Poor housing causing health problems for nearly a third of brits during lockdown

01 July 2020

Nearly a third (31%) of adults in Britain – 15.9m 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.1 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,‚Äč 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 - reveals the true shape of the country's housing situation during lockdown:

  • A record 3.7m people are living in overcrowded homes, including a record 1.6m children.2
  • 30,000 people are spending lockdown in a home that consists of one room, and more than 3,600 children are spending lockdown in a home made up of two rooms.3
  • 62,580 families are living in temporary accommodation, the highest number for 13 years.4
  • Millions more people across the country are spending lockdown in homes that are damp and mouldy, insecure or pushing them in to debt.5

The lack of space and cramped living conditions has played a big role in causing health problems for these huge numbers of people during lockdown. More than half of those (52%) who said their homes weren’t big enough said they’d suffered from health problems:

  • More than 1 in 10 (11%) of all British adults said they felt depressed during lockdown because of a lack of space in their home.
  • 1 in 20 (5%) of everyone who said they had a lack of space said this had led them to seek medical help or take medication for their mental health.
  • Almost a fifth (19%) of those in cramped conditions said they hadn’t been able to get enough sleep because 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. Meanwhile, 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. To find out more about the ‘Homes at the Heart’ campaign and see the full list of 61 supporters visit housing.org.uk/HomesAtTheHeart.

Quotes from the campaign partners

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 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 Covid19 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 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.”

Eamon McGoldrick, Managing Director of the National Federation of ALMOs said:

“ALMOs have been at the heart of the pandemic response at a local level.  Working closely with their parent local authorities, they have supported communities through COVID-19: maintaining essential services, helping vulnerable residents, housing and supporting homeless people.

ALMOs work with some of the most deprived communities across the country and have therefore seen the wider social and economic impacts of the lockdown on those communities first hand.  We believe that by investing more now in building new social homes, improving existing social housing and meeting our carbon targets for housing the government can help the country recover quickly and sustainably.”

Case study

Emma, 42, from Luton, is a care worker. She rents a 2 bedroom maisonette from a private landlord, where she had been living with her 13-year-old daughter.

“The mould, damp and leaking pipes got so bad that my daughter had to go to hospital for her asthma twice during lockdown because she couldn't breathe. The house has been bad for a while, but constantly being at home has made her asthma much worse. She had to move in with her father because it’s not safe for her to live here.”

Before the crisis Emma had been in contact with environmental health and her local MP who both tried to help. Her landlord then started eviction proceedings. These have now been delayed because of the ban on evictions but Emma is urgently trying to find a new home.

She said: “I’m desperate to find somewhere else to live. We are on the social housing waiting list but the council has said it could take 16 years for us to get a home. I’ve been looking at private rent but it’s too expensive, especially when you take into account paying a deposit and fees.”

As a care worker Emma is on a zero-hour contract, and her income is topped up by universal credit. She has found it virtually impossible to find a safe and affordable private rented home that accepts people on benefits.

Emma said: "It's heartbreaking. I just want my daughter back with me again."

Notes for editors

  1. Total sample size from YouGov Plc. survey was 4116 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 11th - 15th June 2020.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). These figures represent the proportion of respondents who said they had experienced a negative health related impact during lockdown due to either a lack of space or the condition of their home. This percentage was applied to the latest ONS mid-year estimate for the total number of adults in Great Britain.
  2. Analysis of the English Housing Survey 2017/18, based on people and children living in homes which do not meet the Bedroom Standard. A home is defined as being overcrowded if there aren’t 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. This description of the so-called Bedroom Standard - and how it is calculated for the purposes of the English Housing Survey - is taken from House of Commons Library Briefing Paper 1013, Overcrowded housing (England), published October 2018: “A standard number of bedrooms is allocated to each household in accordance with its age/sex/marital status composition and the relationship of the members to one another. A separate bedroom is allocated to each married or cohabiting couple, any other person aged 21 or over, each pair of adolescents aged 10-20 of the same sex, and each pair of children under 10. Any unpaired person aged 10-20 is paired, if possible, with a child under 10 of the same sex, or, if that is not possible, he or she is given a separate bedroom, as is any unpaired child under 10. This standard is then compared with the actual number of bedrooms available for the sole use of the household and differences are tabulated. Bedrooms converted to other uses are not counted as available unless they have been denoted as bedrooms by the informants; bedrooms not actually in use are counted unless uninhabitable.”

  3. Analysis of the English Housing Survey 2017/18, based on the number of rooms available to a household and the number of people living in dwellings of particular sizes.

  4. Households with dependent children in Temporary Accommodation at the end of December 2019, MHCLG Statutory Homelessness Live Tables. The last time this figure was higher was at the end of June 2007 when it was 64,020.

  5. Analysis of the English Housing Survey 2017/18 shows 2.2m people are living in homes with some form of damp or mould issue.

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