Poor housing causing health problems during lockdown

By agency reporter
July 3, 2020

Nearly a third (31 per cent) of adults in Britain – 15.9 million people – have had mental or physical health problems because of the condition of, or lack of space in, their home during lockdown, according to a new YouGov survey. This includes people seeking medical help or taking medication for mental health issues, not getting enough sleep, people experiencing depression or stress, as well as those falling physically ill or catching coronavirus.

Five leading housing organisations – backed by 60 businesses, banks, charities and think tanks – have now launched a campaign to warn that the country’s housing crisis is making lockdown even more unbearable for millions. The Homes at the Heart campaign is urging government to put funding for new and existing social homes at the heart of the country’s recovery from coronavirus.

New figures released by the campaign, including an online YouGov survey of 4,116 people and new analysis of the English Housing Survey, have revealed the true shape of the country's housing situation during lockdown:

  • A record 3.7 million people are living in overcrowded homes, including a record 1.6 million children.
  • 30,000 people are spending lockdown in a home which consists of one room, and more than 3,600 children are spending lockdown in a home made up of two rooms.
  • 62,580 families are living in temporary accommodation, the highest number for 13 years.
  • Millions more across the country are spending lockdown in homes that are damp and mouldy, insecure or pushing them into debt.

The lack of space and cramped living conditions has played a big role in causing health problems for large numbers of people during lockdown. More than half of those (52 per cent) who said their homes were not big enough said they had suffered from health problems:

  • More than one in 10 (11 per cent) of all British adults said they felt depressed during lockdown because of a lack of space in their home.
  • One in 20 (five per cent) of those reporting a lack of space said this had led them to seek medical help or take medication for their mental health.
  • Almost a fifth (19 per cent) of those in cramped conditions said they had been unable to get enough sleep due to of the lack of space.

These findings follow a recent review from Public Health England into why BAME people have been worst hit by the pandemic, which found that issues of overcrowding and housing conditions contributed to the increased spread of coronavirus among these communities.

The main cause of these housing problems is the severe lack of housing in Britain, especially social housing. A shortage of homes means growing families have nowhere affordable to move to, leading to overcrowding. Rent in social homes is typically half the cost of privately rented homes, making them much more affordable for people on low incomes. On average, social homes are also of a better standard than those rented from private landlords.

The Homes at the Heart campaign has been set up by the Association of Retained Council Housing, the Chartered Institute of Housing, Crisis, the National Federation of ALMOs and the National Housing Federation. 

Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation, said: “For many people, our homes have been important places of refuge and safety during this pandemic – but for countless others across the country, home has felt less like a sanctuary and more like a prison. Inadequate housing and cramped conditions are making lockdown even more unbearable for millions of people right now.

“Homes have been the centre of our lives during the pandemic and as the country starts to re-open, the government must put homes at the heart of the country’s recovery too. The government have said they want to end rough sleeping, rebuild communities and help the economy bounce back. Putting more money in to building new social homes, and improving the quality of existing homes, will help achieve all of these things – more jobs, a boost to the economy, and affordable, high quality places for people to live and communities to thrive.”

Gavin Smart, Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing said: “The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown has, more than ever, highlighted the importance of having a place we can call home – a place where we feel safe and secure, that has the space families need to work, learn and play. Lockdown has shown us this simply isn’t the case for many people.

“We believe funding for new and existing social homes should be at the heart of the country’s recovery from the virus, helping to tackle homelessness and overcrowding, providing secure and affordable housing for those who have worked tirelessly to keep the country going during lockdown and ensuring the delivery of homes fit for the future. The economic benefits are many, building at scale can kickstart the economy, delivering jobs and training and driving growth and ensuring everyone has a place they can call home. Putting housing at the heart of our efforts will help build a stronger recovery [and] works for everyone in every community across the country.”

Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis said: “The coronavirus outbreak has laid bare the dire housing situation for thousands of individuals and families across the country. It’s also meant we’ve never had a better understanding of the value of home – and the many reasons why it should be available to all.

“As part of the Homes at the Heart partnership we will build on the progress made in tackling homelessness during the outbreak. Urgent investment in social housing would be a major springboard towards ending homelessness for good, ensuring that everyone has somewhere safe and settled to call home. Without this, we risk people returning to our streets or stuck in unsafe, temporary accommodation for months, if not years.”

John Bibby, Chief Executive of the Association of Retained Council Housing, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has once again brought the connection between poor, overcrowded housing and health and wellbeing into stark relief. A legacy of the pandemic must be a renewed determination to ensure that everyone has access to a decent, affordable home.

“I recognise that home ownership is a genuine aspiration for many, but it is not the answer for everyone. In many areas of the country house prices and rents in the private rented sector are unaffordable to those on modest incomes or [in] insecure employment, leaving many in poor, inadequate housing with little disposable income. The housing market is broken, and if the Prime Minister is to deliver his promise to unite and level up the country then we must fix the broken housing market and build more social rented housing to ensure that everyone has access to high quality, affordable homes built to excellent design standards.

“Investing in social housing infrastructure will not only help tackle health inequalities but will save the taxpayer money in the long-run and provide an immediate economic stimulus as we emerge from the impact of the pandemic. Lower, more affordable rents will also ensure that households have more disposable income to spend in the wider economy and/or to save for that first step into home ownership.”

A home is defined as being overcrowded if there are not enough bedrooms for the people living in it – for example, if a child has to share their bedroom with two or more other children, sleep in the same room as their parents, or share with a teenager of the opposite sex. 

* Read Housing issues during lockdown: health, space and overcrowding here

* Homes at the Heart campaign https://www.housing.org.uk/our-work/coronavirus/homes-at-the-heart/

* National Housing Federation https://www.housing.org.uk/

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