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The health impact of poor housing

The relationship between poor housing and ill health is a complicated one which involves many different factors. Evidence suggests that living in poor housing can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular and respiratory disease as well as to anxiety and depression. Problems such as damp, mould, excess cold and structural defects which increase the risk of an accident also present hazards to health.

A useful summary of the key issues surrounding health and housing in the UK can be found the following document published by Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology.

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Briefing Note on Housing and Health 

January 2011 

A more detailed assessment can be found in the following World Health Organisation publication.

Environmental burden of disease associated with inadequate housing - methods for quantifying health impacts of selected housing risks in the WHO European Region
WHO Europe, June 2011.

To assist its members and local housing managers in achieving a better understanding of the links between housing and health, the CIEH commissioned the Building Research Establishment (BRE) Housing Centre to produce a toolkit. The aim of the toolkit is to show how links between homes and health can be made, including where possible, the cost benefit of some specifically linked housing and health issues. Providing evidence of cost benefit is important where resources for improvement or enforcement are lacking. Further information and a link to the toolkit itself can be found on the Good Housing Leads to Good Health page.

Environmental health practitioners (EHP) are at the forefront of activities to prevent ill health occurring due to poor housing conditions. For examples of how EHPs can make a real difference to peoples’ lives in this respect, see the report by the Derbyshire Housing and Health Group called ‘Housing and Health – Practical Illustrations’ in the Related content box to the right.

In 2012 we commissioned Dr Jill Stewart from the University of Greenwich to produce a publication drawing together a range of methods and good practice in adding to the environmental health and housing evidence base. Effective Strategies and Interventions: environmental health and the private housing sector, published in March 2013, showcases examples of innovative environmental health practices, including partnership working, to demonstrate the fundamental importance of re-focusing on housing as a social determinant of health and the potential for improved health outcomes and impacts.

CIEH members can find further evidence documents in the ‘Private Sector Housing Evidence Base’ in the Member Resources section of MyCIEH.

Cold homes

Living in a cold home can present particular risks to health. As part of its ongoing campaign to tackle the problem of excessively cold homes, Friends of the Earth (FoE) commissioned the Marmot Health Inequalities Review team to produce a report examining the problem. The report can be found on the Marmot Review Team’s website.

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The Health Impacts of Cold Homes and Fuel Poverty 

May 2011 

There is also an economic impact if people are forced to live in cold homes. A report produced by the BRE Trust for the CIEH, on behalf of FoE, in early 2011 estimates the number of dwellings within the English housing stock where the energy efficiency rating is considered poor. It then considers the associated estimated costs to the NHS of poor health as a result of these dwellings.

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The Health Costs of Cold Dwellings 

February 2011

Housing Health Cost Calculator (HHCC)

The Housing Health Cost Calculator (HHCC) is a tool for calculating the health costs of hazards in homes, and the savings made where these have been mitigated or significantly reduced. It has been developed by BRE in partnership with RH Environmental. Details can be found on the BRE website.

BRE Excess Cold Calculator

The Excess Cold Calculator is a tool to assist EHPs and Technical Officers in assessing excess cold hazards within properties. It was developed by BRE with the support of the CIEH and is available to local authorities.