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Millions living in ‘dangerous’ homes that put people's health at risk, charities say

EIGHT million people are at risk of ill-health caused by substandard housing that is putting “enormous strain” on an overstretched NHS, a coalition of charities warned today.

Nine charities are backing a national Safe Homes Now campaign, demanding an end to the “scandal” of 3.7 million “dangerous” homes “that pose significant risk to inhabitants’ health” in both the private rented and owner-occupied sectors.

The charities said the “hidden housing crisis” included shocking conditions such as rat infestation, damp, leaks and mould on children’s bedding.

They said that grant support for home repairs has been slashed by more than £2 billion over the past decade, preventing the repair of 600,000 homes. 

And they highlighted that 2.2 million owner-occupied homes were now defined as “unsafe” — double the number in the private rented sector.

A survey by campaign founder the Centre for Better Ageing revealed increasing problems with heating costs and home maintenance bills.

The nine charities, including St John Ambulance, Race Equality Foundation and children’s charity Barnardo’s, are calling for a “national strategy to tackle the poor quality of the country’s homes” that includes halving the number of unsafe homes within the next decade to improve the nation's health.  

Centre for Ageing Better chief executive Dr Carole Easton said: “No-one should have to live in a dangerous home that damages their health or the health of their family.

“Poor-quality housing is severely damaging the health of millions of children, adults and pensioners and incurring huge healthcare costs and putting enormous strain on health services.

“It is shocking that there is virtually no consideration of how we are going to address the quality of our homes and prevent inflicting further harm on the health of the nation.
“With a greater political priority and adequate resourcing, we could fix all unsafe homes in this country and help ensure everyone has the opportunity for longer and healthier lives.”  

The campaigners said that investing just £625m a year in home improvement could improve the quality of 520,000 homes a year, create 100,000 new jobs, save the NHS £1 billion a year and create potential health benefits of £19bn. 

Barnardo’s chief executive Lynn Perry said: “Growing up in a cold, damp and unsafe home can have a huge and lasting impact on a child’s life.  

“Our own research showed that in the last 12 months, more than 200,000 families had seen their children’s bed or bedding getting mouldy because they couldn’t afford to put the heating on.”  

Asthma + Lung UK director of external affairs Henry Gregg said the charity had joined the campaign “so that no-one in England has to live in a home that damages their health and limits their life.”

Independent Age chief executive Joanna Elson said the charity had spoken to older renters whose homes are “mouldy, leaking, damp and infested with rats.”

“Nationally, almost 122,000, or 30 per cent, of private renters over 65 live in non-decent homes. It goes without saying that no-one should be living like this,” she said.

“Renters of all ages need a commitment from the UK government to fix the hidden housing crisis of dangerous and unsafe homes.”

Nationwide Foundation interim CEO Samantha Stewart said: “Our vision is for everyone who needs it to have a decent and safe home they can afford, but that is not the reality facing millions of people.”

The charities said that halving the number of unhealthy homes in the next decade is “not only achievable but makes sound financial sense.”

Their campaign comes as the Homes for All report, which sets out a new vision for England’s housing system, is to be launched in the House of Lords tomorrow.

A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “Our goal is to halve the number of non-decent homes by 2030. We have already made good progress and reduced the number of non-decent homes by 2.5 million since 2010.

We know we must go further which is why we are reviewing the Decent Homes Standard, to make sure everyone has a warm and safe place to call home.”


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