Bob Kerslake calls for stimulus package to address overcrowding and ’reunite housing and heath policy’

The former head of the UK civil service has blamed inadequate UK housing provision for the high prevalenece of covid-19 spread in the UK.

Local council housing

Lord Kerslake, now chair of housing association Peabody and local housing company Be First, called on the government to bring forward a housebuilding stimulus package in order to address the health inequalities which have seen those in overcrowded housing suffer more deaths from coronavirus.

Kerslake, who is also a former chief executive of the Homes & Communities Agency, used a column in Building Design’s sister magazine Housing Today to state that it seemed “clear that one of the reasons the UK has seen higher death rates than elsewhere is because of our inadequate housing system”.

In May the ONS released data showing a correlation between the spread of covid-19 and various measures of poverty. However, later last month specific links also emerged between both levels of overcrowding and the prevalence of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) with the spread of the disease.

The figures showed that the four local authorities with the highest rate of overcrowding were also the four authorities with the highest covid death rate, and that the seven most overcrowded councils were all in the top 15 for covid deaths per head of population.


Bob Kerslake

Kerslake said: “There is clear evidence that the highest death rates from covid-19 are in areas with the most poverty, higher levels of overcrowding, prevalence of HMOs, and greatest demand for social housing. […]

“On this basis alone, it must surely be time to reunite housing and health policy and come up with an integrated plan to boost the health of the nation through providing quality homes.”

Kerslake said the most effective way of reducing health inequalities would be to rapidly ramp up the delivery of good quality, genuinely affordable housing. The measures, he said, could form the heart of the economic stimulus package that chancellor Rishi Sunak has been working up, which could be unveiled as soon as July.

The call follows comments by John Gray, lead member for housing services at Newham council, which is both the most overcrowded borough in the UK and the one with the highest death rate, who last month was reported branding covid “a housing disease”.