Home means something different to everyone.
For me, my home is now a place of relaxation, a place where I can withdraw from the world and a place that I can call my own. It is filled with positive memories and items I have collected from around the world, especially from my motherland of Ghana. To me, it represents comfort, safety, and security.
What I do recognise is that this not the case for everyone, and I am acutely aware of my privilege.
The definition and experience of ‘home’ can be vastly different from person-to-person. Therefore, the Government’s approach to staying at home has had a varied impact across a broad spectrum of people, each facing their own challenges amidst the housing crisis.
There are many challenges in relation to housing and coronavirus which I cannot possibly cover in one blog alone but what I will do is focus on some key issues: condition of housing, overcrowding, and homelessness.
Condition of housing
Three words: ‘Stay at home’. Such a simple phrase, but one that illuminates division and divide in our society.
A lock-in is an entirely different experience for those staying in luxury ‘corona-mansions’ compared to those living in unsuitable conditions – peeping through the keyhole of social media at their privileged counterparts.
A report commissioned by National Housing Federation (NHF) found that 1.4 million people in England lived in poor quality homes.
Also, 1.7 million people lived in unsuitable housing, including: older people and people with physical disabilities stuck in homes they can’t get around, and families in inappropriate properties, for example those that have no outside space.
That is millions of people staying in substandard housing, which in turn impacts their physical and mental wellbeing.
Staying at home has therefore only highlighted the housing divide, as we ask those who endure hardship to again shoulder more than others.
In the same NHF report, it was uncovered that 3.6 million people in England are living in overcrowded homes. Furthermore, ethnic minorities make up the majority of that figure.
By advising people to stay at home, we have forced the most disadvantaged in society to face weeks and months trapped in a space that increases their risk of infection from the virus and opens them up to additional health concerns.
The Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology (POST) published a note summarising evidence on the impact on health of overcrowding and lack of space from a Shelter survey:
Most families living in overcrowded homes said their living conditions affected their mental health, stress, privacy, and sleep quality. Concerns about children’s physical health, as well as their ability to play and study, were frequently raised. The Housing Health and Safety Rating System also refers to the increased risk, from overcrowding and lack of space, of accidents, infectious diseases, condensation, and mould. Living in overcrowded housing negatively affects children, including being associated with respiratory issues.
While staying at home has been essential to preventing the spread of Covid-19, we need to ask what measures were put in place to support or even consider people in this position; and what is being done now to address some of the issues that may have arisen from this time spent in lockdown?
The pandemic has seen many sections of our society struggle due to deep seated inequalities, and none more so than the homeless.
In a report by Shelter, This is England: A picture of homelessness in 2019, it is estimated that, ‘on any given night in 2019 there will have been just over 280,000 people who were homeless, which is a rate of 1 in every 200 people.’ In London, ‘1 in 52 people are now homeless in the capital.’
With that in mind, a seemingly simple directive of staying at home becomes entirely impossible for millions, and again, the risk of contracting the virus and becoming ill are automatically increased for one of the most disadvantaged groups in our society.
As Crisis states:
People who are sleeping rough are more likely to suffer from respiratory conditions. They can’t wash their hands. And if someone is sleeping rough or in a crowded night shelter, it’s impossible to self-isolate.
Although the Government announced emergency funding for homelessness charitable organisations affected by Covid-19, and has given councils addition aid to help get people in to accommodation and off the streets, already there are murmurs of covertly pulling that relief.
As unemployment, eviction and homelessness increases in the wake of Covid-19, our government needs to put their foot on the gas, not the breaks. This is a real chance to fix the housing crisis.
Getting 5,400 rough sleepers of the streets and building 3,300 new homes is a start. But what about when the lockdown eases, and what about the hidden homeless?
When we look at the pandemic in relation to housing, it has only magnified the crisis, and the differences in quality of life and risk between the rich, poor, and everyone sitting in between on the wealth scale.
Government guidance towards staying at home has taken a ‘one size fits all’ approach, and the people who it undeniably suits is the most advantaged in our society. Decisions have made using privileged families as the blueprint.
As an estimated 250,000 people flooded out of London to second homes, and others temporarily relocated 260 miles away to a family home, those who don’t have the means or option have stayed put, locked up in poor housing situations that increases their risk of contracting Covid-19, and a plethora of other health issues.
The pandemic has lifted the lid on the housing crisis, and now is the time for Government to take action. Not just short term as part of their Covid-19 strategy, but long term – for the future.
There are so many aspects that I haven’t even managed to touch upon. I would like to invite you to share your opinions and stories below in the comment section, so we can fill in the gaps together, and share the hidden crisis around housing under lockdown. Many voices will ensure our message is not only heard but listened to and acted upon.