Around ten million people in England currently live in a home that poses a risk to their health and safety. Poor-quality housing is estimated to cost the NHS £1.4bn a year. People’s homes are inaccessible, have trip hazards, unsafe wiring, or they simply can’t afford to heat them.
The government’s housing policy agenda is dominated by house building yet around 80% of the homes that we will be living in by 2050 have already been built. Fixing England’s poor-quality homes and improving the lives of millions of people relies on us providing people with the tools and knowledge to maintain, improve and adapt their homes in order to meet their needs and actually have a positive impact on their health.
Improving our existing homes will reap huge societal benefits – not only will it have a significant positive impact on people’s health and wellbeing, but we also have an opportunity to decarbonise our homes in line with ambitious net zero targets, and to prepare for the significant age shift in our population. Our homes account for around 20% of current carbon emissions so making our homes more energy efficient will ensure that everyone can heat and cool their homes more cheaply while also helping the planet – not to mention the huge opportunity to create green jobs.
By 2041, one in four of us will be aged 65 or over – we need to transform our homes to be more accessible and adaptable, enabling people to remain in their own homes as they age, which is what most people prefer to do.
Scale of the challenge
So how do we improve our homes at such a massive scale?
Our work over the last 14 months through the Good Home Inquiry has shown that government leadership is needed but it’s far from the complete solution. We need national and local government, individuals, the private sector and civil society to all work together to drive real and lasting change.
An interim step to reduce household energy consumption by a quarter for the 26 million homes that need retrofitting would need an investment of £85.2bn, according to a 2018 report from the Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand (CIED). And it will take £32bn to bring every non-decent home in England up to the existing Decent Home Standard so it is unrealistic to expect the government to foot the entire bill.
Some public funding, whether in the form of loans or grants, should be made available. The government has expressed its desire to support local enterprises that create social, environmental, and economic value. Underwriting loans for home improvement would help to fulfil this aim.
Lendology is an example of how this is working in practice. Lendology works in partnership with 18 local authorities across the southwest of England to provide a local loans scheme.
The scheme involves recycling council funds by providing low-interest loans to eligible homeowners, landlords, and empty property owners to make improvements to their homes. It now supports over 1,000 homeowners, has lent over £15.7m and recycled over £11m of council funds.
Overwhelmed by organising repairs
Aside from the affordability of changes, there is also the lack of confidence and knowledge about carrying out improvements. As part of the inquiry, we brought together members of the public with practitioners and policy specialists to discuss issues they had with their homes, and what prevented them from making repairs or improvements. Our participants reported not feeling able or confident enough to get the work done, as well as feeling overwhelmed by organising repairs or improvements and finding trustworthy tradespeople came out as the top reasons for not making improvements.
Dialogue participants backed the idea of a ‘Good Home Agency’ where people could go for information and advice, access to financial support, and help to find trusted tradespeople to carry out the work. The concept is not new but builds on the foundation of previous policy initiatives and local delivery networks, such as Home Improvement Agencies and Care and Repair schemes. But current provision is patchy and fragmented. That’s why we’re recommending that local areas are mandated to have a local Good Home Agency to bring all the different services and initiatives that can support home improvements into one place.
The evidence shows how damaging poor housing is to the health of the nation and the planet. Now is the time for action. People need real help, support and advice to improve their homes and local and national government must work together to put this in place so everyone can live well and safely in a good home.
Vidhya Alakeson is chief executive of Power to Change and a panellist for the Centre for Ageing Better's Good Home Inquiry