Four generations growing up in social housing: new report

18 June 2009

A major report, published by the Tenant Services Authority with support from Joseph Rowntree, is one of the first pieces of large-scale research to use all four of Britain’s cohort studies, three of which are managed by CLS. Its findings challenge current government policy on social housing.

Growing up in social housing in Britain: A profile of four generations from 1946 to the present day

Tenant Services Authority / Joseph Rowntree.
Authors: Ruth Lupton, Wendy Sigle-Rushton, Polina Obolenskaya, Ricardo Sabates, Elena Meschi, Dylan Kneale and Emma Salter, with Cathie Hammond, Diana Kuh and Brian Dodgeon.

Four generations ago, families in social housing included almost the full range of occupational backgrounds.  Council and housing association homes offered high quality. However, from the 1960s, home ownership took over from social housing as the main type of housing for families. Over time, the more advantaged families moved out. Increasingly, encouraged by government policy, social housing has acted as a ‘safety net’. It has also lost out in terms of relative desirability.

Society is also now more unequal than it was. The result is that the gap between the socioeconomic circumstances of children in social housing and those in owner-occupied or private rented housing is wider than for any previous generation.

This report, using datasets generated by the 1946, 1958, 1970 and Millennium Cohort Studies, produced the following major findings:

• On average, those who lived in social housing as children were worse off as adults in terms of health, well-being, education and employment than their peers

• Most of this pattern, especially for people born in 1946, can be explained by differences in family background

• However, for people born in 1958 and more so in 1970, living in social housing as a child was still associated with some worse adult outcomes, even after accounting for family background

• These patterns are stronger for women than men

• They do not vary substantially by social class, region, housing quality or neighbourhood characteristics

• They suggest that as the social housing sector has become smaller and more focused on the most disadvantaged, it has become less likely to deliver positive benefits in other aspects of people’s lives.

Ruth Lupton, lead author of the report, said:

“Recent policy statements have proposed reducing the security of tenure of social tenants or requiring them to seek work. This report offers no support for reducing the attractiveness of social renting or the number of homes available. If anything, it suggests the reverse: we need to help social housing catch up with the desirability of home-ownership housing, and increase its social mix. Crucially, other areas of social policy, such as childcare and education, also need to more effectively tackle gaps in advantages between different types of housing in childhood, as these cannot be effectively addressed through housing policy initiatives.”

Most of the authors are based at the Institute of Education (IoE).  Ruth Lupton works for both IoE and the London School of Economics (LSE).  Wendy Sigle-Rushton is based at LSE, and Diana Kuh at the MRC National Survey of Health and Development (NSHD).

The report follows earlier work on social housing by many of the same authors.  See:

FEINSTEIN, L., LUPTON, R., HAMMOND, C., MUJTABA, T., SALTER, E., SORHAINDO, A., TUNSTALL, R., RICHARDS, M., KUH, D. and JOHNSON, J. (2008) The Public Value of Social Housing: A longitudinal analysis of the relaitonship between housing and life chances.