Cost of Living Crisis: The financial impact on women's access to housing

The graphic shows a bright teal background with white left-aligned text quote that reads "The conversation about equal pay for women must extend to other aspects of women’s lives. For example, the fact that women are more susceptible to poverty and experience financial crises longer and more often.". The quote is attributed to Dr Melissa Espinoza. In the top right-hand corner of the graphic there is Engender's logo, which is an equals sign in a dark teal circle.

As part of our blog series on the cost of living crisis, Dr Melissa Espinoza looks at how a national/global crisis can exacerbate existing barriers for specific populations, and how the current financial crisis interacts with women's experiences of housing and homelessness.

When discussing the financial crisis, we must consider the difficulties of often overlooked populations. For some, the financial crisis will be a temporary and challenging time, but not a long-term way of living. Many people had already long been struggling to survive. They were already operating in crisis mode before the financial crisis. For many, the financial and housing rental crises have been years in the making.

Covid-19 is a clear example of how a national/global crisis can exacerbate existing barriers for specific populations. In other words, an increased cost of living always hits the poorest first and hardest. According to a recent report by the Women’s Budget Group (WBG), “[o]ver a decade of austerity policies, low wage rises and cuts to social security have left many people in poverty. While the richest households saved money during the pandemic, the poorest fell further into debt, with no cushion to cope with rising prices now.” Hence, many bought new homes while many people also could no longer afford their rents during the pandemic. The media conversations about the cost of living focus on households who are newly experiencing financial burdens due to the cost of living rises. However, many renters and people living in temporary accommodations struggle to keep a roof over their heads and escape the cycle of living paycheck to paycheck. Even more difficult would be for people to move into affordable accommodation after experiencing homelessness.

It’s no surprise that poverty is a significant factor in determining susceptibility to experiencing homelessness. When discussing factors and characteristics that make up vulnerable populations and their susceptibility to poverty and inequalities, it is important to remember that these characteristics are never biological, but rather, consequential of historical systems created by people and upheld by current governing bodies and society. Many UK academics and non-profit researchers have pointed out that Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and Black populations are more likely to experience higher poverty rates in the UK, stating a variation of “[t]his is because they are more likely to work part-time, be under paid, and be self-employed”. However, their analysis often omits essential components to systemic issues impacting these specific groups. Reports and research continuously leave out how racism makes it harder for Black and Brown and other minority ethnic populations to gain access to wealth through lack of full-time employment opportunities and housing discrimination. There are also cultural and gendered components to consider regarding discussions about employment. It is also vital to discuss the racist historical impacts of colonialism, and how that continues to play out in current housing, social, and public policy.

This omission of language and context is damaging and perpetuates an already dangerous narrative that some demographics are naturally poorer. For example, these surface-level discussions of homelessness and poverty perpetuate that there are communities in our society that live in destitution by individual choice and not by design. Similarly, conversations about being disabled while navigating an ableist system are often strategically shaped around individual challenges and not systematic design. Comparably, conversations about the gender pay gap remain ongoing.

The conversation about equal pay for women must extend to other aspects of women’s lives. For example, the fact that women are more susceptible to poverty and experience financial crises longer and more often. While the pay gap between women and men is important to address within organisations and industries, there is a larger conversation to be had about the gap in opportunities between genders and working and middle classes. According to Living Wage Foundation, more women than men work in the lowest paying industries, thus making less than the living wage. There have been some industries that have also reported that women face slower career progression than men. However, even if women could have more access and opportunity to higher paying careers and roles, women with families would still be expected to perform household work and unpaid labour. This was highlighted during the pandemic when many women were expected to do more of the educational work with their children, and attend to caregiving needs of parents, while also working from home.

Being a household caregiver restricts the time someone can spend working full-time. Hence, women are more likely to work part-time to attend to unpaid household carer responsibilities. WBG reports that “women have been hit harder by cuts to social security and provision of public services over the past decade.” When part-time work benefits are reduced, the likeliness of generational and gendered poverty is increased. Joseph Rowntree Foundation also highlighted that, “...lone-parent families, which are predominantly headed by a female, have the highest poverty rate of any family type.” Hence, women and children from single-parent households are vulnerable to becoming homeless, cold, and hungry during the financial crisis.

While both men and women experience homelessness and face similar experiences, there are still stark gendered differences in the ability to move on and prevent homelessness. Many women experience homelessness because of domestic abuse that includes financial (control) abuse from their partners. Many women fear asking for help with housing for concern of losing their children due to their homelessness experience. However, because women are more likely to work part-time for less than the living wage, securing an affordable flat is more complex and moving out of temporary housing more challenging.

Conversations around the financial crisis spend little time mentioning that we are born into flawed human-made systems and societies that pre-determine which parts of our identities are worthy and which parts of our identity are a cost to society. More importantly, the discussion for solutions to the financial crisis often gloss over the demand that systems and policies adapt to reflect a more just society. Likewise, little time is spent focusing on the power of opportunity and choice for all populations. When people, especially women from under-resourced and historically exploited communities, have genuine autonomy over choice and opportunities across societies, we can begin to prevent future crises.

We know that there are many different aspects to the cost of living crisis, and we’re keen to highlight all of the different ways that it is impacting women in Scotland. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be hosting blogs on a range of issues related to the cost of living and we want to hear from you – if you're interested, please drop us an email at letting us know what aspect of the cost of living and its impact on women you’d like to write about.

Guest posts do not necessarily reflect the views of Engender, and all language used is the author's own. We aim for our blog to reflect a range of feminist viewpoints, and we offer a commissioning pot and editorial support to ensure that women do not have to offer their time or words for free. Find out more here.

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