Private renters are twice as likely as homeowners to suffer symptoms of anxiety, according to research that finds clear evidence of the links between financial insecurity and poor mental health.
In a report called Anxiety Nation, researchers from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) thinktank found that people with money problems were significantly more likely to report suffering sleepless nights, feeling depressed, and lacking in energy.
These were among 12 symptoms associated with anxiety, which analysis of a mass of survey data showed were more prevalent in people with low incomes, few or no savings, or insecure work.
“Too many people are caught up in a vicious cycle in which mental distress impedes confidence, leading to problems at work, which can in turn lead to issues with debt, housing and even relationships, leading to still more worry,” said Tom Clark, a JRF fellow and the report’s co-author.
“The government needs to wake up to the reality of the twin problems of insecurity and anxiety, which are doing great harm to both national economic welfare and individual wellbeing.”
One of the clearest links the researchers found was between housing tenure and mental health. Private renters were at least twice as likely as homeowners to report 10 of the 12 symptoms, including feeling depressed, under strain and worthless.
The private rental market has doubled in size since 2000 – a shift, the report suggests, that has been “one of the great engines of insecurity in our time”. Tenants enjoy few protections against surging rents and insecure tenancies.
Dan Wilson Craw, deputy director of the tenants’ campaign group Generation Rent, said: “Being a private renter is terrible for your mental health. You have very little control over your housing situation.
“At any moment you could receive a section 21 notice giving you two months to move out, with the landlord needing no reason. They could ask for a higher rent completely out of your budget, prompting a stressful negotiating process. If you have a problem with the heating or damp, you could be waiting months for your landlord to fix it.”
Data examined by JRF in the report shows that diagnoses of anxiety and the prescribing of antidepressants and other drugs associated with mental health problems have risen sharply over the past decade.
Some of the highest rates of prescribing are in the UK’s most deprived areas – and as many as half of all claims for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), the benefit paid to people unable to work for health reasons, are due to mental and behavioural conditions.
To help break the cycle, JRF is calling for next week’s financial statement to include more help for those on the lowest incomes, amid speculation about whether the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, will agree to raise benefits in line with surging inflation.
Sophie Corlett, the interim chief executive at the mental health charity Mind, said: “This report highlights the urgent need to increase the financial support available to those on lower incomes, who are more at risk of experiencing both financial problems and poor mental health. The most effective way the UK government can achieve this is to urgently recommit to uprating benefits at least in line with inflation as soon as possible.”
The JRF report also calls for private renting to be made more secure – including by passing the long-promised ban on no-fault evictions – as well as increased funding for debt counselling, such as that offered by Citizens Advice.
The returning levelling-up secretary, Michael Gove, recently confirmed that the ban on no-fault evictions would go ahead. Liz Truss flirted with ditching the idea during her short-lived premiership, but then recommitted her party to it after a backlash.
The measure, supported by housing campaigners, would end “section 21” evictions, which do not require landlords to give a justification. Gove said he was acting against “the very small but noxious minority of private landlords who are not treating their tenants properly”.
The shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, said: “Across Britain millions are feeling the impact of financial insecurity driving poor mental health. So many are going without food and heating. Prices are soaring, mortgages are rocketing, and many are struggling to pay their bills. Britain deserves better.”
She added that a Labour government would promise access to mental health treatment within four weeks.