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Homes and Buildings: Levelling Up Health and Wellbeing

Volume 720: debated on Thursday 20 October 2022

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the role of homes and buildings in levelling up health and wellbeing.

As always, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. This is a very important issue. I understand from others that some other statements are being made at this moment in time, or thereabouts—well, people cannot always be in this Chamber when other things are perhaps more engaging.

We have not had a debate on this issue in Westminster Hall or, indeed, in Westminster for a year and a half, maybe even two. I chair the all-party parliamentary group on healthy homes and buildings and we wanted to refresh the House’s awareness of the issue, so Westminster Hall seemed the obvious place to come to do just that. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to my application and I am delighted to have secured a debate to discuss the very important role homes and buildings play in levelling up health and wellbeing.

I came into the House in 2010, when the independent Marmot review was taking place. Let me set the scene with a quote from a House of Commons Library paper:

“The causal link between poor housing conditions and poor health outcomes is long established. The independent Marmot Review (2010) said housing is a ‘social determinant of health’ meaning it can affect physical and mental health inequalities throughout life. The Marmot Review 10 Years On—Health Equity in England, recorded an expansion in research on the relationship between poor housing and health”.

We cannot divorce the two. Quite simply, wellbeing, health and housing are intertwined. Today’s debate is important because, as the Government move forward with their policies and strategies, we need a clear strategy that takes up the issue of housing and health. The 10-year review of Marmot said:

“Poor-quality housing harms health and evidence shows that exposure to poor housing conditions (including damp, cold, mould, noise) is strongly associated with poor health, both physical and mental. The longer the exposure to poor conditions, including cold, the greater the impact on mental and physical health. Specific physical effects are morbidity including respiratory conditions, cardiovascular disease and communicable disease transmission, and increased mortality. In terms of mental health impacts, living in non-decent, cold or overcrowded housing and in unaffordable housing has been associated with increased stress and a reduction in a sense of empowerment and control over one’s life and with depression and anxiety. Children living in overcrowded homes are more likely to be stressed, anxious and depressed, have poorer physical health, attain less well at school and have a greater risk of behavioural problems than those in uncrowded homes.”

I also chair the all-party parliamentary group on respiratory health—I am wearing my two chairs’ hats. Furthermore, of the many all-party parliamentary groups on which we all serve, I also chair the all-party parliamentary group on vascular and venous disease. Again, these issues are key. That is why the debate is so important.

Let me spend some time on the hazards. Across England, Yorkshire and the Humber are the regions with the highest proportion of homes with category 1 hazards, at 15%. The east had pretty damning figures as well. The figure for Northern Ireland, which concerned me greatly, was that 9% of homes had a problem. The midlands was at 13%, the north-west 12% and the south-east and London had the lowest proportion. I find that hard to believe, considering some of the information I am aware of. I see that the hon. Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) is present to speak on behalf of the Labour party, and some figures from others’ constituencies may contradict what is being said. An estimated 18% of homes in Wales had a category 1 hazard. Given the busy job that I do in my office as an elected MP, I know that mould growth in houses—be they Housing Executive houses back home, housing associations or private rentals—affects people’s health.

The hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) asked how the Government’s levelling-up policy planned to tackle

“illnesses directly linked to living in cold, damp and dangerous conditions.”

The then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the hon. Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup), replied that it was an important issue and that a

“decent home can promote good health and protect from illness and harm.”—[Official Report, 19 April 2022; Vol. 712, c. 12.]

All those things set the scene for where we are today and why it is so important that we move forward in a constructive and positive fashion. Most of us spend over 90% of our time indoors, so the nation’s homes and buildings should positively contribute to our physical and mental health and wellbeing, and not in any way diminish it.

The covid-19 pandemic highlighted prevailing health inequalities in our society. The most vulnerable are more likely to live in unhealthy homes that are damp, energy-inefficient, noisy, poorly ventilated and crowded. The inextricable link between our health and wellbeing, and the homes and buildings where we work, rest and play, is clear—never more so than during the pandemic. There were a great many negatives to the pandemic, and it emphasised some of the areas where improvement can take place. Having to spend more time in our homes, with many more people working remotely, emphasised the impact that our homes and buildings have on our health. Unhealthy housing impacts on economic growth, business performance, educational attainment, life chances, climate change and our nation’s health and wellbeing. Therefore, it makes sense to join up policy thinking, frameworks and standards and to ensure that all future housing, net zero and health policies do not contribute to, cause or exacerbate poor health and wellbeing.

The current energy and cost of living crises will only increase the problems caused by unhealthy homes and buildings. It is like a double whammy, because as the energy crisis hits and prices increase, that puts pressure on landlords, tenants and families from sides that they were perhaps not expecting. Many charities and other bodies across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland predict—I hope they are wrong—a record number of excess winter deaths this year linked to thermal inefficiency in the housing stock. We must try to prevent deaths and ensure that they do not become a critical issue, although all the pointers seem to indicate that that will happen. There is strong evidence to support the idea that poor-quality and unhealthy homes cause or exacerbate poor health, thereby placing more pressure on our NHS.

