By Peter Matthews, Professor of Social Policy and LGBTQ+ Studies at the University of Stirling

One of the challenges of housing policy is that the decisions we make today have repercussions for decades, or even centuries, to come.

As is widely reported in the media, across the UK we’re experiencing a housing crisis: rising numbers of people sleeping rough; increases in statutory homelessness; a decline in affordability of rented and owned housing; and the age at which most people buy their own home increasing. The most common living arrangement now for all people between 18 and 24 in the UK is living with their parents.

In our recently published paper in Social Policy and Society we have sought to understand what these broader changes might mean for lesbians, gays and bisexuals.

Our analysis of almost a decade of data from British households from Understanding Society, the UK Longitudinal Household Survey, is thought to be the first of its kind in the UK. The survey follows a representative sample of households across the UK, surveying them at regular intervals, with regular recruitment to ensure that it remains representative of the UK population. (Unfortunately, the survey does not yet collect data on trans identities.)

We found that lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people in Britain have poorer housing outcomes than their heterosexual counterparts. LGB people are less likely to own their own home, more likely to rent in the private rented sector, and more likely to be social renters than their heterosexual counterparts, according to our study, which was funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

The widest disparities came in socially-rented housing: 20% of lesbian women, 26% of bisexual women, 17% of gay men and 15% of bisexual men were in socially rented accommodation, compared to 11% of heterosexual women and 12% of heterosexual men, according to the findings.

And 16% of heterosexual men and 19% of heterosexual women rented privately, compared to 21% of gay men, 19% of bisexual men, 23% of bisexual women and 12% of lesbian women.

The report found that not only are LGB people less likely to be homeowners, those LGB people who have children or are part of a couple – married or co-habiting – are statistically significantly less likely to own a home than their heterosexual counterparts.

How have these inequalities come about? They’re likely a direct result of three things: gay and bisexual men being refused mortgages and life insurance in the 1980s and 1990s because of stigma with HIV/AIDS; the long-term rule for a male signatory on a mortgage application, which excluded all women from homeownership; and, more recently, the fact that gay men and bisexuals are earning less.

But to fully understand the study, it’s important to take a deeper dive into the methodology.

When we consider descriptive statistics (just counting people) from our initial analysis, we find that LGB people are more likely to rent in the private rented sector than non-LGB people, and gay men and bisexual women are more likely to rent from a social landlord than other groups.

However, young people are much more likely to live in the private rented sector and we know that LGB people are also more likely to be young – about 6% of the population under 25 identify as LGB, compared to less than 1% of over-70s. Therefore, the descriptive statistics could just be an artefact of these LGB people still settling down or, like many younger people, being unable to afford to purchase their first home.

For this reason, we produced a series of regression models. In our first model, we put all LGB people together to see if there was a difference with heterosexuals. Initially this suggests there’s a negative impact on rates of homeownership for LGB people because they are LGB (i.e., they are less likely to own their own home), even though they are younger or might share other characteristics that make them less likely to be homeowners.

However, an issue with this approach is women are very different from men, and so lesbians and bisexual women are likely to have very different outcomes from gay men and bisexual men. To deal with this, in the first modelling approach we can include a variable that intersects non-heterosexuality and female gender. When we do this, our results become statistically insignificant.

This suggests there’s something about gender and sexual identity that has an impact on homeownership, but the sample size is insufficient in this dataset for us to identify what’s really happening.

Understanding Society also asks people the value of their home. This is where we do get some interesting findings with this modelling approach. In our analysis this suggests that lesbian homeowners own lower-value homes than their heterosexual counterparts. This is slightly counter-intuitive as other analysis (including of Understanding Society) suggests lesbians, on average, earn more so should be able to afford a more expensive home.

Conversely, we find that while gay men are less likely to own their own home than heterosexual men, if they do own their own home, it is likely to be worth more than a home owned by a heterosexual man. This does suggest that, when gay men do get on the property ladder, the ‘double-income-no-kids’ stereotype might be true.

From this complex picture, we might conclude that in terms of housing, there’s nothing for us to be concerned about in terms of LGB people and their access to housing.

However, we’d argue there are two practical policy concerns to consider.

Firstly, housing benefit (or the housing portion of universal credit) has been substantially reduced for people under-35. While it seems that the higher proportion of LGB people renting in the private-rented sector might be a product of their lower-than-average age, this still means that this group, along with all younger populations, have been disproportionally affected by this cut in welfare benefits.

In practice, this means that, in the qualitative interviews we’ve carried out, young people are being forced to live with their parents until age 35 because they simply cannot afford to move out. Some of these people are concerned about their safety sharing a home with strangers.

Secondly, this could also mean there’s ‘trouble ahead’. As we mentioned at the start of this piece, we’re experiencing a housing crisis and homeownership rates are falling.

If these young LGB people don’t manage to get on the property ladder now, then they could miss the opportunity to own an asset that’s very important for individual welfare in later life.

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