Having a safe, secure and comfortable home is an essential building block of health, but it is not available to everyone. Poor and insecure housing makes people physically sick, and has a negative impact on mental health.

Bad housing means unhealthy living conditions - damp, mould, and cold temperatures - made worse by rising fuel costs - as well as overcrowding or lack of repairs. Mould, damp and other hazards cause respiratory, muscular-skeletal and cardiovascular problems, and other health issues that can affect people’s long term health, especially among children.

Insecure housing means stress, caused by living in temporary accommodation or worrying about unfair eviction. It can also mean having unfit conditions to cook and eat in, socialise or do homework in. Poor and insecure housing can also cause social isolation. All these problems can lead to mental ill-health. 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.

Poor housing conditions can affect everyone, but we know that some are more likely to be affected than others. People on low-incomes, disabled people, and people from communities experiencing racial inequity are disproportionately affected by poor-quality housing, which further entrenches health inequalities.

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

  • One in five private renters reported that their housing issues or worries made them physically sick. 39% have housing problems or worries that leave them feeling stressed and anxious.
  • In 2021, 14% of homes (3.4 million) in England failed to meet the Decent Homes Standard.
  • More than one in five people in Wales are living in homes with damp or mould problems
  • 30% of renters on low incomes in Scotland have significant issues with mould or damp in their properties, and 50 per cent have problems keeping their properties warm in winter.
  • Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Black African and Mixed White/Black households are far likelier to face damp problems and overcrowding
    than White British households.

Our working on homes and health

From listening to our networks of funded organisations, it became clear that having a home which supports good health needed to be a priority focus for People’s Health Trust. Our belief is that for things to change for the better, decision-making needs to involve the people and organisations most affected. We are calling for a long-term strategy for local authorities to fund widespread and equitable housing enforcement, including a review of the current funding system which is failing to ensure local authorities have sufficient capacity. Read more in our community manifesto for health justice.

In November 2023, we launched Homes for Health, a funding programme and collaboration between the Trust and experts from housing, community, and racial justice civil society organisations, delivering projects that respond to the growing problem of unfit private and social rented homes and their effects on tenants’ physical and mental health. At the centre of the work are marginalised people whose intersecting identities make them more like to experience poor mental and physical health caused by their sub-standard homes and insecure tenancies.

Our work on housing includes working with our funded partners, and with our partners through Health Equals to raise awareness of the issues and their impacts amongst decision-makers, and to suggest changes to improve the system. We are calling for the Government to commit to progressing the Renters Reform Bill this parliament, and to pass it into law as promised in the party’s manifesto.

We have funded important work on housing through our Local Conversation programme, including the Local Conversation in Lozells and Govanhill, and through Active Communities projects.

Housing is a generation-defining issue in the UK today, and communities across the entire Citizens UK network are experiencing a multitude of issues related to housing that isn’t fit-for-purpose, causing a massive impact on people's physical and mental health.

Fiona Meldrum

Senior Community Organiser at Citizens UK Wales

The research on housing and health

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

Fuel Poverty, Cold Homes and Health Inequalities in the UK. A report by the Institute of Health Equity, 2022.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation: www.jrf.org.uk/housing

Shelter: www.england.shelter.org.uk.

Shelter: www.sheltercymru.org.uk

Housing and health: A reading list. This reading list draws together reports and other material demonstrating the relationship between housing and health. House of Commons, 2022.