Tackling health and housing inequalities with climate change

The Health and Housing Impact Network is launching our theme for this year: Housing, climate change and health equity. We’ll focus on improving collaboration between housing and health professionals to reduce emissions and climate change impact on vulnerable Londoners.

There were over 4500 heat-related deaths in England associated with the 2022 heatwave and we know that the highest risk of heat death was in London. Climate change is also directly linked to poor mental health and respiratory illness.  

According to the UK Health Security Agency, the health-related impacts of climate change will worsen, but are still avoidable. That’s why the Health and Housing Impact Network decided to act now. 

Through engagement with our network and advisory group, we know that members want to ensure that investment in new affordable housing and retrofitting existing stock will mitigate the ill-health caused by climate change and promote the wellbeing of residents.

The Health & Housing Impact Network is managed by Future of London and Catherine Max, supported by Impact on Urban Health. It brings together health and housing professionals and is now in its second year. After looking at improving integration between housing, health and social care, the advisory group felt that examining the impact of climate change was a top priority. Our focus, backed by the chair of the G15 will be on how to make decisions at the right time, so that health, climate change and equity are considered simultaneously in housing projects.

The need to focus on equity

The effects of climate change have a disproportionate impact on disadvantaged communities. For example, overheating (which can lead to serious health consequences) is far more common in older people and those with existing underlying conditions. In addition, poorer Londoners are more likely to live in homes that aren’t equipped to deal with high temperatures

Professional bodies including the Association of Directors of Public Health and Chartered Institute of Housing have recognised that climate change will widen health inequalities and have committed to taking action. There is also strong evidence of the mutual benefits if we can tackle health and climate within our homes and neighbourhoods collaboratively.

Diagram of a home indicating health risks and links to benefits to health of interactions such as burning fossil fuels, renewable energy, active transport, thermal control within the home
Diagram of health and climate co-benefits. Source, BMJ: https://www.bmj.com/content/352/bmj.i1781/infographic

Retrofitting homes and low carbon development are two of the top climate priorities for the capital agreed in 2023 by all London boroughs. With ambitious targets to meet for the retrofit and development of new affordable housing, we must address this now and make sure that all of these homes benefit from a more joined up approach. 

This is of course difficult to achieve, given the broader financial and political challenges facing those working in health and housing in London. These include the growing cost of temporary accommodation, high levels of fuel poverty and stark health inequalities

Support from the Health & Housing Network

Through our events and research this year, we will identify the barriers to making housing projects deliver for both environmental and health objectives and suggest ways for professionals and public bodies to work together more effectively on climate change and equity.

“The climate crisis and protecting the health of our most vulnerable citizens are complex, urgent challenges at the top of the urban agenda. Although progress is being made, as housing professionals we don’t know enough about when and how to make decisions during the development or retrofit of homes that benefit both the environment and health. Future of London’s Health & Housing Impact Network’s focus on climate change and health this year is welcome and necessary – and a practical way to help us navigate these interrelations.” Fiona Fletcher-Smith, Chair of G15

We will provide health and housing practitioners with a new tool to aid decision making and maximise the benefits to health and sustainability through housing (both new build and retrofit).  Professionals working at this intersection will increase their knowledge, skills and connections so that they can realise the co-benefits and make the right decisions at the right time. 

Please get in touch if you’d like to put forward a housing scheme with high sustainability credentials that has also thoroughly considered the health of residents. We’ll be taking a deep dive into a new build and a retrofit case study and we’re on the look out for shining examples. 

You can read more on our project page and look out for our first event in the summer.

Supported by Impact on Urban Health

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