Poor quality housing and COVID-19

September 24, 2020

Poor-quality housing has a profound impact on health, especially in the context of COVID-19. New report highlights how poor housing adds to the hardship of the coronavirus crisis.

Today the Centre for Ageing Better and The King's Fund release the Homes, health and COVID-19 report. The report shows the increased risk poor-quality housing has on those most at risk of COVID-19; especially in the event of a winter lockdown.

According to the report, 4.3 million homes in England are what the government defines as ‘non-decent’. This puts the health and wellbeing of their estimated 10 million inhabitants at risk.

The report also finds people who have been identified as most at risk of COVID-19, are more likely to be living in non-decent homes, along with those on low incomes. This includes:

  • older people,
  • those with pre-existing health conditions,
  • Black, Asian and ethnic minority groups.

Lockdown dangers

One of the most common reasons for non-decency is excess damp and cold which has a significant impact on health. In England, around one in five excess deaths during winter are due to cold housing.

The Home, health and COVID-19 report warns of the difficulty in bringing homes up to standard. The financial pressures brought by COVID-19 could make it harder for homeowners to make the changes needed. There are approximately 2.5 million owner occupied households failing to meet the standards. Those living in the private rented sector are also of concern as 25% of these households are in a non-decent condition.

A winter lockdown could also mean increased fuel bills and exacerbate fuel poverty. A second wave lockdown means people spending more time in their homes; potentially struggling to keep poorly insulated homes warm for longer. Spending extended periods exposed to cold can exacerbate or induce respiratory and cardiovascular conditions, in turn increasing the risk of contracting COVID-19, and the severity.

Support for at-risk groups

The Centre for Ageing Better is calling on the government to make sure at-risk groups have the support they need to make their homes warmer, free from damp and mould, and safer. Whether this is by providing trusted information and advice to signpost them towards help, or more direct intervention such as financial support. Government must also work with landlords to ensure that rental properties are safe.

Evidence in the report shows interventions to improve housing quality are a particularly cost-effective way of improving health outcomes. Every £1 spent on improving warmth in homes occupied by at risk households can result in £4 of health benefits, while £1 spent on home improvement services to reduce falls is estimated to lead to savings of £7.50 to the health and care sector.

Holly Holder, Senior Evidence Manager at the Centre for Ageing Better, said:  

“Winter is always a worrying time for people living in poor-quality, cold and damp homes, particularly for those people who struggle to afford to heat them and keep them warm. This winter millions could find the danger they face is even greater... The government urgently needs to reach out to these at-risk groups so any immediate interventions can be made to make homes warmer, free of damp and safer. We also need government to address the crisis in the quality of housing and recognise the key role that housing plays in the health resilience of our communities.”

Clair Thorstensen-Woll, Research Assistant at The King’s Fund, said:

“The pandemic has shone a light on the mounting evidence that poor housing has a detrimental impact on people’s health. Tackling the problem will require better quality housing, improvements to the neighbourhoods around people’s homes and greater alignment of the housing, health and care sectors. The issue of poor housing and its impact on health should no longer be swept under the carpet.”

Looking ahead

The important role housing plays in people’s health and wellbeing is too often overlooked. Poor quality and non-decent homes are also a major contributor to health inequalities. In the longer term, much more needs to be done to fix the poor state of England’s housing. Read the report in full: Homes, health and COVID-19


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