If we have a right to housing, then we have a right to live alone

Shame about the 17 other housemates. Image: Getty.

The worst effects of the UK’s housing crisis include rising levels of homelessness, and growing numbers of people being housed in unsafe or overcrowded conditions. According to the charity Crisis, 59,890 households were accepted as homeless in England in 2017. And according to recent statistics, 27 per cent of privately rented homes and 13 per cent of homes in the social housing sector are not classed as “decent”.

In response to this crisis, some have suggested that the UK should follow countries such as the Netherlands and South Africa, by enshrining a person’s right to housing in law. But if the UK were to adopt a right to housing, what should this right look like?

In a recent article for Political Studies, I made the case that a right to housing should be understood as a right to have at least a three-year secure tenancy over a house or flat of a decent size and decent quality. More controversially, that a right to housing is a right to live alone.

For the growing numbers of people who have to live in a house or flat share because they cannot afford to live alone, their right to housing is being violated.

A right to live alone

We all need somewhere we can relax, sleep, wash and prepare food; it protects our mental and physical health, and gives us the means to lead productive lives. That’s why it’s so important that housing should not be cramped, damp, cold or unsanitary.

It’s also clear how having a secure, longer-term tenancy can give people a measure of stability, which allows them to live their lives without the stress and disruption of constant moves. A minimum term of three years can provide this stability: this term is already in place in France and has recently been proposed by the UK government.


Yet, in a nation with a shortage of affordable housing, it’s fair to ask why people should have the right to live alone. I argue that this right protects an important basic freedom: our freedom of intimate association. This is the freedom to choose when we are, and when we are not, in close or intimate relationships with other people.

This freedom is undermined when we stop people from having close or intimate relationships with those that they wish to – for example, by making such relationships illegal – and when we force people to have close or intimate relationships with those they do not wish to.

It’s particularly important to protect this freedom, because our close and intimate relationships can have a profound effect on who we are, and on our fundamental beliefs and commitments. But I argue that for those who are forced to share housing, because they cannot afford to live alone, this freedom is not being adequately protected.

An intimate relationship

Living with another person is a certain kind of intimate relationship: people who live together, especially over longer periods of time, will often know many intimate details about each others’ lives. Since the home is the place where we can relax and be ourselves, the people we live with also get access to our private life.

A right to housing, then, should be understood not just as a right to secure tenancy of decent quality housing – it should also be understood as a right to live alone. Only if people can live alone, can we protect people’s ability to choose their intimate relationships, and protect their freedom of intimate association.

For the UK, this means there is a long way to go before peoples’ right to housing is properly protected.

The Conversation

Katy Wells, Assistant Professor in Political Theory, University of Warwick.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Covid-19 is highlighting cities' unequal access to green space

In the UK, Londoners are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

As coronavirus lockdowns ease, people are flooding back to parks – but not everyone has easy access to green space in their city.

Statistics from Google show that park attendance in countries across the globe has shot up as people have been allowed to move around their cities again.

This is especially true in urban areas, where densely populated neighbourhoods limit the size of private green space – meaning residents have to go to the park to get in touch with nature. Readers from England can use our interactive tool below to find out how much green space people have access to in their area, and how it compares to the rest of the country.

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement Monday that people are allowed to mingle in parks and gardens with groups of up to six people was partially following what people were doing already.

Data from mobile phones show people have been returning to parks across the UK, and also across Europe, as weather improves and lockdown eases.

People have been returning to parks across the world

Stay-at-home requirements were eased in Italy on 4 May, which led to a flood of people returning to parks.

France eased restrictions on 1 May, and the UK eased up slightly on 13 May, allowing people to sit down in public places so long as they remain socially distanced.

Other countries have seen park attendance rise without major easing of lockdown – including Canada, Spain, and the US (although states there have individual rules and some have eased restrictions).

In some countries, people never really stopped going to parks.

Authorities in the Netherlands and Germany were not as strict as other countries about their citizens visiting local parks during lockdown, while Sweden has famously been avoiding placing many restrictions on people’s daily lives.


There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that access to green space has major benefits for public health.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Exeter found that spending time in the garden is linked to similar benefits for health and wellbeing as living in wealthy areas.

People with access to a private garden also had higher psychological wellbeing, and those with an outdoor space such as a yard were more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than those without access to outdoor space. 

Separate UK research has found that living with a regular view of a green space provides health benefits worth £300 per person per year.

Access is not shared equally, however, which has important implications for equality under lockdown, and the spread of disease.

Statistics from the UK show that one in eight households has no garden, making access to parks more important.

There is a geographic inequality here. Londoners, who have the least access to private gardens, are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. 

However the high population in the capital means that on the whole, green space per person is lower – an issue for people living in densely populated cities everywhere.

There is also an occupational inequality.

Those on low pay – including in what are statistically classed as “semi-skilled” and “unskilled” manual occupations, casual workers and those who are unemployed – are almost three times as likely as those in managerial, administrative, professional occupations to be without a garden, meaning they rely more heavily on their local park.

Britain’s parks and fields are also at significant risk of development, according to new research by the Fields in Trust charity, which shows the number of people living further than a 10-minute walk from a public park rising by 5% over the next five years. That loss of green spaces is likely to impact disadvantaged communities the most, the researchers say.

This is borne out by looking at the parts of the country that have private gardens.

The least deprived areas have the largest gardens

Though the relationship is not crystal clear, it shows at the top end: Those living in the least deprived areas have the largest private green space.

Although the risk of catching coronavirus is lower outdoors, spending time in parks among other people is undoubtedly more risky when it comes to transmitting or catching the virus than spending time in your own outdoor space. 

Access to green space is therefore another example – along with the ability to work from home and death rates – of how the burden of the pandemic has not been equally shouldered by all.

Michael Goodier is a data reporter at New Statesman Media Group, and Josh Rayman is a graphics and data visualisation developer at New Statesman Media Group.