Organised by mental health charity Mind, the event took place in Westminster with the aim of kick-starting conversations to make sure the rights of people with mental health problems are firmly on the housing agenda.
Attendees travelled from across the country to share their views on how social housing can support and maintain people’s mental health. Speakers included Jackie Doyle-Price MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Mental Health, Terrie Alafat, Chief Executive, Chartered Institute of Housing, and John Healey MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Housing.
The event saw the launch of a short film ‘Beyond Bricks’ by Mind in which three people with mental health problems - Nadia, Gabbi and Sarah – describe the serious impact poor housing can have on our mental health, experiences back up by new research.
The research*, from Understanding Society, funded by the Economic Social Research Council, found that people living in both the social rented sector and private rented sector are significantly more likely to have experience of poor mental health than home owners.
The research, from a seven-year study of over 40,000 households, found that those in the social and private rented sector had a higher risk of mental health problems compared to those who are home owners. People living in the social rented sector had a 4 per cent higher risk of experiencing mental health problems, while those in the private rented sector had a 2 per cent higher risk of having mental health problems.
Social housing was introduced with the aim of providing affordable, quality housing to those of us who might be struggling with issues like health and finances, and is usually provided by local authorities or non-profit organisations. Despite this, previous research by Mind** found more than two in five (43 per cent) people with mental health problems living in social housing have seen their mental health deteriorate as a result of where they live.
Mind brought together people living in social housing, including Gabbi and Nadia from the film, to discuss with parliamentarians how their mental health has been impacted by their housing situation. Attendees shared potential solutions to issues they have been facing, some of which could potentially be rolled out across the country, in order to improve people’s experiences of social housing across the board.
31-year-old Sarah, from London found herself homeless after her relationship broke down. The process of applying for housing, and having to wait eight weeks to get an interview at her local authority, had a huge impact on her mental health.
She said: “At the assessment, she asked me about my mental health, the questions were quite triggering, about ending my own life. It felt more like an interrogation than an interview. It was very much like how did you fail? She undermined all of my medical notes. She made it sound like it was all trivial. I just panicked. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t see straight. I was just really depressed. I’d sort of planned the suicide. It’s sad now when I look around – I have the support that I needed and I have this place, a home. That’s hard to see I might not have got there. This place is secure, it’s my rehab, it’s like my little recovery nest.”
54-year-old Nadia, from London, and her teenage son faced eviction after her business collapsed and she could no longer pay the rent.
She said: “The bailiff was very insensitive, I was crying the whole time. The police took us to the council until we were given somewhere to stay. My son had to take me to hospital and then we were given a place, but we had to share a room. I was crying almost every single day, my son was crying almost every single day. We were already experiencing mental health issues. The council and the court knew about our mental health, but completely ignored it. If you didn’t already have mental health problems, you would after that situation.”
Jackie Doyle-Price MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Mental Health, said:
“All public policy problems lead back to housing - it’s a no-brainer that housing and mental health are inextricably linked. Housing is a vital element of independence and recovery.
“It was great to come together to discuss, what we need for our housing system to deliver for people with mental health problems. I’m committed to putting the right policy in place and championing more support in a safe, therapeutic environment.”
Rt Hon. John Healey MP said:
“I’m glad to have had the opportunity to be part of this important event in Parliament about mental health and housing. Our homes can have a huge impact on our mental health. Both as a constituency MP and Shadow Housing Secretary, too often I hear from people whose housing pressures turn into mental health problems.
“Labour has set out ambitious plans to build a million low-cost homes to rent and buy to help tackle our housing crisis and we’re committed to making sure that these homes are there for those who need it most, including people with mental health problems.”
Chartered Institute of Housing, Chief Executive Terrie Alafat CBE said:
“We know that housing is so much more than bricks and mortar – when we get it right, it can be the foundation for our health, happiness, education and working life. What that means in practice is a decent, safe, affordable home that meets your needs – but for too many people, that is simply not the reality. We’re delighted to support Mind’s Beyond Bricks campaign to make sure that the rights of people with mental health problems are firmly on the housing agenda.”
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said
“With so much focus on Brexit right now, key policies relating to housing, benefits, It’s refreshing to see so many MPs, housing associations and others come together at this event to show that housing and mental health is still a key priority. Two in five people with mental health problems in social housing become more unwell as a result of where they live, so we absolutely cannot let social housing reform be put on the backburner.
“Decision makers and the social housing sector have a responsibility to make sure that those of us living with mental health problems can access the support we need to recover, stay well and live fulfilling lives. This event provided a valuable opportunity for MPs and housing associations to meet and listen to people’s first-hand experiences of social housing and how it impacts their mental health. Mind is calling for the Government to collect better data on social housing and mental health, and to urgently develop a social housing strategy with mental health at its heart, including protecting and improving existing social housing.”
Get involved with mind.org.uk/housing