Poor quality housing costs NHS over £1bn a year

New report shows that 11% of England’s housing is sub-standard, at huge cost to both the NHS and society, placing a substantial burden on public services
24 November 2021 , By Katie Coyne

Poor quality housing in England is costing the NHS £1.4bn a year in treatments, a Building Research Establishment (BRE) report has found.

Some 2.6m homes in England – around 11% of the housing stock – are ‘poor quality’ and contain one or more category one hazard under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System.

Many of these impact the most vulnerable, including older people and families with young children.

BRE also identified the cost of poor quality housing to wider society – to mental health, educational achievement, and long term care for example – calculating it at £18.5bn each year.

The costs of remedying the category one hazards was £9.8bn – seven times the annual cost to the NHS, and around half of the annual cost to wider society.

Gillian Charlesworth, CEO of BRE said that while progress had been made since the last report in 2016, a “big challenge” remained and addressing these hazards would be “crucial” in reducing the burden on public services.

She added: “Improving poor housing has multiple benefits for society as a whole, beyond those that just relate to the health of their occupants. Reduced energy costs and carbon emissions, higher property values, and local job creation opportunities are just a few of the other benefits that could come from improving the quality of England’s homes.

“The cost burdens faced by the NHS and wider society from unhealthy housing will continue unless a targeted effort is undertaken to improve the poorest housing stock”.

“The cost burdens currently being faced by the NHS and wider society from unhealthy housing will continue unless a targeted effort is undertaken to improve the poorest housing stock”.

Hazards that cost the most for the NHS are those exposing occupants to excess cold – presenting an annual bill of around £857m. The most common hazard, and the second most costly, are those causing falls. There were over a million cases recorded in 2018, for falls on stairs alone, costing the NHS £219m annually.

The report found 75,000 homes in England suffered from serious damp costing the NHS £38m, yet many more homes had non-category one dampness that still had a detrimental impact on health.

CIEH policy and campaigns manager, Tamara Sandoul said: “People have noticed the state of their home environment much more during the course of the pandemic, and many have continued to spend more time at home since the pandemic. A focus on unhealthy housing conditions is therefore more important than ever.

“The latest BRE update to the costs of poor housing and the cost of remedying the defects should be a useful tool to government, as priorities are decided to build back better and invest in a green economic recovery.”

BRE calculated the cost of poor housing to the NHS and wider society, using existing data from the 2018 English Housing Survey and NHS treatment costs. It wants to see further research done in the form of a 30-year cost-benefit analysis of the impact of improving poor housing in England.

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