Lucy Mangan

Lucy Mangan: “It costs women 26% more than men to rent in London. Why?”

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Lucy Mangan
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Our columnist finds that the numbers do, unfortunately, add up…

Stand by for a small nerd-out. A recent massive bout of number crunching by matching site Ideal Flatmate has yielded the following astonishing and yet all too credible statistics: across the UK, the average man needs to spend 28.6% of his net monthly salary on rent to live in the local area. The average woman needs to spend 42.6% of hers.

Or you can slice it – along with the dry bread you are femalely living on at this point – another way. Local rents are affordable (ie require the outlay of 30% or less of net salary) to men across 42% of the UK. This is true of only 0.3% of the UK for women.

I’m going to fling in a few figures specific to London now – look away if you’re a) a Londoner, b) moving there soon and/or c) feeling fragile. Men wishing to live near where they work can expect to shell out 56% of their income on rent. That’s bad. Women wishing to do so can wave goodbye to 82% of it. That’s worse. A lot worse.

If you would like to duck out for a moment to put your request for a pay rise in right now, please do. We’ll wait, gladly.

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Because that’s obviously what’s lying at the heart of these depressingly disparate figures. The gender pay gap (which comes in at different amounts depending on which study of which demographic you read – and here’s the thing – never collapses completely) effectively skews our whole lives. And it frequently compounds other injustices, especially here where it intersects with where we live.

When I got my first job in London after graduating, I worked out where I could rent using two factors alone: my pay packet and how close I could live to the office and still feel safe coming home on the train. I couldn’t afford anywhere near a Tube station, but I needed to feel safe walking back to the flat after dark. Local amenities, shops, distance from friends, family – none of that mattered. I basically needed a postcode that, decoded, read “Unraped, unbankrupted”. This translated as a one-bedroom flat in zone six that was fine once I had made it clear to the man across the hall that I was not looking to become his friend with or without benefits.

Men can expect to shell out 56% of their income on rent. Women can wave goodbye to 82% of it.

It’s a trade-off I have had to make (though less centrally so as I’ve been lucky enough that more slack has entered my financial system over the years) and a penalty that I have had to pay with every move since. I suspect it’s the same for so many more of us that we have ceased to notice it as either such thing.

But trade-off and penalty it is. First you earn less, then you either spend disproportionately more to feel safe or you live disproportionately vulnerably. It’s a choice, but not much of one. Just like the cab fares you pay rather than walk home through unknown streets whose risks you haven’t been able to predetermine. Just like the decision to smile and nod and make nice with the man who interrupts you at the pub or reading a book on the train or minding your own business and having a nice little daydream in a shop queue. It’s better than the unlikely but far from improbable alternative that he will rapidly make the situation unpleasant and intrude even more on your time and attention if you do not.

In the matter of income versus rent and affordability, we at least have the comfort of quantifiability. Numbers are (almost) tangible in a way that our rapid internal calculations are not. But the latter are as accurate and as meaningful as the former and they should be as starkly unacceptable to everyone. Our sums add up perfectly. Now we just need the right answers.

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