Home improvement would create health improvement for ailing Britain
Our health is declining collectively as a country and our poor-quality housing, among the worst in Europe, is partly to blame.
Our Chief Executive, Dr Carole Easton OBE, explains the substantial health benefits of investing in home improvement as detailed in our new report with the cross-party think tank Demos and Dunhill Medical Trust.
Recent figures show the UK has record numbers of people off work with sickness and the highest number of patients on NHS waiting lists ever recorded. It is no coincidence that England's homes are the oldest and among the worst quality in Europe.
The link between housing and health is long established but continues to be overlooked when searching for solutions to our nation’s sickness crisis.
One assumption of societal progression is ever improving levels of health and life expectancy, a guarantee that each generation will age better than the last.
Life expectancy in the UK increased by 27 years between 1910 and 2010
However, over the past decade this seemingly natural and inevitable progress has significantly slowed. Life expectancy increased at just a third of the rate between 2010 and 2022 compared to the previous 100 years.
The number of years we can expect to spend in good health, without a disabling illness, is in decline.
Disparities in income make the situation worse
Even more concerning is the fact that this already gloomy picture gets gloomier depending on where someone lives in the country and the money they have in the bank.
The government’s own analysis of health disparities and inequalities found a 19-year gap in the healthy life expectancy between individuals living in the most and least affluent areas. In the least affluent parts of the country, life expectancy has already begun to decline.
How will public services cope under the pressure?
This rising ill-health is having a significantly impact on public services and the UK economy. Long-term sickness created a loss of earnings that cost the UK economy £43bn in 2021, equivalent to 2% of GDP.
The NHS is creaking under the pressure, a pressure that is only going to get more intense.
The UK is facing a polycrisis in health and wellbeing, multiple overlapping and simultaneous critical events and trends that are impacting people all over the country, particularly the poorest and those from minority ethnic backgrounds.
One of these critical events would be difficult to deal with on its own, but taken together, they require a significant re-evaluation of the UK’s approach to health and care.
As the centuries-old wisdom states: prevention is better than cure.
Policy-makers need to look beyond the sticking plaster measures currently being deployed, and failing, and instead address the fundamental drivers of poor health and wellbeing.
We have failed to heed one of the key lessons of the pandemic - the significance of the social determinants of health, the non-medical factors, such as housing, that influence health outcomes.
Poor quality housing can directly contribute to poor health, such as respiratory issues and physical pain.
But a lack of stability and security around housing can also affect mental and physical health, while rising housing unaffordability means less household income to spend on activities or food that improve physical and mental health.
Faced with multiple crises and constrained government budgets, we need policy interventions that have the biggest multiplier effects - interventions that directly or indirectly generate the greatest positive social, economic and environmental impact for every pound of investment.
As our new report with the cross-party think-tank Demos, and supported by Dunhill Medical Trust, reveals, evidence strongly indicates that improving the quality of the UK’s housing stock can both help tackle the crisis in health and social care and generate substantial multiplier effects.
Investing in the future
Increased investment in home improvement can help prevent avoidable illness or accidents, improving overall levels of physical and mental health, increasing life and healthy life expectancy and therefore reducing demand on acute public services.
Some of this funding could come from Integrated Care Systems (ICS) if housing was included as a part of preventative strategies to improve population health and address health inequalities.
One per cent of ICSs’ £113bn budgets should be invested in prevention, according to the recommendations of the recent Hewitt Review. If just a quarter of this was used for home improvement, this could help 240,000 people across 100,000 households generating £326m in health benefits to society, alongside £42.5m savings to the NHS.
Implementing all of the home improvement policies recommended in our new report would deliver more than £850m savings to the NHS every year while also delivering £5.9bn in wider health benefits.
The social benefits of home improvement are significant. Thousands of lives could be saved, hundreds of thousands of quality life years created and significant savings generated for our health and care services through the right programme of investment.
All we need to do is join the dots from home improvement to health improvement.