A new report from the Good Home Inquiry has warned that a lack of action on the quality of homes is leading to avoidable deaths, as figures showed that excess winter deaths increased by almost 20% from winter 2018-19 to 2019-20. Meanwhile 4m homes don’t meet basic standards of decency – 2m of which (one in ten homes in England) contain a ‘category 1 hazard’, meaning they are of such poor quality that they put their residents’ health or safety at risk.
The Good Home Inquiry, supported by the Centre for Ageing Better, warns that England’s homes are the oldest and among the worst quality in Europe, while a lack of urgency and co-ordinated action to improve homes has left residents in danger. In addition, the cost to the NHS of poor housing is estimated to be £1.4 billion a year.
The report also shows that over-55s are more likely to live in poor-quality housing, as are those most vulnerable to COVID – such as people with health conditions or from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. It also finds that while poor-quality housing is common in all tenures, it is most prevalent in the owner-occupied sector, with many cash-poor residents unable to afford vital repairs or improvements to their home.
The report’s authors warn that a ‘perfect storm’ of factors make this a ‘now or never’ moment for transforming the state of the nation’s housing. The pandemic has highlighted the impact that low-quality housing has on our health and wellbeing; the urgency of reaching net zero carbon emissions means that retrofitting homes to make them more energy efficient must be a priority; and we are facing a rapid age-shift in the population – by 2041 one in four people in England will be aged 65 or over – meaning that the country’s homes need to be suitable for those in later life.
According to the report, government should set out a cross-government housing strategy with a ministerial champion to implement it. It also recommends the creation of a Good Home Agency in every local area to provide access to information and advice about repairs, energy efficiency and retrofitting, as well as supporting residents with paying for and finding trusted tradespeople to carry out repairs. The Good Home Inquiry, supported by the Centre for Ageing Better, was set up in 2020 to investigate the causes of the crisis of poor-quality housing in England and determine potential policy solutions.
David Orr, Chair of the Good Home Inquiry, said: “The scourge of low-quality housing is an injustice that nobody should be forced to suffer and yet it is the norm for millions of people in England. Today, two million homes across the country are such poor-quality that they pose a risk to the health or safety of the people living in them. We have the oldest homes in Europe, and amongst the poorest-quality. This crisis is not new – and the fact that the problem has never been properly addressed should be a source of national embarrassment.
“With cold homes killing thousands each year and the UK struggling to meet its net zero commitments, now is the time for an urgent and co-ordinated effort to bring our homes up to scratch, make them energy-efficient and cheap to heat, and ensure they are able to meet the needs of an ageing population. Doing nothing is no longer an option. This report, the product of a year-long inquiry into the causes of this crisis and possible solutions, lays out the scale of the challenge and what must be done to fix it. The prize is great: for individuals, our economy, and our international obligations on climate change. We hope this report is the starting gun for lasting change.”