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Housing conditions

Inadequate housing causes or contributes to many preventable diseases and injuries, including respiratory, nervous system and cardiovascular diseases and cancer (1). Poor housing is estimated to cost the NHS at least £600 million per year (2).

Cold homes

In England and Wales trends in excess winter deaths have decreased by about 30 per cent since 2008/09, where there were 36,450 deaths attributable to all causes. In 2010/11 there were 25,700 excess winter deaths. The majority of these occurred among those aged 75 and over.

From estimates of the Excess Winter Mortality Index (EWM Index) by the Office for National Statistics, circulatory diseases caused 37 per cent of excess winter deaths in 2009/10. Respiratory diseases came in second and accounted for 32 per cent. Other diseases attributable to excess winter mortality are dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, injury and poisoning (3).

Cold homes are one contributor to this, and increase the risk of cardiovascular, respiratory and rheumatoid diseases as well as hypothermia and poorer mental health. Older, retired people are particularly at risk (4).

Damp problems

Around 1.8 million homes had damp problems in 2009. Privately rented homes were most likely to experience damp problems: 15 per cent compared to 8 per cent of owner-occupied homes and 10 per cent of social housing (5). Twelve per cent of poor households lived with damp problems compared with 7 per cent of other households (6).

'Non decent' homes

Housing conditions are improving. Some 6.7 million homes (30 per cent) were ‘non-decent’ in 2009, down from 7.4 million (33 per cent) in 2008. Overall, social sector homes were in a better condition than private sector homes.

Non-decent homes by tenure

Non-decent homes by tenure, 2006-09

Source: English Housing Survey 2009/10 (2011) Communities and Local Government

Home ownership

In the early 20th century, less than 10 per cent of homes were owner-occupied, but by the early 21st century, this had risen to 70 per cent, just above the EU average (7). Home ownership has since fallen from 76 per cent in 2001 to 65 per cent in 2010.

In 2012, for the first time in almost 50 years, there were more privately rented than socially rented homes.

Between 2001 and 2010, social renting fell from 20 per cent to 17.5 per cent but private renting grew from 10.1 per cent to 17.4 per cent (8). This growth seems set to continue – Savills, the global real estate services provider, forecasts that 20 per cent of households will be privately rented by 2020.

There is a body of evidence that shows that home owners have better physical health outcomes, more positive mental health and higher self-esteem, which all contribute to overall wellbeing (9, 10). However, home ownership, especially cases where home owners have high mortgages, could lead to increased levels of stress, which is detrimental to health (11). 

Access to affordable housing

Nearly two million households in England spend more than 50 per cent of their income on housing costs, and more than two million households have fallen behind their mortgage or rent payments (12). There is a shortage of affordable housing in all regions, especially London. Halifax's house-price-to-earnings ratio – a key affordability measure – has fallen from a peak of 5.82 in April 2007 to 4.41 in March 2012. The long-term average is 4.07 (13).

Welfare cuts are likely to place 269,000 households in serious financial difficulty. Recent cuts to housing benefit may force many people to move, particularly from expensive areas such as London (14). Around 35,000 households are expected to approach their local authority for homelessness advice and assistance, and local authorities will need to provide temporary accommodation to 19,000 households (15).

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  1. World Health Organisation Regional Office for Europe (2012). Report. Environmental Health Inequalities in Europe
  2. Building Research Establishment and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (2010). Good housing leads to good health
  3. Office for National Statistics (2010). Statistical bulletin. Excess winter mortality in England and Wales, 2010/11 (provisional) and 2009/10 (final)
  4. Office for National Statistics (2010). Statistical bulletin (part). Excess winter mortality in England and Wales, 2010/11 (provisional) and 2009/10 (final)
  5. Communities and Local Government (2011). Report. English Housing Survey 2009/10
  6. Gallent N (2009). The Future of Housing and Homes. Land use policy S93–S102.
  7. Office for National Statistics and Communities and Local Government (2010). Housing and planning statistics
  8. Economics online (2012). The UK Housing Market
  9. Macintyre S, Ellaway A, Der G, Ford G, Hunt K (1998). ‘Do housing tenure and car access predict health because they are simply markers of income of self-esteem?: a Scottish study’. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, vol 52, no 1, pp 657–64.
  10. Cairney J, Boyle MH (2004). ‘Home ownership, mortgages and psychological distress’. Housing Studies, vol 19, no 2, pp 161–74.
  11. Cairney J, Boyle MH (2004). ‘Home ownership, mortgages and psychological distress’. Housing Studies, vol 19, no 2, pp 161–74.
  12. Shelter (2008). Research report: Homes for the future
  13. Lloyds Banking Group, as cited by Homes and Communities Agency (2012). Monthly Housing Market Bulletin: Intelligence and Analysis
  14. Birch J (2012). Guardian online housing network. Article. How the private rented sector dominates housing’s future 
  15. Homeless Link, Crisis, St Mungo’s, Shelter (2012). Briefing. Homelessness trends and projections