Socialist Worker

Overcrowded homes have sent virus cases soaring among the poorest in Britain

by Isabel Ringrose
Issue No. 2736

The Wornington Green Estate in North Kensingtons Golborne Ward, the most deprived ward in London

The Wornington Green Estate in North Kensington's Golborne Ward, the most deprived ward in London (Pic: PA)


Overcrowded housing has increased the spread of Covid-19 among poorer people and black people in England according to research by the Health Foundation.

Other housing problems—such as damp, insecure tenancies and affordability—may also have caused more deaths.

Researchers Adam Tinson and Amy Clair wrote, “People have been encouraged to stay in their homes as much as possible, but within-household transmission has played a serious role in the spread of the virus.”

They also warned, “The economic fallout from the pandemic may lead to an increase in evictions.”

Their report explained that overcrowding has been increasing for years and has made it near impossible for some people to self-isolate or shield.

Data from 2019-20 shows that some 830,000 households in England were overcrowded just before March. This is 200,000 more than the previous decade.

Almost none of the highest earners live in overcrowded housing, while 8 percent of the lowest earners do.

Ethnic minority households are five times more likely to be overcrowded than white households. And in April, 39 percent of people in overcrowded households suffered psychological distress compared with 29 percent of those in non-overcrowded homes.

“This analysis shows that mental ill-health has been a particular issue for those in overcrowded households during the pandemic, especially in the first lockdown,” said Tinson.

“The chronic lack of affordable housing options, combined with years of reductions in support for housing costs, have led us to this point.”

Women, disabled people, single parents, black and younger people are more likely to suffer housing problems.

“The nature of the housing stock and housing system meant that the experience of the pandemic since March 2020 has been even worse than it needed to be,” the report said.

Safe

Lockdown from March meant being forced to stay “safe” at home. But for millions their homes are considered “non-decent”.

Some went through lockdown with gardens and plenty of living space, while others struggled in cramped conditions.

An estimated 30,000 people lived in a home consisting of only one room during the pandemic.

Earlier this year housing conditions in one of Britain’s poorest boroughs contributed to it having the highest death rate of any council in England and Wales.

The Brent Poverty Commission said chronic overcrowding and widespread poverty in the London borough of Brent had caused the virus to spread.

But housing is always a critical factor in people’s health—not just in a pandemic.

Before the pandemic one in three households in England—32 percent or 7.6 million—had at least one major housing problem related to overcrowding, affordability or poor quality.

And one million households in England experienced more than one housing problem. Having multiple housing problems is associated with even worse health.

Yet effective housing measures have not been introduced to prevent the spread of coronavirus and improve health.

Damp affects the quality and condition of a home and is linked to respiratory issues and headaches. And affordability and financial pressures can affect mental health through stress and anxiety.

Socialists need to fight for safe housing to be a right—not a privilege reserved for those who can afford it.

Read the full report here

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