Healthy Homes: Labour’s Five National Missions Should Recognise The Connection Between Growth, Homes, And Health.

If Labour forms the next government, everything it plans to achieve in two terms will be based on five national missions. The party will need to focus on outcomes. Stability will inevitably need to be at the centre of delivery. It will also need to develop a new state of play after thirteen years of Conservative malaise. If the five missions or guiding principles are to be effective, growing a struggling economy whilst reducing the cost of living is imperative. Labour, of course, has a strong track record of reducing inequalities whilst furthering economic growth.

Growth has certainly been slower in the last thirteen years than it was in the previous thirteen years when the Labour Party was in power. Most people in Brent know it, most people in Brent feel it. For them, a joined-up approach which ensures that a growth mission is enabling and catalytic is key. The five missions cannot exist in silos. It should, for instance, be cognisant of the mechanisms through which housing maintenance and renters’ security intersect with public health. Improving the NHS means improving housing and vice versa. There are two areas that will require a great deal of attention if growth, living standards, productivity and well-being are to improve.

Damp and Mould

The link between cold, mouldy, damp homes and poor health outcomes is something that is persistent across local authorities. Households who cannot afford adequate heating have higher than average winter mortality and are at risk of having respiratory diseases such as asthma. Fuel poverty affects approximately 2.53 million UK households. Many people in Brent, and up and down the country, are having to make tough decisions about whether to eat and/or heat their homes. This has an impact on both quality of life and quality of build.

Poor energy efficiency buildings which include poor insulation and heat loss compounds the problem for those living in social housing. The government’s decarbonisation fund only covers a small proportion of the costs required for retrofits across the sector[2]. The pace of retrofitting is indeed “lagging”[3] in our borough and across the country and this needs to change. The tragic death of Awaab Ishak rightly shone a light on stock conditions and the consequences of severe disrepair. The Government’s proposed Awaab Law will force social landlords like Brent to fix damp and mould within strict time limits as part of a new amendment to the Social Housing Regulation Bill. This should include private landlords.

A growth mission that is inclusive of healthy homes needs to take bold steps to mitigate against blind spots. It needs to prioritise both infrastructure scale up and sustained funding.

Labour must be clear in its position that piecemeal grants available on small scale to make existing homes better leads to lagging on deliverables. Retrofits by social landlords need to take an equitable public health approach and a one-off no repayment grant to social landlords to fix structural issues should be made a priority. Alongside a local-authority allocated subsidy that can be applied to repair both social housing stock, as well as private rented stock on the condition they are re-let at social rent levels.

Renters’ Insecurity

The private rented sector is one of the most insecure and poorly maintained housing tenures in the country. The impact of poor housing is estimated to cost the NHS £1.4 billion annually[5]. Whilst poor housing is a feature across all tenures, the situation is particularly bad for people who rent privately from a landlord or letting agent[6]. The number of people living in the private-rented sector increased from 2.8 million in 2007 to 4.4 million in 2021[7]. 21% of dwellings in the private-rented sector in England fall below the Decent Homes Standard[8].

Renters’ insecurity has public health implications. Housing insecurity is an important cause of mental ill health. With links made to increased anxiety, depression, stress, insomnia and panic attacks, it is not surprising that people living in this tenure experience higher levels of psychological distress than those who own their homes[9]. Despite this, the impact of legislative controls though existing selective licencing schemes in specific localities such as Brent is limited by the inability of such intervention to be made borough-wide without secretary of state approval.

Labour should recognise that improved standards will have an impact on the NHS and health equity. Changes can be brought about by empowering local authorities to fix problems through extending selective licensing thresholds. Local authorities should be able to introduce selective licensing scheme in 20%–30% of their jurisdiction without approval from central government. If we are to truly break down the barriers between policy and people, government and localities, some locus of control should be afforded local authorities in this area.

Progressive values, I believe, includes both compassion and pragmatism in equal measures.

Labour’s five missions for the country should be delivered with the following in mind:

  1. Health equity and housing security.
  2. Housing affordability, sustainability, and suitability.

Health should be at the centre of any delivery strategy on housing. And certainly, one that considers the experiences of local authorities that have a proven track record of delivering on the ground.

If you like this piece you can read more about housing, designing out homelessness, by Sharon Thompson.



[2] Dr Annika Hjelmskog, UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence, How to combine action on housing retrofit with tackling health inequalities (and other injustices), 21 June 2022

[3] Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. Retrofitting to decarbonise UK existing housing stock. RICS, 2020.

[5] Garrett H, et al, The Building Research Establishment, The cost of poor housing in England, 2021

[6] J. Rugg, D. Rhodes, The Evolving Private-Rented Sector: It’s Contribution and Potential

University of York, York (2018)

[7] Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities: English Housing Survey Headline Report, vols. 2020–21, UK Government, London (2021)

[8] ibid

[9] Preece J and Bimpson E, Housing insecurity and mental health, UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Excellence, 27 March 2019