How the cost of living crisis is affecting LGBTQ+ people
Disproportionate homelessness, wider pay gaps and the loss of liberating nightlife spaces as clubs close at record levels: charities and campaigners tell us of the potential impact on queer people.
Over the past few months, news – and the desperate realities – of the cost of living crisis has felt like an insidious plague. Schools are warning governments of children going hungry, and the UK’s poorest are likely to spend half of their disposable income on energy bills alone during the winter, while Conservative chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s latest mini-budget, which sees sweeping tax cuts for the rich and saw the pound crash to its lowest level against the US dollar in 37 years, is predicted to benefit London and the South East, overlooking the rest of the UK.
It comes as little surprise that the cost of living crisis is, by and large, impacting the young, the working-class and marginalised groups across the country.
The LGBTQ+ community is certainly feeling the effects – and will continue to. Whether it’s the 24 per cent of homeless young people who identify as LGBTQ+ (homelessness in the UK could increase by 66,000 people by 2024 due to the cost of living crisis, predicts housing charity Crisis and Heriot-Watt University), the trans people having to “choose between eating and getting hormones”, or the threat of closure of gay clubs that provide safe spaces for their communities – a result of the mounting energy prices on hospitality businesses, with more than a quarter of the UK’s nightlife venues expected to shut its doors in the next few months.
“The LGBTQ+ community in general, and the trans community more specifically, are already being disproportionately affected by the cost of living crisis,” says Cleo Madeleine, communications officer at Gendered Intelligence, a trans-led grassroots organisation aiming to increase awareness and understanding of gender diversity, and improve the quality of trans people’s lives.
“This happens on a broad spectrum,” she adds, before referring to recent research conducted by The Human Rights Campaign in the US which found that LGBTQ+ workers continue to earn less than their straight counterparts. “We can fairly easily transplant it to the UK. LGBTQ+ people, particularly trans people, tend to be paid substantially less than those outside of the community, which means that we’re already going into the cost of living crisis on an uneven footing.”
Before the cost of living crisis had even kicked off, LGBTQ+ people in a range of jobs – from hospitality to office work – were being paid at a disproportionate level, according to research conducted by People Management back in 2019. A survey of 4,000 workers across the UK showed that LGBTQ+ workers earned 16 per cent less (around £6,703) than straight workers. The research also found that 26 per cent of LGBTQ+ respondents were not open about their sexuality at work, with three in ten fearing they’d be judged by coworkers.
More recently, in research published in June, the Trades Union Congress found that one in five workplaces don’t have policies in place to support LGBTQ+ staff, while the pay gap still lies around 16 per cent.
“Trans people are much more likely to be in precarious employment or precarious housing,” Madeleine continues. “We’re so much more likely to face discrimination around employment opportunities and around housing access. The cost of living crisis hits are disproportionately affecting the LGBTQ+ community and unfortunately they’re not isolated stories – this is happening on a community-wide scale.”
Currently, UK unemployment is at its lowest since 1974. But that’s not translated into pay growth, which is nowhere near keeping up with the rate of inflation. Coupled with the ongoing attacks on trans people, discrimination in the workplace – if they’re even able to get a job in the first place – and the impending doom of the winter months, the cost of living crisis is having a devastating impact on these communities.
“It’s particularly difficult for the trans community at this moment in history, because the cost of living crisis is hitting at the same time as an accelerating campaign of transphobia is happening in the press and in government, particularly in England,” Madeleine says. “England has been singled out for condemnation because of its failure to protect trans people, and due to the challenges to trans rights and to fundamental safety and dignity [issues] that have come from the highest levels of government.”
And with housing security becoming increasingly precarious (house sharing is on the rise in the UK, as people find new means to face soaring monthly bills), fears of an impending rise of homelessness are becoming reality.
Hayley Speed, who works for LGBTQ+ housing support organisation AKT, is witnessing it first hand. “In the last few quarters, we’ve had increasing referrals for our services,” she says. “I think it particularly feels like it’s being felt in London – we’ve had a really high increase there for demand for services and people seeking out for support.”
