Health

A focus group: Life and debt in temporary accommodation

A focus group: Life and debt in temporary accommodation

We hear from people we’ve supported on their experiences of temporary accommodation and what councils and support services can do better.

There are currently over 250,000 people living in temporary accommodation across the UK, a figure which jumped by 6000 in the first three months of the Covid crisis. With a chronic lack of social housing and unaffordable rental prices in the private market, too many people are trapped in temporary accommodation without the means to move on. 

But what is the real experience of living in temporary accommodation? Last month, we were approached by Oak Foundation and Trust for London to take part in research about the lives of people living in temporary accommodation and the kinds of support and advocacy available to them.  

We hosted a focus group with 6 people we’ve supported over the last year in our housing projects, to hear about the challenges they have faced and their view on what could help them and others who are living in temporary accommodation. 

And before the conversation could start, one of the common problems that we’ve supported families with cropped up: could everyone get online for the Zoom call? For Gary, the only way was to go over to a friends house and get Wifi access from there because he’d been unable to top up electricity that week. But it was important to him to join us and share his experience: “I was homeless, the Refugee Council connected me with Council support, they gave me a hotel room but I never saw the case worker, it was all over the phone. I saw a place that was all one room, I signed the contract.” 

In Gary’s case, an error meant the benefit cap wasn’t taken into consideration when he signed the agreement. Unable to work and with little to live on after the rent is paid, day to day life is a struggle. “Now I’m living on £200 for a month. I didn’t know how I’m going to live, I can’t top up electric, it is very complicated for me and very traumatizing.” 

When you’re suffering from mental health, its difficult – its like trying to put a jigsaw puzzle together in the dark.

Our other participants could relate to the stress caused by the mismatch in benefits and high rent prices, even in TA. When Ajay got his temporary accommodation, he set up a  direct debit to cover the utilities and believed his housing benefit would cover the rent. He explains, “I’m going about doing as I should, then 10 months after I was told I was going to be evicted because I hadn’t paid the rent and I’d got into all this debt. I didn’t even know. If it wasn’t for Kineara I don’t know what would happen.” 

For Rick, it took two years to get his housing benefit and was moved twice in that time. The housing he was moved to didn’t feel safe, and he wasn’t sleeping due to  the stress. It was also hard to get the right information at the right time from council services, saying “They often they tell you ‘I’ll get back to you, I have to check.’ Once I travelled in to the office only to be told to write in.”

Angel, who works part time and whose son is a full time student, had similar frustrations: “They told me ‘Don’t worry, housing benefit will cover it, just make an application’. The arrears kept going up and up. Its frustrating. They need to communicate better – its currently very poor.” Another added, “It seems that different Council offices have different systems to manage who is coming in, one team doesn’t speak to the other.” 

So what did the group think could be improved to better support people through and out of temporary accommodation? Many of them described feeling like they weren’t cared about, even feeling like a burden on society. “Then you fall through the cracks and enter world of desperation due to mental relapses, and then you become more of a burden.” 

They also wanted to see council services be considerate to the multiple barriers and hardships that they experience, because when they don’t, it feels like they’re being set up to fail. “And you need that when you’re suffering from mental health, because its difficult – its like trying to put a jigsaw puzzle together in the dark.” 

For others, the most important thing was also the most simple – to have someone by their side, listening to what they were going through and advocating for them through crisis. “Big thanks for Carly, because I [felt] abandoned but Carly started fighting for my case. She’s been helping me get set up, like with Council Tax which I didn’t know about.”  

As we wrapped up our conversation, it was clear that the opportunity to meet and share stories had been important to everyone. “So much of  my experience has been reflected today… its been useful because you feel alone.”

This focus group was hosted on behalf of Oak Foundation and Trust for London’s ongoing research project exploring advocacy and support in temporary accommodation. To find out more about the project, contact leila@leilabaker.net and ugo@trustforlondon.org.uk.

*Names have been changed for privacy purposes

Posted by kineara in Community, Employment, Health and Wellbeing, Housing, Research
Covid-19 and Education: A list of helpful links and resources for parents, families, and education staff

Covid-19 and Education: A list of helpful links and resources for parents, families, and education staff

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed schooling and the world of education as we know it. Given the challenges for families and education staff alike, we’ve put together a list of links and resources where you can find up-to-date information and support. In particular, these links cover:

  • Mental health and wellbeing
  • Home-schooling/ learning
  • Learning support resources and activities
  • Supporting SEND children
  • Accessing low-cost, affordable computers and IT equipment
  • Support for challenges that may be affecting your child’s or pupils’ education 

If you are aware of any links, webpages or resources that you think would be useful for this page, please do contact us. You can also visit our education page to find out more about our work in schools. 

