The health of 1.9 million private renters is being harmed by poor housing quality, new research reveals today.
Housing charity Shelter said that one in five renters (22%) in England are having their mental or physical health harmed by living in accommodation which is unaffordable, insecure or inadequate, highlighting a major link between the housing crisis and public health.
It comes as MPs raised a link between housing and the Covid-19 pandemic in their ‘Coronavirus: Lessons Learned to Date’ report, published yesterday (12 October) by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee and Health and Social Care Committee.
The report said there was “increased exposure to Covid as a result of people’s housing” which played a role in the “unacceptably” high death rates amongst people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities.
Renters are now preparing for a hard winter with soaring gas and food prices, the £20 cut to Universal Credit, and shorter notice periods for private renters all taking effect.
What do the figures show?
Mouldy, cold, unaffordable and insecure rentals are just some of the problems renters are facing across England, according to Shelter’s YouGov poll.
Over a quarter (26%) of all renters said they are affected by damp and mould; 26% also said they cannot heat their homes in winter; 21% said they are constantly struggling to pay rent; and 19% said they experience the fear of eviction.
According to Shelter, renters experiencing any one of these issues are three times more likely than renters without these issues to say their current housing situation is harming their health.
In a separate poll of private renters only, 39% said their housing problems or worries left them feeling stressed and anxious; 22% said their housing issues or worries made them physically sick; and 21% said their housing issues had negatively affected their performance at work.
Which areas are worst affected?
Shelter’s survey reveals a widespread issue, however regional differences do exist.
The South East is the worst affected region. The study reveals one in four renters (27% or an estimated 329,000 households) are being harmed by poor housing.
In comparison 16% of renters in the North East say their health is affected by poor housing.
The mental health crisis is the worst in the North West. Here nearly half of private renters said they had been left feeling stressed and anxious since the start of the Covid pandemic (March 2020).
Richard from Manchester, is just one of the estimated 445,000 renters in the region whose mental and physical health has been affected by poor rental conditions.
The 44-year-old and his partner were illegally evicted from their private rental in June 2020 – at the height of the pandemic. His partner had also had a stroke in January 2020, which left them both off work and resulted in them struggling to pay rent.
Their rental property had severe mould, unsafe electrics and serious leakages which took a major toll on their physical and mental health.
Richard said the landlord’s “bullying and unreasonable behaviour” caused a great deal of stress.
He said: “We were two weeks’ late with our rent when we were served with an eviction notice telling us to get out by the end of April 2020.
“Then the pandemic put us into lockdown, and we couldn’t leave – the nastiness from our landlord only increased. It was awful being stuck in an unsafe home with a bullying landlord during lockdown, our nervous systems were completely shot.”
Richard and his partner are now living in an assisted-living housing association flat.
What needs to be done?
Polly Neate, chief executive at Shelter, said the housing crisis will never be cured until decent social homes are built.
Ms Neate said: “The cost of poor housing is spilling out into overwhelmed GP surgeries, mental health services, and hours lost from work. The new Housing Secretary must get a grip on the housing crisis and tackle a major cause of ill health.
“The government can ease the pressure on renters’ health now by providing targeted grants to clear rent arrears built up during the pandemic, and by making good on its promise to reform private renting.”
Vicki Nash, head of policy, campaigns and public affairs at Mind, added that the £20 cut to Universal Credit should be reversed to help people out of poverty.
Ms Nash said: “Never has this been more important, the pandemic has intensified our mental health crisis, with 1.6 million people waiting for mental health support or treatment.
“If the UK Government are serious about ‘levelling up’ and reducing inequality they must sort out the housing crisis, reverse the £20 cut to Universal Credit and increase the rate paid for other disability benefits.”
What does the Government say?
The government said a White Paper will be published in due course to set out proposals to create a fairer private rented sector.
A spokesperson for The Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities said: “Everybody deserves to live in a decent and safe home – that’s why we’re cracking down on rogue landlords who rent out unsafe accommodation and have given councils robust enforcement tools, including fines of up to £30,000 and banning orders.
“The new Secretary of State is clear that we must go further and our reforms of the rental sector will deliver a fairer system for all.”
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