Lessons from Home

Earlier this year we looked at the ways in which every home could find patterns and ways to make the experience of the pandemic less overwhelming. These were based on those things which, in a time of great uncertainty, remain largely within the choice and control of individuals and families: daily routines, respectful relationships and making the most of the natural world.

To develop this and to look at living choices and circumstances beyond our control, it helps to think about the difference between the adjectives “clean” and “cleanable”,  which is relevant to what follows.

Very few people wish to live in unclean environments. The recent advertisement for Cif cleaning products has the following message: “Beautiful makes us happy. It dazzles and delights. Cif cleans to reveal beauty everywhere, putting a smile back on your face. Goodbye ugly dirt. Hello beautiful.”

The premise of this advertisement is that the places we wish to clean are cleanable. For many households this premise is not a reality. For families living in poor rental housing stock there is nothing in the supermarket cleaning aisle to address the conditions they are forced to live in. Findings from the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) include:

  • More than one million children live in housing in England that it considered sub-standard or unfit to live in
  • On the whole, the research indicates that there is an association between homes with visible damp or mould and the prevalence of asthma or respiratory problems among children
  • Poor quality housing can have an adverse effect on children’s psychological well-being
  • Parents and children both complain of the social stigma of living in bad housing
  • Poor housing conditions can have an impact on the health and well-being of parents too, and therefore affect their ability to parent.

Such findings give an insight into the additional burden such families have faced during lockdown. Often these households also have less access to private green space and experience higher-levels of traffic pollution. Though, while the prevailing images of poor housing are in metropolitan urban context, in fact it is often in rural regions that housing is least well-maintained and secure. (see link Centre for Progressive Policy Report).

These are situations beyond the control of the families so affected, but within the control of those who direct housing and community policy. Work is being done in this area in the UK to improve the standard of housing and to think more about the lives and needs of the people involved. Writing in The Guardian Oliver Wainwright describes some recent innovative work councils are doing to both improve their social housing stock and the lives of their tenants. The focus is on making human-scale communities within the poorly-built and maintained building of the past. It can only be hoped the legacy of the pandemic will not get in the way of such vital engagements with how to help people live and thrive in healthy homes.

They are vital because they can restore the dignity of those making their homes in these places. And if the dignity of the person is considered in the national conversation on housing policy and action, the response of the person is more likely to agree with the Cif philosophy  – to take care of their own  corner of beautiful.

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