Last updated 20.01.21 

Support for parents, carers and families 

The NSPC provides tips and resources for parents whilst self-isolating including online safety tips, supporting SEND pupils, and dealing with conflict and family tensions.  

Laptops for Kids is a charity that facilitates the donation, secure erasure and distribution of used digital devices, enabling children from disadvantaged backgrounds to have access to the technology they need to participate in remote learning.

On supporting autistic children and young people, Kineara has put together these helpful tips  and an infographic here. You can also visit Bloomsfield Trust for information on accessing computers for children with autism.

Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) has produced a webpage for supporting adults and children with learning disabilities or autistic adults and children, including government guidance and downloadable guides.

Young Minds has a regularly updated webpage for tips, advice and where to get support for your child’s mental health during the Covid-19 pandemic. This includes top 10 tips from its Parents Helpline experts for talking to your child about Covid-19. 

Barnardo’s online service called See, Hear, Respond includes practical advice about how to talk to your children about the pandemic to tips on managing anxiety and much more.

Family Lives offers a range of local and national services, as well as these helpful tips and advice for coping emotionally and practically, including tips for home learning, managing anxiety and supporting SEND children. 

Brighter Futures for Children has put together this webpage of the various support available for parents and carers, as well some helpful resources.

Kineara has put together these top tips for parents and families based on the work of its education practitioners. 

A resource on parenting during Covid-19 produced by The Parenting for Lifelong Health project is available in over 50 languages. 

Helpfulresources and downloadsfor parents and families by Family Links. 

Support for teachers and school staff 

Access the latest documents from the Department for Education (DfE), as well as The Schools and Colleges handbook for England, which is updated regularly. Schools, trusts and local authorities can also help disadvantaged children get online using free mobile data increases or 4G wireless routers provided by the DfE. 

On accessing low-cost, affordable IT equipment for pupils, The Raspberry Pi Foundation sell £35 laptops and have given thousands to families. Computer Aid also provides computers and IT equipment to schools. Schools can find further links to be able to apply for computers here.

Pearson’s webpage provides useful tools and resources for supporting schools with the ongoing impact of Covid-19, including remote teaching and learning support.

The Mental Health Foundation has put togetherguidance for schools coping with Covid-19 and disruption to learning. The guidance covers challenges facing pupils and families, and how to support your own mental health as a teacher.  

Place2Be has put together free resources to help children explore what it means to Express Yourself this Children’s Mental Health Week and beyond. These activities can be adapted for use in school, home-schooling, online lessons or independent learning.

Education Support, which recently published its annual Teacher Wellbeing Index, has produced mental health resources for teachers, lecturers and support staff dealing with the Covid-19 crisis.They focus on  supporting education staff and topics which have been highlighted as especially difficult.You can view all the short video guides here. 

Kineara has put together this checklist for schools, teachers and education staff to help them work through various challengesfrom safeguarding, child protection and wellbeing concerns, as well as how to identify and respond to these. 

The RSC offers a wide range of resources for remote teaching on theireducation website and have set up a page dedicated toremote teaching. 

EEF has launched arange of resourcesto support schools to address the impact of Covid-19 school closures on pupils learning and support home learning. 

Support, guidance and activity suggestions for schools byMentally Healthy Schools 

This EEF blog outlines 5 key principles which underpin meaningful home learning, as well as 5 issues we are facing during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Governors for Schools’ campaign Wellbeing Governors highlights the need for school boards to have a wellbeing link governor to support pupil and staff mental health and wellbeing. The charity has a number of resources including webinars, for governors to use to improve mental health and wellbeing provision at their school.

Given the current changes in schooling and education, Kineara has been adapting its education support for the pupils and families we work with. If you work in a school, please spare 5-10 minutes to complete our short survey about education support in your school, or simply share the link with your contacts. Alternatively, you can contact us directly at info@kineara.co.uk. We would love to hear from you.   

Posted by kineara in Education
COVID 19, housing and health

COVID 19, housing and health

At Kinearait is important to us to identify and support with housing concerns for any of the families or individuals we work with. As well as developing housing interventions that aim to prevent eviction, address financial hardship caused by housing costs, or settle into long term, stable accommodation, specialist support for housing is also offered to any household that may need it, even if they have come to us on an education or employment programme.  

The reason for this is we know that for a person’s wellbeing to improve in a sustainable way, their home must provide a solid foundation for them. And when a family is housing insecure, the support we provide is likely to have far less impact unless we work with them to address those housing challenges. 

