Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Housing study highlights health gap

Those out of work and at increased risk of poverty and ill-health are more likely to be living in social rented housing

Around a quarter of people in bad health in Northern Ireland live in Housing Executive properties.

A higher proportion of those occupying social rented properties have a long-term health condition than those who owned their own home, 2011 Census research showed.

Social policy expert Goretti Horgan said there was a link between stress and poverty, which is more likely to afflict those living in low-cost housing.

"Low income people are more open to the slings and arrows of life, you don't have that (savings) cushion, the smallest thing can be a disaster," she said.

Those out of work and at increased risk of poverty were more likely to be living in social rented housing, according to the census data.

Around three-quarters of residents in very good or good health were in owner-occupied accommodation (75% and 73% respectively), compared with around half of those in bad or very bad health (55% and 51%).

The survey also showed around a quarter of people in bad or very bad health were occupying properties rented from the Housing Executive (23% and 25%), compared with under a tenth of those in very good or good health (6.8% and 8.8%).

Around three-tenths of residents had at least one long-term health condition. While the rates for those living in the owner-occupied or private rented sectors were similar (29% and 28%), a higher proportion (46%) of those in social rented housing had a condition.

The Housing Rights Service said 42% of households were in fuel poverty in 2011. There has been significant investment by the Housing Executive in its stock from 2009-11 to improve energy efficiency measures. The private rented and Housing Executive sectors contain the highest proportion of those in fuel poverty.

A Housing Rights Service spokeswoman added: "This is due to a combination of lower incomes, high fuel costs and over reliance on oil and coal."

Lifestyle factors like poor diet and the increased prevalence of smoking may contribute to ill health but Ms Horgan, who lectures in social policy at the University of Ulster, said stress levels were often key and sometimes unacknowledged.

She warned these pressures included not knowing if you are going to have enough food at the end of the week or put your electric on.

"It is easier to see the stress for parents, constantly afraid that the child will come home with a demand from the school or a school trip that will just be the fiver that will break the camel's back," she added.

Earlier studies have estimated the health service faces a bill of more than £30 million a year if poor houses in Northern Ireland are not improved. However, o nly 6% of social homes fail to meet the decent homes standards compared to 12% of owner occupied and 15% of privately rented.

Last month it was revealed a fifth of homes in Northern Ireland have a serious safety hazard, with fall risks, excessive cold, dampness and mould growth among problems identified by a Housing Executive review.

Homes dating back to the First World War and earlier are most likely to have issues, with less insulation and steep, winding staircases.

Home safety improvements could make significant savings. However it may take more than 500 years before the cost of dealing with cold homes is paid back in savings to the health service, according to the analysis.

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