Bad housing impacts people’s mental health. This is the message of a letter to Paul McLennan MSP, Scotland’s Minister for Housing, from the Lothian Voices collective advocacy group. Lothian Voices is made up of people with experience of mental health issues. Every year they organise the People’s Conference. The letter to the Minister came out of the 2023 conference, which was about housing. We publish the letter below in full:
‘I am writing to you today on behalf of the participants of the People’s Conference, which is organised by the Lothian Voices collective advocacy group by and for people with lived experience of mental health issues, and facilitated by CAPS Independent Advocacy. CAPS is an organisation which provides individual and collective advocacy and promotes the wishes and voices of marginalised people. You can find more information about our organisation on our website, www.capsadvocacy.org .
Each year Lothian Voices hold a conference which focuses on an important issue that people share. This year we chose to discuss the severe housing crisis in Lothian, titling our conference, ‘What makes a house a home?’. The discussions, grievances and ideas which emerged during the day are the reason we have come together to unite and write to you now with our collective voice in hopes that urgent change be enacted. In this letter we outline just some of the complex issues raised, and you will find quotes throughout, and attached, from conference attendees affected by housing issues.
Housing is not a luxury
As I’m sure you are aware, housing in Scotland is a human right. A good standard of housing is vital to a person’s state of wellbeing and ‘not a luxury,’ and the general consensus from those with lived experience at the conference was they needed their homes to be ‘safe and secure’, provide ‘warmth and shelter’ and be ‘a sanctuary’. A member of the conference pointed out “when in unsafe or insecure housing, it creates anxiety and anger as I have no human right to affordable housing”. The City of Edinburgh council has reported just this month that due to the crisis, close to 5000 households will need to sleep in temporary accommodation this Christmas. Skyrocketing rents and bills, a lack of social housing, and the brutal reality of the cost of the living crisis were all issues raised at the conference. It was felt the challenges around housing are ‘pushing many people to breaking point. The services designed to support people through this crisis are buckling under a woefully inadequate lack of funding, where ‘support services and the system are hard to access and slow to respond,’ and we need a united intervention urgently.
Housing and mental health
Furthermore, we found that the toll this crisis has taken on people’s mental and physical health is staggering, particularly for those who have already experienced mental health issues for whom the effect of inadequate or insecure housing is disproportionate. The impact of the uncertainty, fear and anxiety of not having a roof over your head, being in housing which doesn’t meet your needs, or being at risk of not able to afford the home you have, has a severely detrimental impact on people’s lives and their mental health. Disabled people are forced to live in inadequate housing, whilst others navigate confusing and antiquated social housing systems, or compete with others for the few properties available. Many people at the conference talked about how difficult it is to access and navigate the system of social housing, and there were descriptions of the system & interactions with the council and support services as being like ‘a lottery.’ The issues raised at the conference were many and varied, but many attendees felt the key issues currently being faced in the Lothians are:
The stress of insecure, inadequate or lack of housing disproportionately impacting or worsening the mental health issues of vulnerable people affected, and a lack of understanding of this impact by involved organisations.
That those who have accommodation are not relieved of this stress due to many issues existing around inadequate, unsafe and unsuitable housing e.g. not having necessary mobility aids in homes, rising costs, mould and unsafe properties not being fixed, anti-social behaviour.
Where conference attendees have tried to address these challenges, the systems and supports in place are inadequate, poorly funded, and not fit for purpose. People shared stories of struggling to access support, and information they needed to help themselves keep themselves safely housed was often given incorrectly, not accessible (e.g. for those without digital access) or clear. The lack of funding available for services such as housing, social work and other support services means workers are hard to get hold of, processes are slow, and many people feel there is a lack of trauma informed, person centred support for people facing housing issues.
Specific examples of how conference attendees have been impacted by the current system around housing and homelessness include:
- GP’s surgeries severing contact with a vulnerable person who needed ongoing medical attention due to them becoming homeless and having no address.
- Staying in an unsafe relationship and environment due to fear of becoming homeless and not receiving safe housing.
- Being given incorrect advice by professionals around accessing housing and related benefits entitlement.
- Experiencing trauma and stress due to antisocial behaviour and harassment from neighbours with no recourse to support or moving, including racist abuse.
The way in which many are forced to cope with the housing crisis is dehumanising; we should all have a home to treat as a place of sanctuary and safety. Yet, the crisis is exacerbating existing mental and physical illnesses, or creating them for the thousands of individuals ‘caught in its storm.’ We would like to draw your attention to the 2023 Advocard Survey on Housing and Mental health which supports many of our findings.
Accountability and action is needed
We implore the government to take accountability for and action around these issues and act now to mitigate the impact of the housing crisis, particularly on those already vulnerable. We would like to see higher transparency when it comes to the allocation of funding and investment solutions, and to see those affected by these issues consulted and listened to as a solution is found. The strength in our group lies in our ability to work together in proactive solidarity, therefore, we ask, as the people affected daily by the realities of this crisis, to be involved with this process, consulted on potential changes, and to be part of the collective solution going forward. To begin this process, and more fully share with you the findings, experiences and potential solutions the People’s Conference found, we ask to meet directly with you around these issues, to be able to share our expertise by experience, and understand how yourself and the Scottish Government plan to address these issues.
We look forward to hearing from you, please let us know when you are available to meet.
The Attendees of The People’s Conference 2023′