How is The Lack of Affordable Housing in London Damaging Our Key Workers?

The housing crisis in London has been a hot topic of conversation for quite some time now. However, there is one particular subject that hasn’t had the same focus or attention:

How spiralling rents and property prices are adversely affecting London’s key workers.

This may not be an issue for the average employee that works a 9-5 shift, but key workers often work ten to twelve hour shifts, alternating between day and night. Today, it is becoming normal for London’s key workers to commute from outside of London.

Given the vital contribution that key workers such as nurses, police officers and teachers make to our society, we believe that living in the same city they work should at least be a viable option. So we’ve set up a business practice within the company called LOWEkey Prioritisation to help address the problem.

This article sets out to highlight the challenges that key workers face, as well as demonstrate how their job could be transformed by living closer to their place of work. It also explores a potential solution to the problem – collaboration between guardian schemes and the public sector to make the most of vacant property.

The challenges facing key workers today:

Rising Stress Levels

The research set out below demonstrates not only the stress that key workers are experiencing, but also how proximity to London is a major contributing factor to that stress:

  • Between 2010 and 2015, 35% of police officers were on sick leave for stress related illnesses. Moreover, in 2014 there were 23,000 working days lost due to illness caused by stress.
  • 54% of the ‘blue light’ emergency services workers serving the city are no longer living within London, resulting in an increase in stress/sickness levels and a decline in job satisfaction (MPS, 2015).

Anthony Scantlebury from the GMB London Ambulance Service comments on a typical emergency workers daily routine:

“If you finish at 7pm in the evening, before you get home and get yourself sorted out, it is probably 10 o’clock at night. And then you need to leave home at half past four in the morning again to start work at seven.”

He continued “that cuts down on your sleep time and you get progressively more tired as the week goes on.”

Additionally, Ken Marsh, the chairman of metropolitan police federation has noted that whilst the very nature of policing has always been challenging, stress levels are the highest they have ever been, with the average shift being 10.5 hours. If one takes into consideration the commute of the officer from outside of London, this can lead to a 14-hour day.


It is vital that key workers (particularly those that work within the emergency services) are able to travel to work quickly and easily. Turning up to work late is simply not an option, and the essence of the emergency services is built upon reliability, punctuality and efficiency. Proximity to work is of critical importance in maintaining these three key elements.

Looking specifically at the theme of punctuality, UK transport links are not helping our key workers. For instance, in the last quarter of 2015, 34% of Thameslink/Southern rail and 25% of Southeastern rail peak-hour services failed to arrive at their destination within five minutes of the scheduled time (Office and Rail Road, 2016). Ken Marsh commented on the challenges that our key workers face when there are significant transport delays: “Many of our officers are living significant distances away; if the transport system breaks down or there are issues outside of London – what do you do then?”

Lack of Affordable Housing

The lack of affordability is another major problem for key workers in London, which was demonstrated by ‘Halifax Key Worker Housing Review’ (2011).

This review found that in 2001, 64% of towns were affordable in comparison to 2011, when only 38% of towns were affordable. Within the report, nurses were cited as being the worst off, with only 22% of towns being affordable. Unsurprisingly they found that “the least affordable areas for key workers are all in London: Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster and Camden being the lowest”.

The London Chamber of Commerce (2016) also found that the basic annual pay for police constables, firefighters and ambulance paramedics is not sufficient enough to rent or buy an average one or two bedroom home in London. Whilst these key workers basic annual pay is from £21,692 to £37,626, the take home pay required to rent a one bedroom home in London is £41,143. In addition, the income required for a first time buyer in London is said to be £80,722, which is over double the amount of income of a police constable.

Could Public Sector Land Alleviate The Situation?

The public sector holds large vacancies across their portfolio which could go a long way to re-house key workers who are currently commuting from out of London. In 2012, there was around 4,736,120 sq.ft (552 buildings) of public sector land and buildings in London, which were marked as vacant according to e-PIMS (2012).

Perhaps the public sector would be better off maximising the value of their vacancies by allowing some of London’s vital key workers (through guardian schemes) to benefit from their central locations, rather than simply selling them off privately.

If done right, guardian schemes can provide quality and affordable accommodation to London’s key workers, in close proximity to their work. Furthermore, well-run guardian schemes also instil a sense of community and provide the flexibility in contracts that young people today demand.

The solution should be mutually beneficial because it also provide the public sector with a cost-effective solution to managing its vacant buildings.


What’s clear is that key workers are struggling to either rent or buy in London. In fact, they are being forced to commute from afar, resulting in strains on both the key workers and the public sector services. As always, there are great difficulties in solving major social issues such as the housing crisis. However there are always solutions, and we believe that one of those solutions is guardian schemes.

With there being an overwhelming amount of vacant properties in London, owned by the public sector, it seems that collaboration between guardian schemes and the public sector could be a great solution for thousands of key workers in London. To address this, I’ve recently set up a team within the company called LOWEkey which is dedicated to prioritising affordable accommodation to London’s key workers. We want more and more collaboration between ourselves and the public sector to help solve this crisis for our key workers.

As well as the public sector generating a huge amount of savings from using guardian schemes, they can also generate a large amount of homes for their workers.


  1. e-PIMS (2012)
  2. Halifax (2011): Halifax Key Worker Housing Review, Page 1.
  3. London of Chamber (2016): Living on the Edge: Housing London’s Blue Light Emergency Service.
  4. MPS (2015): Freedom of Information request response.
  5. Office and Rail Road (2016): Public performance measure (PPM) by train operating company – Table 3.44