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22 October 2021

CHC countdown to COP: How does the social housing decarbonisation agenda affect health inequalities?

CHC countdown to COP: How does the social housing decarbonisation agenda affect health inequalities?

As we countdown to COP26, Sarah Scotcher, our Policy and External Affairs Manager, explains how investing in good quality homes benefit the physical and mental well-being of residents, and what the Welsh Government can do to address health inequalities.

There’s no place like home, right? That place where we feel safe, warm, there’s food and a comfy bed to sleep in. We know that when we have these things - when we have a good home - we feel better for it and we are well. They might seem like simple things but when those things aren’t there, it can negatively impact our health.

And this is nothing new, of course. It is often cited that ‘father of the NHS’ Aneurin Bevan recognised this link as Minister for Health and Housing - the clue was in the title. A safe, secure and comfortable home provides a solid foundation for our lives, enabling us to live, learn, work and flourish.

Poor housing can seriously damage our physical and mental health and affect our future well-being and prosperity. There have been enough statistics gathered and reports published to tell us that Wales has higher levels of people who are older, in worse health and poorer than the rest of the UK. And while energy-efficient homes can’t make you younger, they have the potential to leave more money in your pocket, reduce the number of excess cold-related health conditions and address fuel poverty.

Investment in good quality homes saves public money and improves outcomes for people, and offers genuine choice for residents and service users. We know that poor housing costs the NHS in Wales £95m a year, and that every £1 spent on improving warmth in vulnerable households could result in a £4 return on investment.

The evidence doesn’t stop there. According to public health research, Welsh residents aged 60 years and over benefiting from upgraded council houses were found to have 39% fewer hospital admissions for cardiorespiratory conditions and injuries compared to those living in homes that were not upgraded.

The Welsh Government’s Warm Homes Nest scheme provides energy efficiency advice and improvements to vulnerable households. An evaluation of this scheme shows that the number of GP visits for respiratory conditions decreased by 3.9% in beneficiaries, compared to a 9.8% increase for the control group.

Fuel poverty has decreased in recent years but the challenges presented by increasing gas prices mean we must stay vigilant and continue to prioritise action. A further risk is that, if our homes are not made more efficient and energy demands brought down, the shift from gas to electric will be cripplingly expensive for all but the most wealthy households.

As community anchors as well as landlords, housing associations have a key role to play in the decarbonisation of homes and the wellbeing of their communities. Housing associations are constantly improving their homes, whether with ambitious retrofit projects, new and innovative developments or the everyday maintenance of standards.

They also offer a huge range of support to residents and others in their communities, helping people with budgeting, finding a suitable energy contract and claiming welfare benefits. All this investment, whether it is in homes or people, aims to address the myriad health inequalities that result from poor housing.

Our health and wellbeing is shaped by all areas of our lives. For too long, we have looked to the health service to address these challenges in isolation, but the NHS alone simply doesn’t have the levers to make the changes we know are vital to creating the conditions necessary for good health. Meaningful progress needs coherent efforts across all sectors to close the gap. This is why CHC, along with many others in Wales, is calling on the Welsh Government to develop a cross-government strategy to address health inequalities, which recognises the contribution of housing to health. This strategy must prioritise action to provide good quality homes conducive to good health outcomes at all stages of life, and as people’s needs change.