PSI has produced a new paper on the fundamental role strong public and housing services have in halting global pandemics and protecting public health. These services must be fully reclaimed and restored as a critical part of the toolkit governments at all levels have to secure social security and public health for all.
More than 3.9 billion people - half of the world’s population – were ordered into lockdown as of April 2020 so as to halt the spread of Covid-19. But how can lockdown orders realistically stop contagion when more than 1.8 billion people worldwide lack adequate housing, over one billion live in informal settlements, 150 million are homeless and millions more suffer from insecurity of tenure?
The Covid-19 epidemic has established a new level of interdependency which cuts across social status and connects the health and wellbeing of us all, as the inability of some to go into lockdown can result in the contamination and death of others. By magnifying vulnerability and hitting the most fragile members of society harder, the pandemic has fully exposed the ravages caused by social inequality, of which the global housing crisis is a major component.
Public service unions often represent public and social housing service workers and have expert understanding of housing issues in local communities. In the wake of the pandemic, they are demanding that all levels of government take ambitious, long-lasting action to ensure that low paid workers, homeless and vulnerable people are properly sheltered and can, where necessary, access support services, delivered by adequate levels of staffing under decent conditions.  They are also demanding that workers who lose their income do not also lose a roof over their heads, thus putting their lives and those of others at risk. These demands come on top of long-lasting union actions and campaigns, which existed well before Covid-19, in favour of strengthening public and social housing services.
Market-based solutions have proved inadequate in effectively resolving the global housing crisis and upholding the human right to housing
As cities are forced to develop new measures and adapt policies to deal with Covid-19, public and social housing are clearly emerging as an essential part of the solution to beating pandemics and protecting public health in the medium and long term. Whilst the promotion of market-led housing policies is still widespread at a global level, some local governments are joining forces to swim against the tide, and are demonstrating that alternatives work.
As public authorities seek to provide lockdown and safety measures to beat Covid-19, and are forced to rethink and adapt their policies, public and social housing clearly emerge as an essential part of the solution to beating pandemics and protecting public health. Market-based solutions have proved inadequate in effectively resolving the global housing crisis and upholding the human right to housing, leaving deep social inequality and tearing apart social cohesion in many local communities as the most vulnerable pay the heaviest toll.
It is imperative that the lessons learned from the pandemic are integrated, made permanent and scaled up to ensure lasting, decent housing solutions for everyone. Public and social housing services have a fundamental role to play in making this possible, and must be fully reclaimed and restored as a critical part of the toolkit governments at all levels have in order to secure social security and public health for all.
 A. Standford, “Coronavirus: Half of humanity now on lockdown as 90 countries call for confinement” Euronews, 3 April 2020
 UN General Assembly, “Guidelines for the Implementation of the Right to Adequate Housing”, Report of the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, A/HRC/43/43, 26 December 2019
 A 2019 UNISON report exposed the harsh conditions of social, elderly and community care workers in the UK. “Sleeping in, losing out: a survey of care staff on sleep-in shifts” UK 2019