Health

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