The quality of housing and the internal housing environment are determinants of health and wellbeing.
A lack of access to affordable (both to buy and to occupy) and high quality housing can have an adverse impact on people’s health and wellbeing.
- Fuel poverty: as the climate changes and we experience more temperature extremes (both hot and cold) heating and cooling of homes is necessary (The Marmot Review, 2011), yet as energy prices increase it is more important than ever that our homes are as efficient as possible, not only to reduce cost but also to reduce energy expenditure that results in increased greenhouse gas emissions.
- Health inequalities and vulnerability: one of the determinants of vulnerability is quality of housing stock (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2011). By introducing energy efficient measures (e.g. prevention of drafts, damp and overheating) this cause of inequalities can be lessened. The Marmot Review (2011) reports that approximately 33% of the poorest fifth of households are in fuel poverty, compared to less than 1% of the richest fifth of houses.
- Climate change mitigation: changes to housing design in terms of energy efficiency can help to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change (Kent County Council JSNA, 2013).
“To support the move to a low carbon future, local planning authorities should…actively support energy efficiency improvements to existing buildings.”
The Housing Standards Review was part of the Government’s attempts to remove bureaucracy and barriers that hinder the delivery of the number of houses that England requires to meet housing needs. Outcomes of this review include a “winding down” of the Code for Sustainable Homes and limits on what energy and sustainability standards local authorities can set in their Local Plans. Energy efficiency is largely to become a responsibility of Building Control rather than planning, with energy standards in Building Regulations tightening towards a “zero carbon” standard for new homes from 2016. New homes will need to be increasingly energy efficient, but local flexibility to specify particular sustainability standards through planning will be curtailed.
“The UK performs the worst for fuel poverty in Western Europe with over half of single pensioners and two thirds of workless households classified as fuel poor”
Kent JSNA 2013
Nevertheless there is scope to explore options for facilitating the retrofitting of insulation measures to existing housing and to encourage uptake of renewable energy generation. This is a critical area given that the vast majority of homes in Kent and Medway will, for many years, be those that have been built to lower energy efficiency standards in previous decades. Addressing the quality of housing across the social gradient, focusing proportionately on those in most need, has the potential to have an important impact on health inequalities (Marmot review, 2011).
Kent and Medway are already taking action on energy efficiency, as set out in the Kent Environment Strategy Implementation Plan and demonstrated by the Warm Homes Scheme, which is a partnership project between Kent County Council and the district councils that supports residents in Kent and Medway to save energy in their homes. Kent County Council’s Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA, 2013) provides an overview of housing and fuel poverty. It states that the UK performs the worst for fuel poverty in Western Europe with over half of single pensioners and two thirds of workless households classified as fuel poor. By making homes more fuel efficient, the extent of fuel poverty could be alleviated for the most vulnerable.