Housing

Renters 'age faster' than homeowners, according to science – but effects can be reversed

A new study has linked faster biological ageing to private renting. But don’t worry if you’re not yet on the housing ladder, the effects are reversible

renters are ageing faster than homeowners

The insecurity of the private rented sector is one of the factors that may be leading to renters ageing biologically faster than homeowners. The Big Issue has launched the End Housing Insecurity Now campaign to call on Rishi Sunak to protect low-income renters. Image: Karolina Grabowska / Pexels

Whether it’s worries of over a rent increase or the fear a no-fault eviction is around the corner, private renting can be a stressful experience. Now, a new study has found a link between renting and faster ageing.

The University of Essex research revealed tenants show signs of faster ‘biological’ ageing, which means damage to the body’s tissues and cells, irrespective of actual age, than homeowners or people living in social housing.

The potential biological effect is so stark that the difference between renting and owning a home can have nearly double the impact on ageing as being employed versus being out of work, researchers found.

But the good news is that the effects are reversible, underlining the need for housing policy that supports renters.

The Big Issue’s End Housing Insecurity Now campaign is calling on Rishi Sunak to do just that by bringing forward the Renters Reform Bill, unfreezing local housing allowance and reforming universal credit.

“What it means to be a private renter is not set in stone but dependent on policy decisions, which to date have prioritised owners and investors over renters,” University of Essex researchers wrote in the study, which is published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

“Policies to reduce the stress and uncertainty associated with private renting, such as ending ‘no-fault’ (Section 21) evictions, limiting rent increases, and improving conditions may go some way to reducing the negative impacts of private renting.”

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The academics behind the study set out to uncover how aspects of housing are associated with physical and mental health, including cold, mould, crowding, injury hazards, stress and stigma.

To do this, they studied epigenetic information alongside social survey data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study and the British Household Panel Survey as well as looking for signs of biological ageing, captured through evidence of DNA methylation in blood samples.

Researchers looked at factors alongside housing costs, payment arrears and overcrowding as well as renters’ education level, diet, financial hardship, weight and even whether participants were smokers.

Researchers concluded the impact of renting in the private sector, as opposed to outright ownership without a mortgage was almost double that of being out of work rather than being employed. It was also 50% greater than having been a former smoker as opposed to never having smoked.

When historical housing circumstances were added to the mix, repeated housing arrears, and exposure to pollution and environmental issues were also associated with faster biological ageing.

By contrast, living in social housing was no different to outright ownership in terms of its impact link to biological ageing.

However, the study was only an observational study and could only uncover an association between renting and biological ageing rather than demonstrating a cause. The study also cannot show the impact across difference ethnicities as the DNA methylation data came only from white, European respondents.

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Reacting to the study, Dan Wilson Craw, deputy chief executive of Generation Rent, said the research shows the impact rent reforms could have in improving renters’ health.

Last week Generation Rent joined the New Economics Foundation and tenant unions ACORN, London Renters Union and Greater Manchester Tenants Union in releasing a Renters Manifesto.

The manifesto called on the government to boost security, standards affordability, fairness and housing supply in the private rented sector by bringing through long-promised rent reforms, introducing rent controls and scaling up housebuilding.

“Our home is so important to our health. Uncertainty about how long we can live somewhere is stressful, while disrepair and damp conditions make us physically ill,” said Wilson Craw.

“Private renters, who face the threat of arbitrary eviction and live in the worst quality housing, are particularly vulnerable to poor health as a result. As more older people have no option but to rent, policymakers need to act urgently.

“The government has a huge opportunity to improve renters’ health by passing the Renters (Reform) Bill, which will stop landlords evicting tenants without providing a reason, and make it easier to hold landlords accountable for the quality of their homes.”

We’re calling on the prime minister to make sure everyone can afford to stay in their homes and pay for the essentials. Will you join us and sign the petition?

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

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