And last 6 months have thrown the relationship between good quality, safe, stable housing and health into sharp relief.  

“For a person’s wellbeing to improve in a sustainable way, their home must provide a solid foundation for them.”

Covid-housing-healthWhile the reality about the impacts Covid-19 impact is still emerging, early reports have already demonstrated clear links between poor housing and Covid-19 deathsThe death rate for Covid-19 is England’s poorest boroughs, including Tower Hamlets where we deliver M2E in schools, is twice the rate than in the richest areas according to the latest information. And it is in those poorest areas that we tend to also find a higher rate of overcrowding, higher prevalence of HMOs’ and higher shortages of social housing, which have also shown to be correlated with Covid-19 deathsIn addition, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Black African households are more likely to be living in overcrowded homes, which may explain in part why these groups are overrepresented in Covid 19 deaths.  

Moreover, there arbroader health impacts of poor and insecure housing being experienced in these communities that have long been present and have been made worse by closures, stay-at-home measures and financial hardship brought on by the crisis. 

How lockdown impacted temporary accommodation residents in Bexley 

In July, we surveyed 11 participants of Opening Doorsour project that supports temporary accommodation tenants with complex needs into long term secure housing, to find out about how the lockdowns had impacted their lives, health and wellbeing. 

Isolation and lack of social contact emerged as one of the most difficult things those surveyed faced during the lockdowns, with nearly two thirds saying their contact with friends, family and community networks decreased. Nearly half of those surveyed also reported that feelings of anxiety and depression increased, and that their mental health in general had been impacted by the pandemic. Those same respondents also reported difficulty accessing their statutory or community-based support services. In addition, 4 respondents had difficulty accessing medication and 1 reported having suicidal thoughts.  

“Isolation and lack of social contact emerged as one of the most difficult things those surveyed faced during the lockdowns.”

Just under half (41%) of those surveyed reported that their finances had worsened because of the crisis, with a third saying they were behind on rent since lockdown began and a quarter behind on other bills too5 respondents also had trouble accessing food, either because local shops had closed, money was tight, or because friends or family who usually support them with these errands were unable to do so.  

What had been most helpful for those surveyed was the weekly calls and check in’s by their support practitioner, SandraHaving a listening ear and compassionate connection has been vital for those who have been isolated, helping to reduce anxiety. For some, the closures have meant that their move out of TA has been delayed, but all of those surveyed said they were happy with Kineara’s communication about the programme and said that Kineara’s presence had been useful during this time. In the meantime Sandra’s support getting in touch with local services when needed, finding information online, support paying bills and rent was also important to those surveyed.  

How does housing impact health? 

It seems obvious, but housing stress can have a major impact on our physical and mental healthIn our work, we see how drug and alcohol recovery, anxiety and depression, and long term chronic conditions can all be worsened by unsuitable or insecure housing. 

We recently met Beverly*, a young woman living in temporary accommodation and just about to start her A-Levels. She told us she has moved every one or two months in the last year – even during lockdown – struggling to feel safe in shared accommodation after an earlier experience of sexual abuse. She mentioned that she had an anxiety disorder and had support from mental health services, but that finding housing that meant she could feel safe and focus on her studies was the most important thing for her.  

 “In our work, we see how drug and alcohol recovery, anxiety and depression, and long term chronic conditions can all be worsened by unsuitable or insecure housing”

As Beverly was referred to us via the Opening Doors programme, we told her that finding housing was also our priority, but that delays caused by Covid meant it would be around 6 months before a move to her own flat could happen. This was devastating for her – moving out of her current room was urgent and the news was extremely disappointing. The following week, her practitioner Sandra received a call from NHS crisis support: Beverly had called in extreme distressthe news that she wouldn’t be able to move before starting college was too much, and was, for her the straw that broke the camel’s back. Sandra and her crisis support worker are now working together to support her in the interim.  

Trevor*, also referred to our Opening Doors programme earlier in the year, was struggling to maintain his recovery from alcohol while living in temporary accommodation in an HMO. He had been diagnosed with depression and has epilepsyand at times has seizures brought on by stress and anxiety. He was eligible for social housing but had been on the list for some time. His shared accommodation meant that his pursuit of recovery and improved health was in jeopardy, as other residents were drinking and several times police were called to the property. For peace, mental focus, and to keep away from alcohol, Trevor found it easier to stay in his own room – but during lockdown the pressures of this isolation took a toll on his mental health.  

“Having a listening ear and compassionate connection has been vital for those who have been isolated, helping to reduce anxiety.”

