A basic need: Housing policy and mental health
Since 2010, but often building on previous reforms, the Government has enacted policy changes that affect housing benefits, subsidies for social landlords and the provision of affordable housing. These have had the aims of controlling costs and promoting home ownership. However there are reasons for concern that they will adversely affect people living with serious mental health conditions, and the mental health system.
The changes to benefits may result in many people who live with mental health conditions, especially in high cost areas, receiving less than they need to cover the rent of a suitable home. This is worrying given the high numbers who already slip through the net into homelessness and the substantial impact poor housing can have on mental health and recovery.
The impacts of changes in the supply of affordable housing are less clear. We know that there has been a substantial reduction in the supply of new social homes, the most affordable and secure form of affordable housing. The extension of Right to Buy is likely to lead to more existing stock being sold. The economic profile of people with serious mental health conditions makes them likely to be more reliant on affordable housing than the general population, and less likely to be able to afford
non-social tenancies. However, there is no detailed evidence on whether people with mental health conditions are disproportionately represented in certain tenures; or about the condition of the homes they live in and the surrounding neighbourhoods.
Local authorities act as the gatekeepers to affordable housing. National guidance is clear that people made vulnerable by a mental health condition should be given ‘reasonable preference’ along with the physically disabled and other vulnerable groups. However it is unclear, especially as pressure increases on councils, whether this is effectively reflected in practice on the ground. Concerns have been raised about reductions in support services and advocacy for vulnerable tenants to help them navigate the system effectively.
Moves to reduce the amount of housing benefit flowing to social landlords, for instance by mandating reductions in rents, are likely to squeeze housing providers’ budgets. There are serious concerns about the financial sustainability of supported housing products; and the ‘extra’ services funded by social landlords such as tenancy sustainment.
Of most concern is the possible cumulative effect of all these changes at a local level. Worse outcomes for individuals could lead to increasing resource pressures on housing, NHS, and care providers and thereon to further rationing of support.