What happens if public service workers can’t afford to live near their work?

The cost of housing in London and the impact on public services

Public services have a recruitment and retention problem. The reasons for this are complex and vary for different areas of the country, and different services.

But in London one of the causes is very clear: housing.

UNISON asked members living in London about their housing situation, and the results showed a worrying trend.

Almost two out of three (62%) are looking to leave London because of the cost of housing. When broken down to health workers who live in the private rented sector, those looking to leave rises to 87%.

London has the highest rents in comparison to average weekly wages.

According to the National Housing Federation, the body that represents independent non-profit housing associations in England: “The average rent in the private rented sector in London is more than double the average for the rest of England.

“House prices in London are nearly double the national average (mean) at £563,000; and average house prices are almost 17 times local salaries, this means that a household in London will require an income of almost £130,000 a year to afford an average mortgage compared to average salaries of just £34,000.”

With low pay and therefore little chance of saving for a deposit to buy, many public sector workers in London rent in the private sector.

So what does this mean for public service workers?

  • 62% say the cost of housing is making them look elsewhere to live and work – a figure that rises to 87% for health workers in the private rented sector.
  • 24% are really struggling to manage.
  • 54% are just about managing..
  • 63% are spending more than 30% of their income on housing – (82% for private tenants).
  • Housing costs are more than £300 a week for one in four people responding (25%).
  • One in four are spending more than 50% of their income on housing.
  • 27% say their housing is unsatisfactory but it’s all they can afford
  • 32% say they want to move but can’t afford to.

One thing’s clear: if public service workers can’t afford to live near the public services they provide, everyone loses out.