I doubt if anyone would disagree with the statement that our homes affect our health and wellbeing.
The impacts of housing on physical and mental health have been highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic, with people living in poor quality, insecure, cramped and badly designed homes some of the worst affected.
The excellent Kings Fund analysis, Homes, health and COVID-19: How poor-quality homes have contributed to the pandemic, sets this out so clearly, concluding that “The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and amplified housing-related health inequalities.”
So how can we learn from this experience and what action is needed to tackle the multiple housing and health crises we now face?
Soundbites, social media, articles, and reports are littered with post-pandemic aspirations – ‘build back better’, ‘levelling up’,’ reduce inequalities’, ‘focus on prevention’ etc. Thin on the ground are concrete proposals for housing action to improve population health.
For decades Care & Repair England has highlighted the data and evidence about costs to the NHS of poor housing, demonstrating the links between housing quality and health ageing. It has put forward solutions for tackling the scourge of over 4 million non-decent homes (half lived in by older people) and promoted the crucial need to build all new homes to healthy, age-friendly, sustainable standards.
Sadly, funding to tackle poor housing, in place since 1945, ceased overnight in 2010, whilst exhorting the building industry to adopt ‘Lifetime Homes’ and other quality standards has had little effect unless specific standards are made mandatory.
Which is why Care & Repair England supports the Healthy Homes Act Campaign.*
Building unhealthy homes makes absolutely no sense from either a fiscal or social point of view.
Too many homes and neighbourhoods built today undermine people’s’ health and wellbeing, which is why the Town and Country Planning Association, supported by a wide range of organisations, has developed new legislation, in the form of a Healthy Homes Bill, to stop this.
Care & Repair England’s focus remains on the pressing need to improve current housing for an ageing population, particularly helping the large numbers of low income, older homeowners living in disadvantaged areas. However, it is also essential that we apply knowledge gained of what makes a home a good or bad place to live and age well in order to avoid the costly building design mistakes of the past.
As Winston Churchill famously said, “We shape our buildings; thereafter our building shape us”. It is time to put health improvement centre stage in all government policies, including all MHCLG housing and planning policies, in order to address the underlying causes of poor health.