THE poor condition of England’s housing stock is a “national scandal” that has trapped millions of people aged over 55 in homes that are bad for their health.
Over two million over-55s are living in a home that endangers their health or wellbeing, according to a new report by the Centre for Ageing Better and Care & Repair England. What’s more, many of the problems associated with these non-decent homes could be fixed relatively easily, if government support was available for the often-low-income residents.
Home and Dry: The Need for Better Homes in Later Life found that 4.3 million homes in England don’t meet basic standards of decency; most commonly because of the presence of a serious hazard to their occupants’ health or safety.
Furthermore, according to the report, households headed by someone over 75 are disproportionately likely to be living in a non-decent home. Indeed, the problem has worsened for this age group. Two million households headed by someone over 65 find it difficult to heat their home.
The largest number of non-decent homes is among owner-occupiers, the report found, with many facing financial or practical barriers to maintaining their home. Meanwhile 20% of all homes in the private rented sector are non-decent.
“Our report shows the shocking scale of non-decent housing across England, with too many people in later life unable to afford or manage the vital repairs and maintenance their homes need,” said Anna Dixon, the Centre for Ageing Better’s chief executive. “The result is millions of people living in conditions that put their health or safety at risk — it’s a national scandal.”
It doesn’t have to be this way, however. The report claims that the situation is “far from inevitable”. The average cost to bring a non-decent home up to a decent standard is estimated to be under £3,000, while a third of the homes could be repaired for less than £1,000. But the funding to address these issues has been withdrawn in recent years.
Dixon added: “An investment of £4.3 billion to repair hazards for households over 55 would be paid back in just eight years through savings to the NHS – not to mention the difference this would make to millions of people’s quality of life. Ensuring that everyone is able to live in a safe, decent home now and in the future must be central to the Government’s housing policy.”
The NHS spends an estimated £513 million on first-year treatment costs alone for over 55s living in the poorest housing. One of the major causes of death and injury amongst older people are falls in the home, while cold homes exacerbate a range of health problems including arthritis, COPD, and asthma, and increase the risk of an acute episode like a stroke or heart attack.
Although the average cost to repair these homes is estimated to be below £3,000, there are no specific policies in place to address non-decency, and previously available funding for low-income homeowners to maintain or repair their homes has been withdrawn, according to the Centre for Ageing Better.
The centre, along with Care & Repair England, which co-authored the report, is calling on Boris Johnson’s Government to place this issue at the top of their agenda and act urgently to address the quality of housing stock. The people and places most at risk must, they say, be the focus of government housing policy.
“Older people across the country tell us how important their homes are to their health and quality of life,” said Sue Adams, chief executive of Care & Repair England. “Concerted action to make those homes safe, warm, decent places to live is a win-win solution. Everyone gains – the NHS cuts costs, the national housing stock is protected, and individuals have improved lives.”
Duncan Selbie, chief executive at Public Health England, said: “A safe, accessible and warm home helps to enable our participation in society, providing a stable and safe environment for us to flourish.
“In contrast, a cold, hazardous home is a serious risk to a person’s health and can cause or worsen a large number of health conditions such as arthritis, respiratory or mental health illness, as well as increasing the risk of a stroke or heart attack.
“The implications are wide-ranging: from life-changing and potentially fatal consequences for the people living in these conditions to ongoing, avoidable demand on the NHS and other public services.”