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03/01/2019

Housing quality, not quantity, is the key to good health

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Healthy buildings are the key to wellbeing, says Jim Shannon.

Homes and buildings are an integral part of our everyday life. We eat, sleep, work, rest, play and learn in them. Given that we spend around 90 per cent of our time indoors, poor-quality or unhealthy homes and buildings impact on the nation’s general health, well-being and happiness. Unhealthy homes and buildings cause and aggravate poor health, which in turn affects educational attainment and career progression and productivity.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Healthy Homes and Buildings was founded to raise political awareness of the plethora of health and well-being problems generated by unhealthy homes and buildings. Its recent white paper, Building Our Future: Laying the Foundations for Healthy Homes and Buildings, makes a series of important recommendations.

It calls on the government to establish a cross-departmental committee for healthy buildings, generate more research to prove the need for further government action on improving new building standards, and renovate and retrofit existing housing stock and infrastructure with a view to maximising health and well-being.

The responsibility for healthy buildings currently lies with several government departments, public bodies and NGOs. Coordinating work on this issue, as the white paper suggests, would be a bold move to acknowledge the key links between housing, health and happiness.

“It makes no economic sense not to build and retrofit homes to make sure they are healthy”

We know the pressure is on to build homes, but there must also be an emphasis on quality as well as quantity. It makes no economic sense not to build and retrofit homes to make sure they are healthy. The cost to the health service linked to poor housing in England is estimated to be a whopping £2.5 billion. In reality, the associated costs are estimated to add up to at least two-and-a-half times this number.  

The white paper is the start of our campaign to raise public and political awareness about a significant problem. To date, it would seem that unhealthy homes have not been considered ‘sexy’ enough to warrant media or campaigning attention. Indoor environments expert Professor Derek Clements-Croome told us that this was probably because the “Health & Safety Executive is mainly concerned with extremes, rather than less obvious but still critical problems”.

By framing housing as the key to improving the nation’s health, well-being, safety and productivity, the white paper shines a light on a significant problem. Its recommendations must be acted on by government. While undeniably challenging, the facts and cost benefits are simply too serious for government to ignore.

Download the white paper

Jim Shannon MP represents Strangford, Northern Ireland, and chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Healthy Homes and Buildings

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