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What are the mental health consequences of austerity measures in public housing? A quasi-experimental study
  1. Chungah Kim1,
  2. Celine Teo2,3,
  3. Andrew Nielsen2,3,
  4. Antony Chum1,3,4
  1. 1School of Kinesiology and Health Science, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  2. 2Department of Applied Health Sciences, Brock University, St Catharines, Ontario, Canada
  3. 3MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions, Unity Health Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  4. 4Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Dr Antony Chum, School of Kinesiology and Health Science, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada; antony.chum{at}gmail.com

Abstract

Background As governments around the world implement austerity measures to reduce national deficits, there is an urgent need to investigate potential health impacts of specific measures to avoid unintended consequences. In 2013, the UK government implemented the underoccupancy penalty (ie, the bedroom tax) to reduce the national housing benefits bill, by cutting social housing subsidies for households deemed to have excess rooms. We investigated the impact of the bedroom tax on self-reported psychological distress.

Methods Using data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study (2010–2014), the sample included those who received housing subsidies, aged 16–60, living in England. Control and treatment groupings were identified on their household composition and housing situation. We used matching methods to create an exchangeable set of observations. Difference-in-differences analysis was performed to examine changes across the prereform and postreform psychological distress of the treatment and control groups, using the 12-item General Health Questionnaire.

Results The implementation of the reform was associated with a moderate increase in psychological distress (0.88, 95% CI 0.06 to 1.71) among the treatment group, relative to the control group. However, the announcement was not associated with change in psychological distress (0.53, 95% CI 0.21 to 1.27).

Conclusion Our study provides evidence that the implementation of housing austerity measures can increase psychological distress among social housing tenants. As the use of austerity measures become more widespread, policy-makers should consider supplementary interventions to ameliorate potential negative health consequences.

  • policy
  • mental health
  • longitudinal studies
  • housing
  • public health

Data availability statement

Data are available in a public, open access repository. Data are available in a public, open access repository. This data can be accessed through the UK Data Service: https://beta.ukdataservice.ac.uk/datacatalogue/series/series?id=2000053%23!/abstract.

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Data availability statement

Data are available in a public, open access repository. Data are available in a public, open access repository. This data can be accessed through the UK Data Service: https://beta.ukdataservice.ac.uk/datacatalogue/series/series?id=2000053%23!/abstract.

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Footnotes

  • Twitter @antonychum

  • Contributors CK contributed to conception and design of the study. CK performed the statistical analysis. CT, CK, AN and AC wrote the first draft of the manuscript. All authors contributed to manuscript revision, read and approved the submitted version. AC as the gurantor had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accracy of the data analysis.

  • Funding Funding for the project is provided through research start-up funds from Brock University, Faculty of Applied Health Science, to the project principal investigator, Antony Chum.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.

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