Bridging the Healthy Homes Gap

Categories: Blog

Our Chief Executive Jade Lewis explores the policy gaps/solutions for delivering healthy buildings in a recent speech for APPGHHB.

The most significant gap around government policy and health and well-being is the fact that health and well-being is not viewed as a priority. It should sit alongside the levelling up and net zero agendas as a number 1 Government priority.

It would be great to see the UK Government take steps that the Welsh Government has taken. Their Future Generations Act requires public bodies to think about the long-term impact of their decisions to prevent persistent problems such as poverty, health inequalities and climate change.

It goes without saying therefore, that we do not have the necessary governance in place to help deliver healthy Homes and Buildings.

This group has been advocating for the need for a cross departmental committee for health and Buildings to champion change, involving all Government departments and agencies responsible for construction, the devolved administrations and all those with an interest in creating better homes and buildings such as the Department of Health and Social Care, which doesn’t yet exist.

And while there are plans to review the Decent Homes standard, we don’t have a national healthy homes and buildings policy.

As a result, public awareness of the issues is low and especially when it comes to what measures can be taken to renovate buildings to improve health and wellbeing.

The Government is taking steps to fund energy efficiency improvements to homes of those in fuel poverty, but not to address wider improvements to aid health. A focus on carbon reduction and thermal comfort alone will not necessarily lead to improved health and could in fact lead to unintended consequences like poor air quality, mould and moisture problems. We are missing out on the ideal opportunity to improve homes for health and wellbeing while decarbonising the built environment.

We also advocated the need to invest in services which are critical to ensuring homes and buildings are healthy, like Environmental Health Officers to increase enforcement, and Building Control Officers. As a result, what should be effective regulation, like minimum energy efficiency standards in the private rented sector, are not being enforced and poor-quality homes are still being let to tenants.

We need to gather standard data from across the building stock on building performance standards in relationship to occupants’ health and help to strengthen the evidence for driving improved standards of health and wellbeing in housing and buildings, for example schools and the link to educational performance. A national league table of housing standards by Local Authorities could help to drive change. The data would also help Government make more informed decisions on building policy and health.

The Key question posed today was ‘what should the definition of health and well-being be?’ In our white paper, we defined health as that defined by the World Health Organisation, ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being’. Therefore, healthy Homes and Buildings are not simply those where there is a lack of ill health, but Homes and Buildings that maximise the occupant’s physical, mental and social well-being.

To make this a reality, we would like to see a national optimum standard introduced across the UK with a move away from a culture of building to minimum standards. Of course, the industry needs to step up and do its part to deliver healthier homes and buildings that are focused on the occupant’s needs too.

We need to collectively address the knowledge and skills gaps to create a competent workforce capable of taking a holistic approach to designing, building and retrofitting healthy homes and buildings.

We can only do this if we all make health and wellbeing a priority.

Click here to view the speech.

Click here to read the minutes from the event.