The cost of poor housing in England....

A recent report by BRE (The Building Research Establishment) found that poor housing in England cost the NHS £1.4 Billion per year. This report and particularly this statistic was not missed by the mainstream media. It was featured as the main story on the ITV news last Wednesday. It suggests that unless a targeted effort is made to improve the poorest housing stock the burden to NHS will continue.

The report was an update from a 2015 study using the same calculation, but this time, based on data from 2018. Whilst the headline grabbing figure is certainly telling enough, drilling down into the report also provides some interesting reading. Especially when the report is compared to its predecessor.

What is the cost to the NHS?

What I find perhaps the most surprising about this report is that the cost to the NHS is virtually the same in both papers, and suggest that poor housing costs £1.4 billion per year for first year treatment cost alone.

The latest report also indicates that when societal costs are included, it is estimated that the cost is closer to £18.5 billion per annum. This statistic is not included in the 2015 paper, although was in a subsequent report a year later, but again is a very similar figure. It feels that this is a fact that most media stories have failed to point out. Spinning the report this way obviously doesn’t generate the interest. The simple truth of the matter is that £1.4 billion is still far too high… no one’s health should suffer due to their home.

Have UK Heating and Insulation upgrades helped?

The report also suggests that the English housing stock is much improved since 2015, which it credits to heating and insulation upgrades. It is unclear how they have established this, but perhaps this is based on the drop in excessive cold cases by nearly 500,000, since the study was last conducted in 2015.

However, I suspect that many will be very dubious of this claim, especially when the amount of headlines we are seeing on the topic appear to be suggesting something very different! ITN news have been devoting a considerable amount of time and attention to the issue of poor quality housing, particularly those available through social care providers. Here are two similar examples that have featured in The Mirror newspaper in the last few months:

The poor housing report from BRE…

So, let’s look at the BRE report in more detail and start with damp, as undoubtedly, this is the subject which is closest to many of us.

The report indicates that the number of damp issues has gone up from 53,349 cases in the 2015 version, to 74,946 cases in the latest one – which by my crude maths is a 40 percent increase! Although interestingly, the cost of remediation has halved. I’m going to be a little optimistic here and hope that the increase in numbers and the drop in remediation cost is because we are better at understanding high humidity problems!?

Inadequate provision of ventilation

Are we accepting that these aren’t always “lifestyle issues”, but can often be down to the inadequate provision of ventilation that is at least partly causing the problem? Alternatively could the increase in damp problems be a result of insulation.

On the face of it, this is a good thing. We have long been concerned about inappropriate and inadequate retrofit insulation. Whilst many of these buildings are no longer excessively cold, are they now airtight boxes with no ability to release moisture?

Dampness is only part of the problem

I’m under no illusion that damp is the only hazard. Trips/falls actually are the most dominant contributor, especially when taking into consideration falls on stairs, between levels and on the level.

Excess cold also takes a place above dampness, as does fire. Trips/falls rarely get the headlines as they’re typically small and individual in nature, but fire safety has been closely scrutinised in recent years so hopefully, this figure can be expected to drop in years to come.

It will also not be a surprise to many to see radon high on this list too. Although unlike dampness the number of cases has fallen since the last report.

Is this a misleading report?

Perhaps the way this is being portrayed is a little misleading. From what I am seeing, the report seems based on figures that are pre-pandemic and perhaps do not accurately depict the picture today, where the majority of the population have spent more time in their homes than ever before.

We must however applaud these journalists for highlighting the issue and the way landlords treat their tenants. The report quite rightly points out that most of these defects are relatively cheap to fix and the benefits extend well beyond just the burden to the NHS; including the health of the occupant, reduced energy cost and carbon emissions, higher asset values and the creation of local jobs. As much as I have mentioned that I think the BRE review  is a little misleading, I always welcome any review that leads to the improvement of our housing stock.


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