), some of which were in receipt of LHA, and reveals how Government changes to LHA have impacted on low-income households.
A subsequent report reveals that approximately 20% of people receiving housing benefit were known to be experiencing depression in March 2010. However, researchers found that since 1 April 2011, when changes to LHA came into force, the number of people reporting symptoms of depression had increased by 10% to reach 26,000.
The report highlights how welfare changes can lead to greater insecurity, potential homelessness and an increase in mental health problems; which in turn may counter-act government attempts to reduce the number of people in receipt of sickness and disability benefits.
Private sector tenants in areas where the level of LHA was cut the most such as inner London and Tyne & Wear, reported the largest increases in mental health problems. In many cases, symptoms of depression continued for up to 24 months after the changes to LHA were introduced.
Researchers also argue that government plans to remove eligibility for housing benefit from young people aged 18-21 risks damaging their mental health, which could also have a long-term impact on their chances in the labour market.
Aaron Reeves, Associate Professorial Research Fellow in Poverty and Inequality at LSE’s International Inequality Institute and lead author of the report, said: “Housing provides shelter and security, protecting health and well-being. But when that security becomes uncertain, health, and mental health in particular, is undermined.
“The government’s reduction in housing benefit in April 2011 created uncertainty in the lives of some low-income by making their housing less affordable. This reduction in financial support increased the risk of depressive symptoms among those claiming housing benefit over and above other people in the private rented sector.”
Martin McKee, Professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, added: “At a time when the NHS, and the mental health service in particular, is facing unprecedented pressure, and when NHS leaders are highlighting the need to reduce preventable illness, it is incredible that other government policies are adding to that pressure”.