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Housing
Where we live shapes our health. We all need somewhere to call home – not just walls and a roof but a secure, stable, safe place to live and grow up in. A decent, secure and affordable home is an essential building block for our health and wellbeing. Poor, insecure housing can lead to worse health and shorter lives.

Why housing matters for health

A stable and secure home is one of the foundations of a good life. The condition and nature of homes, including factors such as stability, space, tenure and cost, can have a big impact on people’s lives, influencing their wellbeing and health. Housing has a long association with efforts to improve health, such as seeking to improve sanitation and reduce overcrowding to prevent the spread of infectious disease in the 19th century.

In our housing pages, we highlight the key issues affecting people’s health and what can be done to solve these problems.

Housing affordability matters for our health. Difficulty paying the rent or mortgage can cause stress, affecting our mental health, while spending a high proportion of our income on housing leaves less for other essentials that influence health, such as food and social participation.

People on the lowest incomes are hit particularly hard – 26% of households on the lowest incomes spent more than a third of their income on housing costs in 2019/20, compared with only 3% on the highest incomes.

Ending the freeze on housing benefit and increasing support would help people who rent their homes to meet their housing costs. Alongside this financial support, there needs to be an increase in the proportion of social homes and new affordable homes for the future.

Explore trends and inequalities in housing affordability

A decent home gives us a foundation for living a healthy life; a poor-quality home can undermine our health and put us at significant risk of health problems. Nearly 1 in 6 homes in England is classed as ‘non-decent’, meaning that:

  • they contain a hazard or an immediate threat to someone’s health 
  • they are not in a reasonable state of repair 
  • they lack modern facilities, or 
  • they are not effectively insulated or heated, causing cold and damp conditions.

1 in 3 households in England have at least 1 major problem with their home.

Current policy approaches have had a limited impact on improving the quality of homes, and progress on improving standards has stalled in recent years. Right now, we are facing a national housing crisis. Unaffordable, unsafe homes are putting people’s health at risk in a number of ways:

  • Injuries: Hazards are potential sources of injury or harm in people’s homes, such as trips or falls, electrical problems or fire risk. Around a third of accidents to adults happen in the home, and falls are a significant cause of death in older adults.
  • Respiratory problems: Damp, which is often caused by poor ventilation and leads to the spread of mould and fungi, can affect respiratory health. This can result in asthma, coughing and wheezing, and a rapid increase in allergens and toxins. 
  • Cold: Excess deaths have been shown to be three times higher in the coldest 25% of homes than the warmest. There is a connection between homes that are not energy efficient (due to poor insulation or other factors) and excess winter deaths. Cold temperatures in the home are also associated with respiratory diseases and higher blood pressure.
  • Stress and strain: Overcrowded living conditions can put strain on family relationships, reduce privacy and limit the space for children to study or play. There is some evidence of it affecting health and respiratory conditions, as well as psychological distress.

Improving the condition of people’s homes can make a real difference to their health and wellbeing. 

A study in Wales found that bringing homes up to national housing standards resulted in considerable reductions in emergency hospital admissions for cardiorespiratory conditions and injuries. Another study found that interventions addressing inadequate warmth were considered the most effective in improving health, particularly when they were focused on groups with pre-existing conditions.

The successes highlighted in these studies show that policy change and action can improve our health by improving our homes. We need the government to act now so that everyone can afford a safe, decent home as a foundation to build a good life.

Explore trends and inequalities in housing quality

A secure, comfortable home enriches our lives and supports our mental and physical health. But high costs and a shortage of affordable homes means many people have to live in poor, overcrowded conditions, fall into debt because costs are too high, move frequently, or may face repossessions or evictions. This all creates further instability and stress, with a significant impact on people’s health and wellbeing. Strong social networks and relationships are important to our health, but if we frequently have to move it can undermine our engagement with health services and other local services, and weaken our relationships in the local community.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, evictions and mortgage possessions were declining, and then banned entirely during the pandemic, meaning more people could stay in their homes. However, housing costs are rising because of both higher interest rates and inflation in 2022 and 2023, so evictions and mortgage possessions are likely to increase significantly. This will result in more homelessness and further pressure on temporary accommodation services, which are often of low quality. In turn, this is likely to lead to worse physical and mental health for people affected. 

It is vital that the government takes action and formulates policy responses that reduce this impact, by reducing housing displacements and improving health and mental health support. 

Around one-fifth (20.5%) of private renters have lived in their home for less than 1 year, compared to 5.8% of social renters and 1.8% of owner-occupiers. While this partly reflects the life stages of people in each tenure, growing numbers of people are raising families in the private rented sector. Instability can pose a problem for children’s health and wellbeing.

While the stability of the private rented sector has improved, it still has considerable turnover. Some policy moves have aimed to reflect the changing composition of the tenure, such as the government’s plans to abolish no-fault evictions under Section 21 of the 1988 Housing Act. But more action is needed and alternative models should be explored, such as longer default tenancies.

Explore trends and inequalities in housing stability and security

The cost-of-living crisis is pushing more people into homelessness. Becoming homeless and living in temporary accommodation is an extremely stressful experience, linked to mental and physical health problems.

The increasing number of households in temporary accommodation since 2011 highlights the consequences of reducing both housing benefit and funding to councils: people cannot afford their housing costs and councils do not have enough funding for homelessness prevention.

Explore the relationship between housing and health

Explore subtopics within Housing
Housing affordability
This relates to the financial pressure caused by housing costs – both for housing itself and for utilities and maintenance
Housing quality
This relates to the condition of a home, including whether it is cold, damp or contains hazards
Housing stability and security
This relates to how much control people have over how long they live in their homes, and how secure they feel
Multiple housing problems
This relates to the ways in which problems with housing quality, security and affordability often coexist

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This is part of Evidence hub: What drives health inequalities?

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