• In June 2020, 30% of people living in overcrowded housing indicated psychological distress, compared to 24% living in non-overcrowded housing. The difference was more pronounced in April 2020, during the strictest period of lockdown.

This chart shows the proportion of people indicating psychological distress, in which they stated whether they lived in an overcrowded household or not, before, during and after lockdown.

The GHQ-12 score is calculated from a set of 12 questions relating to mood dysfunction, social dysfunction and loss of confidence where participants answer whether that state is more present than normal. If a participant answers that a mood state is more present than normal in four or more questions, then they are classed as indicating psychological distress.

Based on limitations on the data, this measure of overcrowding is different to those used elsewhere on this site and is based on a simple ratio of the number of people in the household to the number of rooms available. Academic work has found this measure correlates with other measures of overcrowding.

The lockdown has had a negative effect on people’s mental health and there has been a significant increase in those reporting poor mental health.

  • Prior to lockdown, people in overcrowded households were 4 percentage points more likely to indicate psychological distress than people living in non-overcrowded households.
  • There has been a bigger increase in the share of people indicating psychological distress for those living in overcrowded households (15 percentage point rise) than those living in non-overcrowded households (9 percentage point rise) from 2017/18 to April 2020.
  • Poor mental health seems to have lasted longer for people in overcrowded households. Those who live in overcrowded households remained 6 percentage points above pre-pandemic levels of psychological distress in June 2020, compared with those in non-overcrowded households, who were 4 percentage points higher than they were before the pandemic.

Lockdown made where we live more important to a person’s health. It also resulted in a significant increase in the proportion of people indicating psychological distress and who were living in overcrowded accommodation Those living in overcrowded accommodation were also more likely to report psychological distress before the pandemic.

Overcrowding tends to be associated with worse mental health and some of the effects appeared to be more pronounced during the pandemic. The proportion of overcrowded households in England has grown over the past decade, particularly in the social and private rented sector, and there has been little policy action in response.

  • The GHQ-12 assessment tool is a recognised indication of a person’s mental health. It includes 12 questions relating to mood dysfunction, social dysfunction and loss of confidence. Each question has a four-point response scale. Where a question is answered as being worse or much worse than usual, they are given a score of one. Those scoring an overall score of four or more across the 12 questions are classed as indicating psychological distress.
  • Overcrowding in this context is measured by comparing household members against the total number of rooms in the household and is due to data limitations. This differs from other measures of overcrowding that takes into account the ages and sex of children and the relationship status of adults to calculate a household’s bedroom requirement.

Source: Understanding Society, The UK Household Longitudinal Study

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