At the time of writing, the UK is currently in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The past few months have brought new uncertainties, setbacks and difficulties to people all over the country. But there is another unspoken crisis whose effects on health, wellbeing and employment can be just as damaging – the housing crisis. Its English origins may date back to the Second World War, but coronavirus has pushed families, abuse victims and many more onto the streets. How did the situation get so dangerous and what is being done about it?
From Liverpool, to Hull, to Plymouth, towns and cities who faced the brunt of Blitz bombing are still suffering unequal damage. They display a consistent pattern of poverty levels well above the national average, with wealth, educational and housing disparities continuing to be present seventy-five years on. London also faced wartime damage, but the capital’s crisis has more recent and more perturbing origins. The wealth gap is continuing to grow; not enough social housing is being built, whereas private housing is rapidly being built, bought and sold. The number of households sleeping rough has more than doubled since 2010 across England and Wales – demonstrating the national scale of the housing problem.
In the wake of COVID-19, the situation has rapidly deteriorated. Across England, 1.8 households for every thousand are living in temporary accommodation – such as hostels, bed and breakfasts and shelters – jumping to 17.7 households per thousand in London. As well as forcing more people onto the streets, the pandemic has also heartbreakingly disproved the perception that only single individuals are affected. As of 30th June 2020, 63.8% of homeless households include dependent children. This results in 127,240 children without a stable home, an average of 2 children per household.
The pandemic has exacerbated the housing crisis for numerous reasons – the predominant one being that family and friends can no longer accommodate extra households to try and stop the virus spreading. Lockdown living also trapped domestic abuse victims with their abuser. This resulted in 40,397 calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline between April and June, up 65% from the previous quarter.
Unsurprisingly, violent and non-violent relationship breakdowns are also prevalent reasons for homelessness, according to government statistics. On top of this, the pandemic’s impact on unemployment is frequently mentioned, but the knock-on effect of homelessness – due to households being unable to afford rent – is not.
Half of the households facing homelessness have support needs. 24.2% have a history of mental health problems and 10.5% are at risk of or have experienced domestic abuse. Others include care leavers, ex-Armed Forces members and those with learning difficulties – all without a stable home. Whilst being beneficial, hostels, bed and breakfasts and shelters cannot provide a long-term solution. Their lack of space, crowded communal areas and constant change doesn’t make life easy, especially for households with children.
The most popular – and most suitable – type of accommodation for those hit by the housing crisis is private sector accommodation leased by the local council. These properties have levels of safety, security and support which communal spaces are not able to offer – such as space for children to do schoolwork. Social housing is needed now more than ever, and with the government already stretched to its limits, at Keystone we are doing our bit to bridge the gap as best we can. We are at a crisis point, so more of these houses need to be made available to the people who need them most.
2020 has put this country through every kind of turmoil. But what it has also done is reignite a greater sense of community spirit and kindness. We might not clap for the NHS anymore, but we can still make a difference to the lives of the most vulnerable in our society.
Article written by Kate Coulson