True scale of Covid infections in UK private homes revealed

University of York

The full scale and impact of Covid-19 in UK homes has been laid bare in a new book which shines a spotlight on the role housing played during the pandemic.


Stay Home: Housing and Home in the UK during the Covid-19 Pandemic is written by Professor Rebecca Tunstall

Based on studies of how many other household members were infected when one person in the property got Covid, an estimated 26-39% of UK Covid infections occurred at home, leading to tens of thousands of deaths, according to the book.

Many of these infections at home and resulting deaths could have been prevented through more support to households, the author concludes.

Lockdowns

Risk at home wasn’t researched, advised on, legislated about, policed or managed in the same way as risk in public places. This meant devastating consequences for some.

Stay Home: Housing and Home in the UK during the Covid -19 Pandemic is written by Professor Rebecca Tunstall from the University of York’s Centre for Housing Policy and published by Policy Press.

Key conclusions from the book include:

  • Lockdowns were necessary, but staying at home exposed us to risk at home
  • Even people in pleasant, spacious homes were at risk
  • However, people in overcrowded homes, big households, shielders, and households mixing vulnerable people and those going to work or school were the most risky.
  • Social tenants and people on low incomes were more likely than average to have to shield or isolate at home. However, social tenants, people on low incomes and ethnic minorities were less likely to have the spare bedroom and bathroom needed to shield or isolate safely
  • Housing and housing inequalities contributed to preventable Covid infections, deaths and inequalities
  • We can do more to pandemic-proof our housing system for next time

Inequalities

Professor Tunstall said: “In 2020, the housing system was widely seen to be in ‘crisis’, but suddenly on 23 March it became the national refuge.

“My book argues that the significance of household and home in the pandemic has been overlooked. The home was central to the impacts, experiences, inequalities and lasting effects of the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK.”

Professor Tunstall said the UK stood out compared to most of the 27 EU nations because of the scope of its Covid housing policies.

Only the UK, Belgium and France provided support for mortgage holders and tenants and homeless people. Only the UK applied the moratorium on repossessions to all tenants, and only the UK and Spain applied it to homeowners

However, there were major gaps in policy, which meant missed opportunities to prevent hardship, infections and deaths, and inequalities, including:

  • People had to try to prevent infection at home with little support
  • Tenants were left to negotiate arrears repayments on an individual basis (in contrast to owners).
  • During 2020/21, 15,000 more households became homeless in England for reasons linked to Covid: because friends and family were no longer willing to house, because of domestic abuse or other relationship breakdown.
  • 10,000 more households were in temporary accommodation after being accepted as homeless in England in Jul-Sept 2020 compared to Jan-Mar 2020
  • Gaps in employment rates and in incomes between people in different tenure groups had been reducing before the pandemic, but increased again over 2020/21.

Consequences

Professor Tunstall added: “The book demonstrates that many people had homes that were not suitable for staying home in, or for effective shielding and isolating. This had tragic consequences for some individuals, unequal effects on some groups, and likely lasting effects for the housing system and society.”

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