England is in the grip of a housing crisis. At the end of 2019, the National Housing Federation estimated that 8.4 million people in the country were living in insecure, unsuitable or unaffordable homes.
We know how detrimental housing insecurity can be, including – and perhaps especially – for the children who experience it in their formative years. Studies exploring its links to a number of different outcomes have already shown that those who grow up with nowhere to call home are worse off psychologically, health-wise, socially, educationally and behaviourally, than those who have grown up in stable housing.
This knowledge is already available at the level of numbers – and the statistics and correlations born of them – and the overall picture looks bleak. Moving, Always Moving offers us a different kind of insight into the issue of housing insecurity – an understanding, at a very human level, of what lies behind the figures.
The report reveals, in compelling detail, how housing insecurity can stymie the satisfaction of human needs in childhood – the needs for shelter, belonging, stability, safety and friendship. And it highlights the fundamental importance of having a sense of security in the world, and the role that housing can play in either contributing to, or detracting from, this.
This report not only gives a compassionate and visceral account of growing up with no stable home, it points to the value of qualitative, longitudinal research in providing an in-depth understanding of the ways in which public policies (or rather lack of attention within them) can be experienced in the microcosm of everyday life. And it shows that when methodological rigour is combined with careful analysis and storytelling, social research can bring to light, and to life, issues and perspectives that are too seldom heard – especially in the policymaking process.
Policy-makers working on housing and other, related, policy areas need to become more aware of and more focused on the need for security, especially in childhood, as psychological, emotional, behavioural and relational patterns begin to be formed.
Reading this report would be a good place for them to start.
Housing insecurity and the impairment of needs satisfaction
In this report we have told the stories of four case study participants and their experiences of housing insecurity. Through these stories we have explored some of the underrecognised challenges faced by transient young people in England today, and we have pointed briefly to the ways in which housing insecurity can prevent them from meeting their fundamental human needs:
Housing insecurity can prevent young peoples’ physiological needs being met, for example through the cost of frequent moving and the related lack of money available for purchasing essentials, and through the disruptions to sleep that can accompany moves into new and unfamiliar dwellings.
Housing insecurity can prevent transient young people from meeting the need for physical and psychological safety. Each time a move takes place (often from one deprived neighbourhood to another with high levels of ‘antisocial’ behaviour), young people are required to assess the threats to their physical safety in new areas, and what these mean for their daily practices within them.
Love and belonging needs
When young people are made to move home frequently, they can also be prevented from achieving an optimal sense of love and belonging. Their neighbourhood friendships – as well as the ‘weak ties’ that bind them to places and people get disrupted.
The need for esteem refers to both self-esteem – that is, having a high evaluation of oneself – and the esteem of others – that is, being held in high regard or respected by others, or enjoying a respected social status, and the two are mutually reinforcing. Housing insecurity can function to hamper meeting both of these. By definition, housing insecurity carries the stigma of poverty, as well as the potential stigma of social housing and, in some cases, of homelessness and residence in temporary accommodation. Living in any of these situations can be stigmatising, and living with all three of them – as many of our transient young people had can be triply stigmatising.
The need for self-actualisation can be understood as the desire to become the best that one can be.
Moving frequently is time-consuming. The process of searching for somewhere to live (especially in a wider culture that has demonised people on benefits and thereby reduced the pool of available accommodation, and especially when searches are restricted by school and parental work locations), takes time. Sometimes an unfeasible amount of time. Shedding, or downsizing, possessions takes more time. Packing takes even more time. Unpacking takes yet more time. Making new dwellings functional takes more time again. And getting to and from all the places of importance from a new home far away takes time and takes its toll on young people. It can prevent the human need for self-actualisation from being met.
Housing insecurity impedes the satisfaction of fundamental human needs in young people, and goes against the right to secure housing that has been enshrined for them in international law. Whichever way one looks at it – from a rights perspective, or a needs perspective, or even from a perspective of well-being, education, health, behaviour, psychology, or sociality, housing insecurity takes its toll. It is amazing and it is sad, and so too is the way it is has come to be shrugged off as ‘just life, really’, ‘no big deal’.
For further policy recommendations, read our policy briefing, Moving, Always Moving: The normalisation of housing insecurity among children in low income households in England.