Unglamorous and repeatedly overlooked, home improvement can deliver huge value for money for cash-strapped government
The challenging state of the UK's finances is seen as a significant barrier to tackling some of society’s biggest challenges.
Our Chief Executive, Dr Carole Easton OBE, explains why even small amounts of funding to improve the quality of the country’s homes could deliver a 16-fold return on the government’s investment and create 100,000 jobs.
This decade, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, is turning out to be a very risky era for the UK’s public finances.
The Covid-19 pandemic followed by the war in Ukraine and subsequent energy and broader cost-of-living crisis and then a rapid rise in interest rates last summer have hurt government budgets as much as they have hurt personal and household budgets. This perfect storm of financial blows has created the deepest recession in three centuries and pushed government borrowing to its highest level since the mid-1940s.
At the same time, the UK has a number of large-scale issues, including the nation’s relatively poor health, the challenges of our health services coping with growing demand and the demands of meeting Net Zero, that require long-term strategic responses and investment.
The pressures put upon the UK’s public finances make the meeting of these large-scale challenges daunting. But that should be no reason to put off tackling them as this will only build up larger, more intractable problems for the future. What government needs to do is to find the solutions that deliver the greatest value for money, the greatest benefit for the lowest costs.
Investment does not need to break the bank or the nation’s finances to deliver significant results.
Working with the cross-party think tank Demos and supported by Dunhill Medical Trust, our research shows there is one area of government policy that has been overlooked but which could deliver significant and wide-ranging benefits for relatively little cost.
The government could create 100,000 new jobs and a £10 billion annual economic boost by spending just a tiny fraction of the housing funding recently returned to the Treasury on improving the quality of the nation’s homes.
Spending just £625 million a year to improve the safety, heating and accessibility of homes would deliver a 16-fold return on investment for the government while helping remove potentially fatal hazards and reducing some of the pressures on our health and social care services.
Safe and decent homes are the foundations for people to build good lives and have healthier later life outcomes - and have a direct link to some of these other large-scale challenges.
More than three million homes in England are a serious threat to their occupants’ health and safety because of trip hazards, overcrowding, a lack of adequate facilities, and dangerous levels of cold and damp. It is particularly an issue as people age, with almost one in seven homes headed by someone aged 65 or over being classed as non-decent.
Poor quality and energy inefficient homes are contributing to thousands of deaths a year and damaging the health and wellbeing of many more. It costs the NHS more than £1bn a year in frontline treatment costs and costs the economy many billions more in lost productivity.
Beyond all of these statistics are individuals who are suffering unnecessarily and have their life potential unfulfilled. But we don’t have to accept an inevitable decline in standards. And our new research shows that investment does not need to break the bank or the nation’s finances to deliver significant results.
As well as being happier and healthier if our homes are safe, investing in home improvement has a significant ‘multiplier effect’ – delivering substantial economic growth from a relatively small outlay.
In these financially challenging times, few policy options are open to government that can offer so much for so little. The costs of rectifying the worst home faults and creating good homes for people to live in is on average just a few thousand pounds per home. The costs of taking no action and leaving millions to deteriorate in a bad home is immeasurable.