Children, GPs and teachers sound alarm on ‘potentially life-threatening’ state of social housing

Hundreds of children, teachers, GPs and residents took to the streets on Friday to sound the alarm on the “potentially life-threatening” state of social housing.

Protesters – organised by campaign group Lewisham Citizens – marched from Rushey Green Primary School in Culverley Road, Catford, to the council’s headquarters at Laurence House, Catford Road, holding banners which read “better care” and “better conditions”.

Dean Gordon, who leads two primary schools in Lewisham, said some of his staff were missing work because of serious problems in their properties, including the loss of water and heating.

Hundreds of children, teachers, GPs and residents took to the streets on Friday in Lewisham to raise the alarm on the dire conditions of social housing in the borough (Picture: Salomé Revault d’Allonnes – Citizens UK)

Mr Gordon is one of 11 headteachers in the borough to have signed an open letter to the council calling for immediate action to address the crisis, which was read out at the start of the march.

The letter stated: “Housing challenges create barriers to learning such as poor attendance due to recurring illnesses, punctuality due to further travel to and from school, and tiredness due to lack of sleep.”

A second open letter, addressed to the council from seven Primary Care Networks in Lewisham, said: “Our clinic rooms are full of patients experiencing lung problems, mental ill health, skin complaints and safeguarding concerns due to poor housing, yet we are powerless to address the root cause.”

In an open letter to the council, 11 headteachers said poor housing is creating barriers to children’s learning (Picture:Salomé Revault d’Allonnes – Citizens UK)

Dr Camille Hirons, 35, of Amersham Vale Training Practice in New Cross, and lead for health inequalities and clinical supervisor for North Lambeth Primary Care Network, attended the march.

She said: “It is becoming impossible to provide the help that patients need because of the constraints on the systems. This problem is much bigger than us.”

Dr Hirons said 38 per cent of referrals to the social prescribing service in her surgery were due to poor housing.

Dr Hirons said health conditions associated with poor housing will only get worse if the council does not act now (Picture: Camille Hirons)

Social prescribing is when a GP connects patients to non-medical support in the borough. This is because people often discuss non-medical concerns with their GPs as they don’t know where to turn to for support.

Dr Hirons said: “These issues are getting worse. You see it and feel it, people are coming in with these issues not knowing where to go.

“There are huge stresses on housing waiting lists – one patient was waiting 13 years for repairs.”

Children from St Winifred’s school hold a banner which reads “St Winifred’s want safer homes” (Picture: Salomé Revault d’Allonnes – Citizens UK)

The health issues caused by poor housing have put pressure on an already overstretched healthcare system, Dr Hirons said.

She said: “Waiting times for talking therapy are currently nine months, other assessments are going over years.”

These concerns were echoed by Dr Aaminah Verity, 37, who also attended the march. Dr Verity has been a GP at Deptford Surgery in New Cross Road for 13 years.

She said: “We’ve seen an increase in extreme situations. Mental health – linked to patients’ housing situations – is getting much worse. This has a knock-on impact on chronic health issues and stops people from working.

Dr Verity said the council needs to find a solution to the root problem, not rely on the health care system (Picture: Aaminah Verity)

“We can’t just keep treating them after they become unwell, we need to start putting in place solutions to stop that happening in the first place.”

Labour-run Lewisham brought more than 13,500 homes in the borough back under its control from Lewisham Homes in October 2023. In December 2023 the council referred itself to the housing regulator in acknowledgement of systemic issues with housing stock.

At the time 17 per cent of the council’s homes did not meet the minimum standard for social housing, but that number was expected to balloon to 31 per cent by 2027 as the council diverts cash from refurbishment works to fire safety improvements. 

Children hold signs outside Lewisham council which read “better communication” (Picture: Salomé Revault d’Allonnes – Citizens UK)

Between April and October 2023 less than a third of emergency repairs were completed in time, against a target of 90 per cent.

Lewisham has spent £9.9million on temporary accommodation in the past year. A council spokeswoman said the lack of housing supply and increased rents has seen many more families coming to the council, unable to afford rent in the private sector.

Lewisham council has been approached for comment.

Pictured top: Children march through Catford demanding better housing (Picture: Salomé Revault d’Allonnes – Citizens UK)

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