Through listening ear work, welfare calls, and lots of encouragement, Sandra supported Trevor to keep bidding for flats, to keep paying off rent arrears that had built up, and prepare for a positive change to come. Having someone to share the burdens of his isolation was crucial and his determination paid off. Last week, he called to tell us he signed a tenancy for his own flat having been finally offered a social housing tenancy.  

 

*Names have been changed for privacy purposes. 

Posted by kineara in Community, Housing
How housing affects our health

How housing affects our health

Rujia first visited Kerri in her home last October, when she arranged to meet her family to talk about how she could support Kerri into work. Kerri’s landlord had referred her to Kineara’s intensive employment support programme as she had been out of work since suffering a stroke in 2006. With 3 children and unable to work, she struggled to cover costs for the family.

When Rujia entered the flat, though, it was not Kerri who greeted her first. Instead, the first thing that she noticed was the thick, stale and acrid smell of mould and damp that had filled the air inside the small two bedroom flat.

For several months, mould had been growing on the bathroom wall and had begun creeping through the shared walls with the children’s bedroom. Fungus had started to form in the corners, leaving the air thick and making it difficult to breathe. In the living room, cracks in the walls meant that water streamed down the paint onto the carpet, leaving the whole room cold, damp and unliveable. And yet, living with these conditions was, Kerri believed, the only option.

How our home affects our health

Since Kineara began delivering housing support services, we’ve witnessed housing conditions facing many social and private tenants that were simply unfit for habitation. Damp and mould are common problems in older housing where ventilation is poor, and the issue is particularly prevalent in the private sector where a third of properties do not meet basic health and safety standards. The standard covers more than damp and mould however, and includes issues of warmth and structural safety, infestations, having the right facilities and overcrowding.

For families living in the most deprived neighbourhoods, poor quality housing is taking its toll on both physical and mental health. The National Housing Federation estimates that the health effects of poor housing is costing up to £2 billion per year in treatment. Poor conditions can lead to a host of health concerns, from asthma, wheezing, headaches and respiratory illness caused by damp and mould, to tuberculosis and meningitis which spread far more easily in overcrowded conditions. Hazards, fire and accidents are also more common in poorly built and maintained homes, and are more likely to happen in more deprived neighbourhoods. Poor housing can impact long term health too, increasing the risk of long term illness or disability by 25% during childhood.

Mental health and housing insecurity

It is not just the conditions of a home, however, that can have a negative impact on a person’s health. Housing insecurity, risks of homelessness and evictions, or unaffordable housing costs have all been shown to impact mental health in acute ways, especially when we consider how housing connects to a person or family’s financial stability. In the UK, an additional 3.1 million people are in poverty once housing costs have been paid, with one million of those being in London. In the private rented sector, 18% of tenants are in poverty before housing costs are paid; this figure increases to 38% once housing costs are paid. In part this is because rental prices have risen far more quickly and far higher than wages. In over half on English districts, rents reach a third of local average full time pay; this increased to more than half average full time pay In London. And when you are living in the midst of the stress caused by poverty, it is much more of a challenge to make healthy choices and get access to adequate healthcare. High housing costs can also prevent families from meeting their basic needs, such as energy bills or buying enough and healthy food, which in turn worsens ill health.

Lastly, there is also an important connection between mental health and debt, such as rent arrears. Shelter’s 2017 nationwide survey found that 1 in 5 adults have suffered mental health issues (depression, anxiety, stress, sleeping problems) in the last 5 years due to housing problems, many of whom sought support from local GPs. In this study, the most frequently cited reason for mental ill health was lack of affordability.

Prioritising a healthy home

For Rujia, it was immediately clear that to support Kerri back into to work that was not only suitable for her time and capacity as a mother and build her aspirations, but that the damp and mould in her home were cleaned up as a matter of urgency. Rujia raised the issue with Kerri’s landlord, Southern Housing Group, advocating for repairs to be taken out in the flat. The family have been moved into temporary accommodation while the work takes place. She made sure that Kerri and her children were all registered with the local GP. For Kerri, it was the first step in making sure that her and her family’s health and wellbeing was a priority.

Our housing support

At Kineara, all our support services include housing support. We offer advice, guidance, and advocacy for all families and individuals we work with on matters of housing, including rent arrears, eviction threats, conditions in the home and more. We know that for anyone to lead a happy, healthy life, having a secure home to rest your head and spend time with family and loved ones, it is the most important thing.

To find out more about our housing support, contact us or read more about how we have supported others.

Posted by kineara in Community, Employment, Housing, Latest