Poor housing costs health service £95m per year – new report

Poor quality housing costs the NHS in Wales more than £95m per year in treatment costs – but action to mitigate poor housing could see a return on investment within six years, according to a new report.

The report looks at the impact of housing quality, unsuitable homes, and homelessness on health and well-being in Wales, and identifies value-for-money priority areas for action.

18 per cent of homes in Wales pose an unacceptable risk to health, and poor housing costs Welsh society over £1bn a year.  There is strong evidence that poor housing is associated with poor physical and mental health.

The report is published today (20 June 2019) in partnership between Public Health Wales, Community Housing Cymru, and the Building Research Establishment (BRE).

Among its recommendations, the report urges action to address causes of ill-health associated with poor quality housing, such as cold and damp, and fall hazards.  Priority areas include improving the heating, thermal efficiency and ventilation of homes, with action such as insulating older houses.

The report says that upgrading homes could lead to 39 per cent fewer hospital admissions for circulation and lung conditions, and every £1 spent on improving warmth in vulnerable households could result in a £4 return on investment.   Improving ventilation also has benefits including improving asthma in children, and is likely to reduce school absence.

Adapting homes and providing services to reduce falls for older and disabled people are value-for-money and could generate £7.50 in savings to health and social care services for every £1 spent.

The report also highlights that investing in action to prevent homelessness also leads to a significant savings, as well as reducing the human cost.  Such action could result in savings of around £9,266 per person compared to allowing homelessness to persist for 12 months.  Every £1 invested in lifting people out of homelessness could lead to a £2.80 return on investment, according to the report.

Louise Woodfine, Principal Public Health Specialist and Housing Lead for Public Health Wales, said, “The case for investing in housing to improve health and wellbeing has never been stronger.  Wales has the oldest housing stock in the UK, and proportionately the highest treatment costs associated with poor housing.

“There is a real human cost to poor housing too, with people living in the least energy efficient homes being a fifth more likely to die during winter than householders in the warmest properties.

“However, this means that there are real opportunities for us in Wales to make significant improvements to health and well-being by taking priority action in the housing sector.

“Our report finds that action now to improve housing quality, ensure suitable housing, and to address homelessness are most cost-effective.  This needs to be supported by action to reduce housing inequality, and more closely align housing, health and social care.”

Stuart Ropke, Chief Executive at Community Housing Cymru, said:
“We have a long term ambition as a sector to build a Wales where good housing is a basic right for all, and have long argued the benefits of investment in housing for the health and wellbeing of Welsh people.

“This report clearly demonstrates the direct impact that poor housing has on the NHS, and we will continue to work alongside Public Health Wales to make sure that investment in housing is a priority.”

The report is the result of a literature review focused on evidence on the effectiveness of interventions designed to improve housing conditions, address homelessness, and the benefits of adaptations. 

Publications

Making a Difference Housing and Health: A Case for Investment Executive Summary

Making a Difference Housing and Health: A Case for Investment Report

Making a Difference Housing and Health: A Case for Investment Infographic