Time for a little more mindfulness on mental health

The mental health charity Mind has suggested social landlords are not taking enough regard of their tenants’ mental wellbeing. They could even be making things worse, which doesn’t exactly do their business any favours 

By Mark Cantrell 

SOCIAL landlords have a vested interest in the mental health of their tenants – you’d think – but a study by the charity Mind suggests they’re not all that mindful of the matter. Indeed, all too often they could be making it worse.

The study found that a minority of social tenants with mental health problems – albeit a significant one at 33% – are unhappy with where they live. The findings have prompted the charity to call for a greater focus on mental health within social housing policy, particularly on the issue of stigma and problems with welfare benefits, both of which exacerbate mental health issues.

Social landlords, of course, are well-versed with the problems of stigma, generally, and welfare reform; both of which have impacted the sector in recent years. Slanderous ‘Benefits Street’ stereotypes, the impact of hardships caused by ‘reforms’ – more accurately cuts to household incomes – such as the ‘bedroom tax’, caps and freezes to payments, and the well-documented issues with Universal Credit, have all been causing the sector serious ructions.

But these problems are exacerbated by mental health issues; or rather the stresses and the strains they bring serve to deteriorate people’s mental wellbeing. Beyond that, as the Mind study indicates, tenants also must contend with the stigma that is attached to mental health itself – even, it found, from their own landlords.

“Social housing is meant to be safe, secure and low cost, making it a good option for those of us with mental health problems who need it,” said Sophie Corlett, Mind’s director of external relations. “Yet our research shows that people with mental health problems who need social housing are being let down at every stage of the process and the current system just isn’t working for people with mental health problems.”

Research by the Money & Mental Health Policy Institute suggests that 33% of social housing tenants have a mental health problem; Mind claims its analysis suggests that 43% of them have seen their mental health deteriorate because of where they live.

The charity said it wanted to understand more about the relationship between housing and mental health. To that end, it commissioned an online survey of 2,009 people from across different tenures. Of these, 1,762 have mental health problems, and of these 668 lived in social housing. The study found that:

  • 15% of social tenants in the survey had experienced stigma from housing officials during the application process for a home
  • 27% had experienced problems with benefits such as Universal Credit or housing benefits
  • 28% had experienced stigma from neighbours or flatmates

The survey is hardly scientific, of course, given the nature of such things, but it indicates an anecdotal problem; more so for Mind, it reveals the dearth of hard data collected that would allow councils and landlords to gain a better understanding of the situation, and so help improve the way tenants with mental health problems are handled.

“Given how many people living in social housing are experiencing mental health problems, it’s shocking to see how little attention is given to mental health and housing. At the moment, barely any data is collected on the mental health needs of tenants by local authorities,” Corlett added.

“The recent Green Paper made little reference to mental health but did mention the need to collect more information about how councils allocate their housing. The Government needs to start collecting data on the housing picture for tenants with mental health problems. We’d also like to see more training for those working for social housing providers to ensure they are well-equipped to support tenants who have mental health problems.”

If a sense of social purpose doesn’t motivate, there’s always the bottom line. Earlier this year, the Money & Mental Health Policy Institute released a report looking at how mental health affects tenants’ ability to keep on top of their rent and, vice versa, how struggles with housing costs damage mental health. Without appropriate support, it can quickly become a vicious circle.

The report, which was published in April and supported by several housing associations, found that over one million adults in the UK are struggling with both their mental health and their housing costs. What’s more, people who are struggling with their housing costs are one and a half times as likely to experience mental health problems. The squeeze on living standards these last few years has seen many falling behind on their rent and in need of mental support, the institute said.

There’s a further twist in store; poor mental health can make it harder for rent arrears to be resolved because offers of support often are not getting through. The institute’s report found that tenants with mental health problems were struggling to open letters, answer the phone or otherwise engage with the support available. Illness becomes an opaque membrane that muffles the afflicted from the exterior world, as it were.

“For most of us, our home is central to our wellbeing, our sense of self and confidence that we can support and protect our families,” said Simon Crine, the institute’s director. “When that comes under threat because of difficulties meeting the rent it can have an immediate and profound impact on our mental health.”

When it comes to supporting tenants with mental health problems, clearly the key message for social landlords and policymakers alike is – don’t get mad, get more mindful.

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Lack of social housing takes its toll on generation rent’s mental health

LIVING long-term in the private rented sector is damaging young people’s mental health, with the chronic lack of social housing partly to blame, says a new study.

In yet another example of the collateral damage incurred from the UK’s housing crisis, the study for the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE) explores the issues that are said to be exerting a negative impact on the mental well-being of ‘Generation Rent’.

Insecure, expensive and poor-quality housing contributes to feelings of stress, anxiety and depression among young people unable to realise their housing aspirations, the study says. The issues are particularly severe for those on the lowest incomes.

This highlights not only the experiences of those locked out of buying a home because of high prices, but also those on lower incomes locked out of more secure social housing because of a lack of supply.

The study was carried out by Dr Kim McKee from the University of Stirling, and Dr Adriana Mihaela Soaita, from the University of Glasgow.

“The poor experiences reported by the young people in this research is a sad reflection on housing in the UK today,” said McKee, lead author, and senior lecturer in social policy and housing at Stirling University. “Their negative impact on wellbeing, particularly mental health, underlines the need for urgent policy intervention to address the failure of the sector for lower income groups.

“Put simply, for those in low paid and insecure work, social rented housing would provide a better safety net than the private rented sector. We need more social housing to be built, and to stop selling it off by ending the Right to Buy across the UK.”

The study makes six key housing policy recommendations, including a call for more affordable housing to be built – both for sale and rent. It also says tenants should be educated about their rights, and landlords and letting agents required to undertake training on their legal obligations and duties.

NH

This article first appeared in Northern Housing magazine #2 October 2018

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