Housing inequities and its impact on mental health

A recent lecture presented compelling evidence of how inequality has a devastating effect on levels of mental health and wellbeing.

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Supported by Black Country Housing Group, Nehemiah Housing, Accord’s Holiday Kitchen, MEL Research and Central Consultancy and Training, Professor Kate Pickett presented the evidence.

Professor Pickett, the co-author of international bestsellers ‘The Spirit Level’, and ‘The Inner Level’, revealed how people living in societies with large income gaps between rich and poor are much more likely to suffer from a wide range of health and social problems, including the psychological effects of social stress and more prevalent mental health problems, than those living in more equal societies.

A new report by the Human City Institute – ‘Creating a Wellbeing Society – Scoping Housing Need, Homelessness and Mental Health in the West Midlands Conurbation’ – supported by BCHG and launched at the lecture explored the linkages between deprived neighbourhoods, with concentrations of overcrowded and poor housing, to unequal distributions of mental health problems and low levels of wellbeing.

The report found that people with mental health problems are more likely to be in housing need – finding themselves in rented accommodation, social housing, and in overcrowded or poor housing; partly linked to their lower socio-economic life chances brought about by wider inequalities.

Precarious private tenancies, forced frequent moves, the threat of eviction, poor quality of life, and the location of much rented housing in the most deprived locations, all exacerbate mental health problems and reduce wellbeing.

And homelessness is both a cause of, and a symptom of poor mental health and low wellbeing.

Half of homeless people have been diagnosed with a mental health problem, compared to one quarter of the general population.

A further third have reported suicidal thoughts and two thirds have panic attacks.

Over two thirds have felt depressed, 1 in ten had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

Two fifths have had drug or alcohol problems.

Status anxiety, often stemming from inequalities in social class and income between social tenants and others, is stoked by negative portrayals in the media and stereotyping of social housing as a ‘tenure of last resort’.

Social stigma remains a problem for many social tenants, and compounds their often difficult financial circumstances (including debt which is strongly associated with poor mental health).

Although efforts by tenant groups and social landlords to redress status anxiety have had some impact, a range of national housing, fiscal and welfare benefit policies, austerity and the growth of low paid, insecure and low status employment, have all had impacts on social tenants.

How social tenants are portrayed severely affects their wellbeing.

For example, asked how their general health and wellbeing had changed in recent years, 57% of social tenants in HCI’s surveys said that their health and wellbeing had worsened, while only 8% registered improvements, and 35% said they had stayed the same.

The importance of tackling wider inequalities in income, wealth and tenure to ameliorate an array of housing, health and social problems is underscored by research supported by BCHG, and is why we have promoted mental health awareness among tenant and staff alike.

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