13 Jul 2021

Link between rise in temporary housing and mental health crisis revealed

A mental health expert has warned that a rising number of people living in temporary accommodation will affect the wellbeing of adults and children. 

Andy Bell, the deputy chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health, told Channel 4 News the increased use of insecure temporary housing will add to the 10 million people the organisation estimates need mental health support as a result of the pandemic.

Channel 4 News has spoken to two mothers living in temporary homes in south London who say they worry for their children’s wellbeing and the experience has heightened their anxiety and depression.

Southwark council, who are responsible for their homes, said it was under “intense pressure” to tackle the housing crisis with a “dwindling lack of funding from central government”. A spokesperson for the south London council added they are “fully supporting all of our tenants”.

‘Woke up screaming’

More than 95,000 people in England were living in temporary accommodation last year, according to government statistics.

Jenny, whose surname we are not publishing at her request, lives in a temporary home in the Aylesbury Estate in south London with her two sons.

Jenny’s home is covered in mould and damp and she often has to leave the windows open, even in the winter months, to help with ventilation, she told this programme.

This means her boys regularly sleep in their jackets because it is so cold.

There are also several leaks in the ceiling and she has filmed evidence of insects being washed down into her home when it rains.

Speaking of her sons, she told this programme: “They’ve woke up screaming (because) their beds are soaked and I’ve had to get them up (and) put them in the bath because I don’t know what the stuff is that’s coming down (from the ceiling).

“I’ve had to put them in the bath at 3 o’clock in the morning, knowing they have got school the next day.”

Jenny lives with depression and she believes the constant concern of not knowing what she might come home to next and worrying about her children’s health, heightens her anxiety.

It has reached the stage where she doesn’t allow anyone into her home, including her children’s friends.

She said: “I don’t even let them go to anyone else’s house because I’m worried they are going to see someone else’s house and say why haven’t we got that and then it will get me so upset. It’s something I’m not prepared to go through.”

She’s also worried her children will smell of mould and others might notice.

Jenny has lived in her flat for six years and contacted her housing officer at Southwark council multiple times, but they haven’t been able to come to a resolution.

She was offered another temporary home, but she says the council couldn’t promise there would not be the same damp issues.

‘Adults and children’

A report by the charity Shelter has found a direct link between poor housing and mental health issues. More than half of adults surveyed were suffering from depression with children over three times more likely to demonstrate mental health problems.

Andy Bell of the Centre for Mental Health said: “If we see rising levels of homelessness, housing insecurity and particular reliance on temporary accommodation over the next period, this is going to put pressure on people’s mental health – adults and children.”

He added: “That is on top of the 10 million people we are projecting will need support for their mental health as a direct result of the pandemic.

‘Dwindling funds’

A spokesperson for Southwark council said: “Southwark council, like many London authorities, is under immense pressure to tackle the housing crisis with a significant and dwindling lack of funding from central government to provide social housing and to maintain existing stock.”

They added: “We are fully supporting all of our tenants and, where there are maintenance issues, we are addressing them… Our ageing stock is expensive to run and maintain and will cost a lot to meet new safety requirements as well as making greener. The rent does not cover it.”

Reporter: Sapphire McIntosh

Producer: Hila May

Filmed by: James Betteridge

Words: Calum Fraser