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What are the mental health consequences of austerity measures in public housing? A quasi-experimental study


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:!/abstract.

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