Learning how the housing emergency impacted the pandemic

Learning how the housing emergency impacted the pandemic

Housing being included in the UK Covid-19 Inquiry is good news. There are important lessons to learn.

Last week the government published the draft Terms of Reference  for the UK Covid-19 Inquiry. The Inquiry will be examining the UK’s preparedness and response to the pandemic, to learn lessons for the future.

We’re pleased to see that the government has included housing and homelessness within the proposed Terms of Reference. The lessons we’ll learn about the role the state of housing played in the pandemic will be essential for the future — not just for our country’s plans for a future health emergency but for the entire world.

Shelter has been calling for housing and homelessness to be included in the Terms of Reference. In December 2021 we wrote to the Prime Minister along with six other organisations to stress how critical it was to understand the impact of different approaches were.

Everyone in?

We believe there cannot be a proper understanding of what happened without including housing. From examining the effectiveness of the Everyone In initiative to exploring the impact of housing conditions on someone’s ability to stay safe, through to considering the impact on people at risk of domestic abuse.

The Everyone In initiative, which saw Government, local authorities and charities working together to provide every person sleeping rough on the streets a safe place to stay, undoubtedly saved lives. But we found that one in four people helped under Everyone In was no longer being accommodated. In some cases, people weren’t accommodated at all even at the height of the pandemic.

The Inquiry will be important in learning how we can make sure homeless people have a clear route into emergency accommodation during public health emergencies as well as better long-term support, so they don’t end up back on the streets.

Staying at home needs to be safe

A review published by the Health Foundation in December 2020 found that “housing conditions are directly related to risk of infection and mortality from Covid-19.” We know that living in damp, mouldy conditions can have an adverse impact on someone’s respiratory health. And living in overcrowded conditions, sometimes with whole families sharing a single bedroom, can make it difficult to self-isolate, home school, or even get some fresh air when the local parks have been shut.

To keep people safe, we know we need to get people off the streets, out of temporary accommodation and into good quality, secure, genuinely affordable social homes as soon as possible. We need to get people out of damp and mouldy homes that can have deadly consequences and into decent homes where they can thrive and prosper.

We hope to help the inquiry to explore this. Because we know that the next time we’re all told to stay home, we need home to be safe for everyone to stay in. Because home is everything.