The coronavirus pandemic has exposed a huge generational divide in living conditions, with young people enduring lockdown with half the space of older age groups, a report has found.
People aged between 16 and 24 in England were three times more likely to live in a damp home than older age groups like the over 65s and more than one-and-a-half times as likely to have no garden, or to live in a derelict or congested neighbourhood, according to research by the Resolution Foundation.
The reports authors said the scale of inequality in housing conditions was “striking and worrying” as Britain enters a reopening phase that will see many people continue to work from home, alongside the risks of further local or national lockdowns.
It found that young people have 26 square metres of living space each, compared to 50 square metres for the over-65s.
Private renters, who are more likely to be young, have also seen their mental health deteriorate during the crisis.
Zara, 22, who lives in a block of about 100 residents in southwest England, told The Independent that difficulties with her landlord had made lockdown a stressful experience.
“We’ve got serious damp issues, it’s come through the side of the building through the brickwork,” she said. “I think quite a few of the flats in this building are the same. The landlord does not acknowledge the issue, they don’t do anything about it.
“It’s very worrying and I would like it sorted. It’s the moral aspect attached to their ignorance of the problem, especially at this time when there are young families in this building who are struggling to pay rent and some of them don’t speak English as well.”
“They don’t know what’s going to happen with their income, they may not be able to claim universal credit. Maybe the business has gone under and they don’t have any furlough pay.”
She said that she had been put on furlough which eased financial worries to some extent.
However, she added: “Me and my neighbours are fearing eviction because of standing up for ourselves. We’re all very paranoid about that.”
Income and ethnicity are strongly correlated with quality of living conditions, according to the report, which was funded by the Nuffield Foundation.
One in five children from a low-income household have spent lockdown in an overcrowded home, compared to just 3 three per cent of children in higher-income households.
Almost one in 10 were were found to be growing up in damp conditions, while 6 per cent of children from low-income backgrounds did not have internet access in their homes.
Close to 40 per cent of under-16s from black, Asian and minority ethnic households had no garden, compared to 17 per cent of white children, the researchers found.
While housing quality has improved over the past three decades, overcrowding has risen across all age groups, with children and young adults by far the most likely to live in overcrowded conditions.
One in eight children and one in 12 young adults live in an overcrowded home.
Fahmida Rahman, research and policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: “Britain is beset by a huge generational living conditions divide, which Covid-19 has brought to the fore. Millions of children and young adults have found themselves spending far more of their time in overcrowded homes with no garden access.
“These problems have been particularly acute for low-income and black, Asian and minority ethnic households who experience the worst living conditions of all.
“And while many housing quality issues such as damp have improved over time, others – such as overcrowding – have actually got worse. This reflects decades of failure to build more homes and uphold decent standards, particularly in private rented accommodation.
“These divides have significant impacts on people’s wellbeing and mental health, and should be front of mind as decisions on reopening, or the nature of any further lockdown in the face of a second wave, are taken.”
Dan Wilson Craw, deputy director of campaign group Generation Rent, said: “Lockdown has hit renters the hardest: there’s been no escape from damp and cramped conditions, and for those who have lost income, the benefits system is failing to prevent rent arrears from racking up.
“The government can repay its massive debt to renters by ending the rent debt crisis, abolishing unfair evictions so renters can exercise their rights to a safe home, and much more social housing so that everyone can afford their own space.”
Alex Beer, Welfare Programme Head at the Nuffield Foundation, said: “Policy makers must address the longstanding systemic problems with the quantity and quality of homes in the UK, as well as consider actions that could be taken in the short term to alleviate the pressures on the households worst affected.”