Socialist Worker

Mould, cold and illness—the toll of Britain's housing crisis

by Isabel Ringrose
Issue No. 2777

Mould on the walls, one sign of unhealthy conditions

Mould on the walls, one sign of unhealthy conditions

Poor housing is affecting one in five renters’ health in England, according to housing charity Shelter.

Some 1.9 million households face poor housing conditions, with mould, dampness and cold the main causes of physical and mental ill health. And that’s made worse by anxiety over struggling to pay rent and the threat of eviction.

The Shelter survey found that 22 percent or renters felt their physical or mental health was being was being harmed by poor housing.

Another survey of private renters found that 22 percent became physically sick as a result of their housing issues and worries. And a fifth said that their housing issues negatively impacted their work.

One in four renters have also been left feeling “stressed and anxious” over their housing situation since the start of the pandemic.

Shelter’s chief executive, Polly Neate, said, “The cost of poor housing is spilling out into overwhelmed GP surgeries, mental health services, and hours lost from work.”

She called on the new Tory housing secretary Michael Gove to “get a grip on the housing crisis and tackle a major cause of ill health.”

“The stress and suffering that comes with not knowing if you can pay your rent from month to month or if you will face eviction is huge,” Neate added.


Shelter says it has been flooded with calls to its helpline of renters stuck in mouldy, cold, unaffordable and insecure housing, with poor health being the result.

Pressure on renters could be lifted if the government provided financial support to help clear rent arrears and build more social housing.

Krystalrose, a private renter, managed to get out of a mould-ridden flat in London a month ago that she shared with her three-year-old daughter.

Both developed eye infections because of the mould. Krystalrose was forced to throw out her daughter’s cot and the bed she replaced it with because they were infested with fungus.

How profit-hungry developers broke the housing system
How profit-hungry developers broke the housing system
  Read More

“You could see the spores going through the mattress,” she said. “I had a panic and had to throw it out straight away. It is disgusting that people can allow a family to live in a house in that state and not care about it.”

Rising costs of living and the financial damage many have suffered throughout the pandemic are also helping to drive up rent arrears and evictions.

Already housing costs account for over a quarter of all expenditure by families with the lowest incomes.

A low-income household typically saves £37 a week renting in social housing compared to the private rental sector.

But waiting lists for social housing are set to double next year to around 2.1 million households— up from 1.6 million last year. One in ten of those waiting has been on the list for over five years.

Access to decent homes and good health shouldn’t be a privilege for those who can afford it.

Read Shelter's analysis here

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.