Safe, secure and comfortable housing is one of the foundations of good health, but it is not available to everyone. Unequal access to affordable and good quality housing means that, for many people, homelessness or poor housing are a direct cause of short and long-term health issues.

Bad housing means unhealthy living conditions, with problems such as damp and cold – made worse by rising fuel costs – as well as overcrowding or lack of repairs. These can all cause health problems. Insecure housing means stress, caused by living in temporary accommodation or worrying about unfair eviction. And if you are homeless, it is difficult to access health and support services.

Money can be a major worry, whether the cost of private renting (which is higher than housing allowance benefit) or unfair agent fees. These worries can make you feel powerless and isolated, and you may be scared of speaking out in case this makes the problems worse. For example, tenants who complain about their housing might be afraid of being evicted.

Joining with others can make a difference, sharing advice and support and acting together for change. Grassroots campaigns can tackle issues such as renters’ rights, quality and affordability of housing, emergency accommodation and unfair letting agent fees.

Dialogue between tenants, letting agents, landlords and local authorities can create change, promoting good practice in the private rental sector. It can even influence local and national housing policy on issues such as social housing and energy efficiency.

Stating the facts

  • Homeless people die younger: for men, the lifespan is 30 years shorter than the average, for women it’s 38 years.
  • In England, the average cost of renting privately is 43% of a woman’s earnings.
  • Damp, cold and mould can cause physical issues, but also take a mental toll: through stress, inadequate sleep, or unfit conditions to cook and eat in, socialise or do homework in.
  • Shelter found that 1 in 5 English adults (21%) said a housing issue had negatively impacted upon their mental health in the last five years. And three in ten of those who said this said that not only had it impacted their mental health, but they’d never had a mental health problem previously.

Our working on housing and health

Housing is a priority policy focus for People’s Health Trust. We fund local organisations that stand up for people in private rented accommodation, including the Association of Community Organisation for Reform Now (ACORN). Their current policy focus is on ending Section 21 no-fault eviction notices. Housing is also a priority for some Local Conversations such as the Local Conversation in Lozells.

Wilson W, O’Donnell M, Bellis A. The cost of unhealthy housing to the National Health Service. House of Commons: London
Shelter, The impact of housing issues on mental health (2017)

Through our work with the Ethical Lettings Charter and Bristol City Council adopting it, we’re working with the Council through the Big Housing Conversation. That’s not just about the private rental sector but also social housing tenants and those facing homelessness. It’s a way of us holding the Council accountable

Volunteer, ACORN Ethical Lettings Campaign

The research on housing and health

To read more on research on housing and health, click the links below.