We can all appreciate how our homes are important to our mental and physical wellbeing. But the coronavirus lockdown has shone a spotlight on just how integral a good home is to our quality of life. Many of us have been confined to homes that are unsuitable for our needs and perhaps even dangerous to our health. Good homes are central to our recovery from this crisis.
At the Centre for Ageing Better our work focuses on those approaching later life – people around the 50-70 age groups. We believe that in order to have a good later life, people need to be able to establish certain foundations in their mid-life – including financial security, good health, social connections, and to have meaning and purpose in their lives. Affordable, good homes are key to helping establish these.
This year, an estimated 10 million people spent lockdown in a poor-quality home that risks their health – that’s nearly one fifth of all homes. This includes 2.5 million hazardous homes that are simply too cold to heat to a suitable temperature or cause people to fall on the stairs or trip somewhere else in the home. About 1.8 million adults are living in damp and/or cold housing and more than one in ten of these people are living with health conditions potentially caused or exacerbated by poor housing, increasing the risk of illness including COVID-19. Currently NHS England spends £513 million alone on first year treatment costs for over 55s living in the poorest quality housing.
With existing housing in mind, the Good Home Inquiry was launched in July of this year to try and determine the causes of, and solutions to, the poor quality of so many of our homes. But it’s not just our existing housing – we also need a step change in the number of accessible and adaptable new homes being built. Building better homes makes sense economically and socially and would mean many more people could live active independent lives as they age, and significantly reduce the cost of improving their home if circumstances change.
And we’re not talking about houses that look like hospitals with emergency pull cords. When we talk about accessible housing, we mean fundamental things like level access to the entrance, a flush threshold, sufficiently wide door sets and circulation space, and a toilet at entrance level. A vast majority (91%) of homes don’t even have the basic accessibility features that make them visitable to most people.
But building new accessible homes isn’t just about later life – it means homes that work for everyone. It means saving parents from wrestling prams, pushchairs, and kids’ bikes up and down steps to the front door; it means if you twist your ankle you can still get into your home with your shopping, and your neighbour who uses a mobility aide can visit. It means your granny can stay over without everyone worrying about how to assist her upstairs to reach the bathroom. Having better minimum mandatory accessibility requirements just makes sense.
This is why we are co-chairing the Housing Made for Everyone (HoME) coalition alongside Habinteg Housing, to campaign for more accessible housing to be built. One of our key asks is for building regulations to be amended to raise the minimum mandatory accessibility and adaptability regulations for all new homes. The coalition members, including the National Housing Federation, have signed up to a shared vision and charter to improve society’s approach to housing.
Earlier this month, the government launched their planning white paper that sets out proposals for major reforms to the housing planning system, but currently there is no explicit mention of accessibility. As the government develops and consults on these plans, it is vitally important the minimum accessibility standards of our homes are clearly and specifically established based on the resounding evidence we have of what people need to live well. The reforms must ensure everyone can live in places that enable healthy later lives.
Never has there been a time that more clearly shows us how our homes are at the heart of our wellbeing. Let’s work together to make sure that they are built with that in mind.
Our homes have never been more important to us than they have been during the coronavirus crisis. For some people, home has been a sanctuary. For others, it has been a prison. Everyone deserves a safe, secure, comfortable place to call home. Not just now, in the middle of this crisis, but always.
Investing in social housing makes this possible. It will also boost the economy, create jobs and improve people’s lives when our nation needs it most.
That’s why we’ve launched Homes at the Heart, a national campaign and coalition calling for a once-in-a-generation investment in social housing.