The UK’s other housing crisis

Homes are the foundation for a decent life, where we should all feel proud, safe and secure. Yet far too many people are living in homes that damage their health. The national crisis of poor quality housing warrants far greater attention. Together, the Campaign for Healthy Homes and our new Safe Homes Now campaign can address this, writes the Centre for Ageing Better’s Campaigns and Public Affairs Manager (Homes) Christos Tuton.

We have a housing crisis in this country that is letting down millions of people.

The factors behind this crisis are varied, including a lack of supply, high mortgage rates, a tough rental market, and a shortage of social housing. These issues are significant and well-known to policymakers and the public.

The other housing crisis is about homes that are cold, damp, contain mould, or are in need of repair.

However, what is discussed much less often is what I call the other housing crisis. This is about homes that are cold, damp, contain mould, or are in need of repair. There are currently 8 million people across the country living in 3.5 million homes with these problems.

These properties can be found across all tenure types, but are most common in owner-occupied homes where there are 2.2 million homes that fail the Decent Homes Standard. That’s more than the number in the private rented sector and social housing combined. At the Centre for Ageing Better, we call these unsafe homes.

For the first time since 2016, the number of non-decent owner-occupied homes has risen.

Highlighting the issues of unsafe homes

Worryingly, the problem is getting worse. For the first time since 2016, the number of non-decent owner-occupied homes has risen.

To tackle this, the Centre for Ageing Better recently launched the Safe Homes Now campaign together with Asthma + Lung UK, Barnardo’s, Impact on Urban Health, Independent Age, Nationwide Foundation, Race Equality Foundation, Runnymede Trust and St John Ambulance.

As a diverse group of organisations, we have come together to highlight the issue of unsafe homes for everyone in society. We want to raise awareness of how they impact everyone’s health, particularly children, older people and people from ethnic minority communities, as well as highlight the added costs and pressures poor quality housing places upon health, social care and emergency services.

Time for action

We want the government to take action to fix unsafe homes and ensure that no one lives in a home that damages their health.

Poor quality housing is dangerous. It restricts people’s life chances, harms our nation’s health, and reduces our standard of living.

Britain already has among the oldest and poorest quality housing stock in Europe.

We believe that homes should be a place where we all feel proud, safe and secure but there is much work to do before this is a reality for everyone.

Britain already has among the oldest and poorest quality housing stock in Europe and around four in five of the homes that will exist in 2050 have already been built. A lot more work is needed to ensure homes can be maintained to a suitable quality. That is why we are calling on the government to implement a national strategy to fix unsafe homes.

Historically, our government provided lots more assistance than it currently does. Grant support totalling £2.3 billion for private sector home improvements has been withdrawn over the last decade. Our research indicates this reduction has prevented the repair of almost 600,000 properties with the most serious problems.

We also believe that government has a role to play in empowering individuals to improve their own homes by giving people greater access to reliable information and support to maintain their homes.

Everyone stands to benefit from investment in our housing stock and home improvement.

A one-stop shop for home improvement

The Centre for Ageing Better has developed the concept of a local one-stop shop model for home improvement support called Good Home Hubs. A nationwide network offering advice on home repairs and adaptations including where to find trusted tradespeople, identifying what work needs to be done, how to finance repairs and improve energy efficiency.  

Our polling indicates more than one in two people (57%) would likely use a Good Home Hub if available in their area. We believe the government should pilot these in 50 areas for at least two years to see the difference they could make.

Everyone stands to benefit from investment in our housing stock and home improvement through healthier and longer lives, reduced costs and pressures on health and social care services, and the stimulation of economic growth through job creation and increased productivity.

It’s vital that new homes use the Healthy Homes Principles as the benchmark for quality.

The Campaign for Healthy Homes

We wholeheartedly support the Campaign for Healthy Homes and its excellent work highlighting the need for new homes to be built to higher standards. As the TCPA makes clear, it’s vital that the new homes we build do not become ‘slums of the future’ but instead use the Healthy Homes Principles as the benchmark for quality.

The Campaign for Healthy Homes and Safe Homes Now, as complementary campaigns, make a compelling case for action to ensure that new and existing homes do not damage the health and wellbeing of their residents.

Homes are where we spend the majority of our time. They should be the foundation from which we build our lives but, for too many, they are the cause of mental and physical distress.

It is time that greater priority and resource was dedicated to making sure homes are safe and healthy places for everyone.

For more information on Safe Homes Now contact: christos.tuton@ageing-better.org.uk

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