This is, in part, due to the fact that cities such as London, Manchester and Brighton are where, as Speed says, queer people “are drawn,” thanks to the queer communities there. But these are also the more expensive cities in the UK. “The way the housing system is set up, there’s barriers that come in if you’ve not got local connections, and the restrictions around support you get from the statutory system – the local authorities or the councils. That’s why charities have to step in and provide that support.”
The disproportionate figures of homeless people who identify as LGBTQ+ is, sadly, often a result of unsupportive and homophobic families. In London, rents are growing at their fastest annual rate in 16 years, with the average monthly rent hitting a staggering £2,257, while rents in Manchester rose by 19 per cent in the past year. In 2020/21, only 5,955 new homes for the cheapest social rents were provided in England, while “nearly 40,000 a year” were built a decade ago. Yet across the UK, 278,110 households were assessed as “either being threatened with homelessness or already homeless in 2021 – 22,” according to recent research by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities. So where does this leave queer people in difficult housing situations?
“Getting your foot on the ladder, getting your first private rent deposit, it’s just not an option for some of our young people,” Speed says. “People might not have been born in the UK because they’ve come here due to the safety of their own country, or they’ve not got the family support networks, for example.”
The solution, Speed says, is to create more affordable housing in the UK. But more than that, the current model of government “help” doesn’t include a large swathe of people. “A lot of the initiatives might [make it] seem like progress is being made, but actually they don’t speak to the people in the homelessness system who often have to live in B&Bs in temporary accommodation, where it’s not regulated the way it should be and they have no control over the provider.”
In addition, Speed emphasises the help and support that trans people need, with prejudices affecting their chances of housing. “There’s often this idea that they don’t meet criteria or the threshold,” she says. “The negative rhetoric that’s going on plays out in people’s prejudices when [trans people] are needing the help and support, but it’s just compounding the situation for them.”
Culturally, the cost of living crisis is effecting queer spaces, too, which is a vital organ for, well, existing. A safe environment for queer people of all spectrums, the closures and changes to nightlife spots can have devastating consequences. They have always been pillars of freedom and liberation, places for LGBTQ+ people to be freely themselves, without fear of judgement in a world that sees them on the fringes.
But as well as closures, the cost of living crisis could start changing the way queer nightlife operates entirely, as Alex Loveless, a trans masc DJ who runs London clubnight Body to Body, has picked up on. “Everyone’s feeling the pressure of it right now,” Loveless says. “But it’s surprising to me [that] in our community everything’s getting a bit meaner. People are expecting these problems to be fixed by each other, cancelling people on Instagram, demanding more payments from people.” Speaking to Loveless, it feels like the DIY spirit of queer nightlife is fast diminishing.
“When I was, like, 19, we’d all be skint but we’d do things for fun. Obviously I’m not saying anyone should work for free, but back then it was fun and it was all part of a community thing.” Whether or not the freedom of getting out and starting a night with your mates – not just for financial gain – is feasible in the cost of living crisis is questionable, though, which Loveless notes.
“When I go to some clubs, they haven’t got the budget,” he says. “It’s hard to get new people involved when there’s no money in it, because people are so busy doing day jobs just to survive. It’s gotten so bad that something good has to come out of it.”
“People are going to struggle to express their identity when they’re not able to pay their bills, eat or heat their houses,” says working-class artist Gracie Brackstone, 21, who identifies as queer, and recently lost her mum to alcoholism. “My mum was a working-class woman and was on benefits when I was a child. I was thinking about how much my family would have and will struggle due to the cost-of-living crisis and all the families around me who are going to, also”
She’s also seeing the effects it’s having on her queer friends. “I feel sad for my friends who don’t feel comfortable in their bodies. One of my friends has recently come out as trans and wants to undergo top surgery, which of course will be a struggle to do in the current climate, especially with [hospital] wait times. People who have issues with body and gender dysphoria are going to of course be affected.”
Later this year, Brackstone is setting up an exhibition in London titled Art is Coming, bringing together queer friends and fellow artists to “channel all that anger in beautiful ways,” she says.
Often, in the bleakest of times, the youth revolt. The queer community has a long history of protesting, fighting against the rigid structures that constrain us. Currently, homelessness, job discrepancies, a lack of housing and the threat to queer spaces are having devastating effects on LGBTQ+ people from all walks of life. The cost of living crisis feels like a mad fever dream. But we’re all in it together. In times of helplessness, there’s power in that.