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Housing unaffordability

Why Oxfordshire urgently needs solutions. 
 

Oxfordshire remains among the least affordable places to live in England. The latest ONS statistics (for 2022) show that the average house price is over 10 times average household earnings in Oxfordshire, making it the 8th least affordable county in England. 

The problem is worst in the city of Oxford, where the average house price is 11.9 times average household earnings. To put this in context, the equivalent figure for England as a whole is 8.3. Outside certain boroughs of London, the only city local authorities that are less affordable are Chichester, Winchester, Cambridge, and Brighton and Hove.

 

Meanwhile the situation is dire for renters. The average lower-income earner in Oxfordshire actually earns more than they would in any other county in England: £27,502 (2022 figure). But still, at £850 pcm, even the average price of a lower-cost one-bedroom flat – i.e. the average price of a 1-bed flat within the cheapest 25% of flats – would consume 45% of their take-home pay. The equivalent figures for Oxford city are £28,664 and £1,000 pcm, i.e. 51% of take-home pay. (Data on average rental prices for 2022-23 available here.)

 

If a household spends more than 40% of its income on rent, it is considered to be overburdened by rent payments.

Under-occupation

This situation has been fuelled by, among other factors, under-occupation of the county's housing: over 3,000 dwellings in Oxfordshire are second homes (nearly 700 of them in Oxford). In addition to this, the county has over 2,300 long-term empty homes (nearly 600 of them in Oxford (November 2023)).

And it has been exacerbated by a surge in the number of holiday lets in recent years. In July 2023, Oxford City Council reports, there were 1,325 short lets in Oxford, with 765 (58%) of these let as entire properties. At that point the number of short lets in Oxfordshire as a whole was growing at 13% per year.

 

Why this is a problem

When we cannot afford housing and stay put, this can harm our mental wellbeing, causing stress and anxiety. By reducing the disposable income we have available to spend on other things which may promote good health, such as high-quality food and exercise, it can also negatively affect our physical wellbeing.

When we cannot afford housing in the area where we have connections, and are forced to move away to somewhere where we can afford it, we increasingly suffer from spatial marginalisation. This occurs when we're forced to move away from our workplaces, schools, families, friends, doctors, dentists, etc. – and from the places to which we may have deep and sustaining attachments.

This has a negative impact even on those of us for whom housing is affordable. We and the places where we live depend on people on lower incomes. They're critical to the functioning of our hospitals, our schools, our transport, our shops, our streets. If they can't get into work because of their spatial marginalisation, or are tired, stressed or off sick because of it, we all suffer. And if they have to travel into work from far away, this clogs up our roads and public transport, making life worse for those of us who are fortunate enough to live close to where our daily activities take place.

Who this is a problem for

 

Those of us who report finding it most difficult to afford our rent or mortgage payments are disproportionately:

  • renters

  • disabled adults

  • adults living in a household with one adult only and at least one dependent child (e.g. single parents), the vast majority of these adults being women

  • Asian or Asian British adults or Black, African, Caribbean or Black British adults


In addition to these groups, LGBTQIA+ people are more likely to experience homelessness (Crisis).

But while these may be the people most affected directly by housing unaffordability, ultimately we all suffer for the reasons mentioned above.

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