Reductions in the United Kingdom's Government Housing Benefit and Symptoms of Depression in Low-Income Households

Am J Epidemiol. 2016 Sep 15;184(6):421-9. doi: 10.1093/aje/kww055. Epub 2016 Sep 8.


Housing security is an important determinant of mental ill health. We used a quasinatural experiment to evaluate this association, comparing the prevalence of mental ill health in the United Kingdom before and after the government's April 2011 reduction in financial support for low-income persons who rent private-sector housing (mean reduction of approximately £1,220 ($2,315) per year). Data came from the United Kingdom's Annual Population Survey, a repeated quarterly cross-sectional survey. We focused our analysis on renters in the private sector, disaggregating data between an intervention group receiving the government's Housing Benefit (n = 36,859) and a control group not receiving the Housing Benefit (n = 142,205). The main outcome was a binary measure of self-reported mental health problems. After controlling for preexisting time trends, we observed that between April 2011 and March 2013, the prevalence of depressive symptoms among private renters receiving the Housing Benefit increased by 1.8 percentage points (95% confidence interval: 1.0, 2.7) compared with those not receiving the Housing Benefit. Our models estimated that approximately 26,000 (95% confidence interval: 14,000, 38,000) people newly experienced depressive symptoms in association with the cuts to the Housing Benefit. We conclude that reducing housing support to low-income persons in the private rental sector increased the prevalence of depressive symptoms in the United Kingdom.

Keywords: depression; housing; mental health; natural experiment.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / economics*
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Financing, Government / trends
  • Housing / economics*
  • Housing / trends
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Mental Health / economics*
  • Mental Health / trends
  • Poverty / psychology*
  • Prevalence
  • Private Sector / economics
  • Public Assistance / economics*
  • Public Assistance / trends
  • Self Report
  • Social Determinants of Health / economics*
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology