Overcrowded housing has helped to spread Covid-19 in England and may have increased the number of deaths, according to research by the Health Foundation, an independent charity and think tank working to improve the nation’s health and the standard of health care.
People living in cramped conditions have been more exposed to the coronavirus and were less able to reduce their risk of infection because their homes were so small, the thinktank found. Overcrowding was a key reason why poorer people and those from ethnic minority backgrounds in particular had been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, it said.
Health Foundation researchers also concluded that overcrowding, together with other housing problems such as damp and insecure tenancies, had led to a rise in physical and mental health illness.
“Since March many of us have spent a lot more time at home. For many, the quality of their home has made their experience of the pandemic even worse than it needed to be,” said Adam Tinson, a senior analyst at the foundation.
“While some have weathered lockdown in large homes with gardens and plenty of living space, others have struggled in overcrowded and unsafe conditions. Overcrowding is associated with the spread of Covid-19, making self-isolation more difficult and allowing the virus to spread through more people if one becomes infected.”
Data from the English Housing Survey for 2019/20 was released in December showing that just before the pandemic hit in March last year, 830,000 households in England were living in overcrowded, mostly rented properties. That was 200,000 more than the number of overcrowded homes a decade earlier. Many of these homes also suffered from problems with damp and mould.
“People’s housing environments have affected their ability to shield themselves and others from Covid-19. 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,” the analysis says.
“Overcrowding, which has been increasing in the years prior to the pandemic, makes it harder to self-isolate and shield, and may have contributed to higher death rates in poorer areas.” He added that 8 per cent of households with the lowest income lived in overcrowded homes, compared with fewer than 1 per cent of those with the highest earnings.
Similarly, “Ethnic minority households are five times more likely to be overcrowded than white households, illustrating just one of the ways in which existing housing disparities are combining with the pandemic to further widen inequalities in health.”
People being forced to spend more time in overcrowded homes during the various lockdowns has also caused or worsened mental health problems, especially those suffering distress.
“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. The chronic lack of affordable housing options, combined with years of reductions in support for housing costs, have led us to this point,” said Tinson.
By Patrick Mooney, Editor