By Jack Fildew
There are three big numbers that should shock you when we talk about Britain’s housing stock.
According to Opinium data, we spend 90% of our time indoors, some 22 hours a day. Whether that’s in our homes or in the office, almost all of our time is spent inside and away from the elements.
That is a huge number. It means that every day, whether we are working, sleeping or just spending time at home, we are spending the majority of our time in the built environment. Ensuring that environment is well insulated, properly heated and adequately ventilated should be a fundamental priority – and yet we know that’s not the case for millions of people around the country.
Damp, cold homes have consequences, and the data proves that. Findings from the Housing and Communities Research Group at the University of Birmingham has shown that children in cold homes are more than twice as likely to suffer a respiratory problem than those living in warm homes. Added to that, more than 25% of adolescents living in cold homes are at risk of multiple mental health problems, compared to 1 in 20 who live in warm homes.
The Building Research Establishment (BRE) estimates that cold, damp homes cost the NHS £2.5 billion each year. National Energy Action (NEA) estimates there were 8,500 deaths due to cold homes last winter and the National institute for Health and Welfare estimates 204,000 healthy life years are lost annually because of poor housing.
The third number is 14.6 million; the number of homes in England, Scotland & Wales which are estimated to still carry an energy performance rating of D or below. That means more than half of the country’s homes are rated below the UK Government’s minimum target (EPC C) and need to improve by 2035.
Improving that number of homes is a challenge, but a huge opportunity too. We know ratcheting up our ability to instal energy efficiency measures will bring jobs to some of the regions which need them most. Equally, it will reduce carbon emissions, save families money on energy bills and make their homes healthier places to live.
Seizing the opportunity
The numbers are stark, but their consequences are not limited to our existing housing stock. There are still new homes being built with the same poor levels of energy efficiency – homes that leak heat in the winter and don’t cool in the summer – and which, frankly, are not built with our future needs in mind.
Those homes will only add to the burden we face in decarbonising and improving the UK’s housing stock. That is why the Town and Country Planning Association’s (TCPA) Healthy Homes Campaign is so important and why we are pleased to support it.
As one of the UK’s largest energy suppliers we are proud of the work we continue to do to improve the health of our customer’s homes. Since 2008 we have installed more than 1.5 million measures in almost half a million homes around the country, helping to save our customers around £10 billion in lifetime bill savings.
We have seen first-hand the difference that warm, comfortable homes can make to people’s lives, whether that’s through insulation, an efficient central heating system, or putting in adaptive measures to support people living independently.
The Healthy Homes Bill seeks to enshrine those principles in legislation. To ensure all new homes “secure radical reductions in carbon emissions”, to “demonstrate how they will be resilient to a changing climate over their full time life”, and “be inclusive, accessible, and adaptable to suit the needs of all”.
There has always been an intrinsic link between health and housing. At the same time Aneurin Bevan was establishing the NHS in 1948 he was also the Minister responsible for housing, where the connection between health and home was well known and established.
If we are serious about improving our housing stock and making our homes fit for the future then that link needs to be urgently re-established and Government could start that process by legislating for the Healthy Homes Act.