Like others in this Chamber, I believe that if we can have early diagnosis and stop things happening in homes, we can improve further down the line when we do not have the major health problems that come off the back of poor housing. The Building Research Establishment, or BRE, estimated that in 2010 poor housing cost the NHS £2.5 billion in first-year treatment costs—it is a big figure. Again, that indicates exactly where the issues are and why it is so important that every step is taken to address them. Building design, the retrofitting of buildings and the renovation of the current housing stock should adopt a holistic approach.

I thank the hon. Member for securing this important debate. I agree with him that the places we call home can have a huge impact on our health and wellbeing, particularly given the amount of time that we spend in them. In rural areas such as my part of Devon, that is even more pronounced, as buildings tend to be older, which means that they are often less energy-efficient and lack modern insulation. Does the hon. Member agree that the key to protecting people’s health and wellbeing is to ensure that buildings, and particularly our homes, are properly insulated?

I fully support that. I am probably of a greater age than nearly everybody in this Chamber, and I remember when we had not heard of insulation. We know about it today, and it is clearly part of having healthy homes. I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, which sets the scene for what we need to do. I look to the Minister for a positive response.

Energy efficiency, indoor air quality, ventilation, lighting and acoustics are all clearly big issues, and the health, comfort and wellbeing of residents should be placed at the heart of good building and infrastructure planning. I understand that the Government have a policy to ensure that new builds adhere to those conditions to ensure the betterment that we want to see, but we must also address the question of homes that do not have those things, which brings me to insulation. There must be a plan of action. Will the Minister give us some indication of what the Government are doing to help buildings that do not come up to that standard?

I am very pleased to see the shadow Minister in her place, and I look forward to her contribution. I also look forward to the Minister’s contribution, and I wish him well in his new role.

UK Green Building Council research found that 75% of new developments have poor thermal quality and performance—the very issue that the hon. Gentleman raised. To level up and reduce health inequalities, the Government must commit to deliver higher standards, and performance must be measured rather than just designed. It is very easy—I say this respectfully—to have a plan of action, but we also need the action. Again, I look forward to the Minister’s response.

We need to futureproof the built environment. New building and planning law must be designed and reformed to be fit for our long-term future. Some 85% of our homes will still exist in 2050. It is a sobering thought that the homes that are built today are there for a long time, so let us make sure energy efficiency, wellbeing and health implications are all part of an intricate system.

To level up, we need a national retrofitting strategy focused on delivering health and wellbeing. The Building Research Establishment estimates that poor housing in England costs £18.6 billion per annum. That affects the health of thousands of people. Again, that is really worrying.

The subject of the debate is critical for people’s health. Health and wellbeing must now be placed at the heart of Government housing, environment, skills, planning and energy policy in order to level up and reduce the UK’s health inequalities. There is a collateral burden on our healthcare, education and public services.

I thank the Library staff for their background notes, which greatly enhance my knowledge of the subject and add to the debate. They refer to a number of things, including housing and covid-19, which we all, as elected representatives, know about. We must also look at housing and dementia. I am sure it is no different for other Members, but I have more constituents than ever being diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer’s. The population is living longer. That does not always mean that people with Alzheimer’s or dementia are of a certain age, of course, but the fact is that most of them are. There are some things that we need to do about housing and dementia. I have also never seen so many people with mental health issues. Covid-19, dementia and mental health are three things that need to be correlated with housing and health.

The all-party parliamentary group for healthy homes and buildings is calling on the Government and the Minister to take forward its recommendations in its “Building our Future: Laying the Foundations for Healthy Homes and Buildings” white paper, to adopt a more holistic and joined-up approach to tackle the problem of unhealthy homes and buildings in Britain, and to adopt Lord Crisp’s Healthy Homes Bill. I am sure that the Minister is very aware of that. He might wish to comment now. The white paper sets a clear direction and has a clear focus, which is helpful. I always make my comments in a constructive fashion; I am in the business, as we all are, of solutions, not negativity. If we highlight the issues, we can highlight the solutions.

Lord Crisp has called for a joined-up, holistic approach to healthy homes, health and wellbeing in the context of the Government’s levelling-up agenda—which I know the Government are committed to and which I welcome—the Government’s heat and buildings strategy, the decent homes standard review, the Building Safety Act 2022 and updated planning reforms. Those are five things into which the Government have a direct input.

We must also recognise the cost benefits of improving and levelling up our homes and communities, to remove health inequalities and positively contribute to the climate agenda. We cannot ignore climate change; it is a reality. When we build our homes, we must recognise that we need more energy efficiency. We want to meet the Government’s net zero 2050 target, to which this United Kingdom is committed.

We also want to commit to introduce legislation that addresses the growing health problems caused or exacerbated by the UK’s unhealthy homes and buildings. I watched a news story on flats in London. I just could not believe that anybody could ever live healthily in some of those properties, with the decay and mould growth. The danger to people was quite real.

We must also act to reduce health inequalities right across this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—I am ever mindful that the Minister is directly responsible only for England—and ensure that Britain’s homes and buildings do not cause or exacerbate poor health and wellbeing. The cost to society and the NHS is far too vast, and it is the poorest in our society who are particularly affected; it always is. I have a duty—we all do—to help those who need help most, and those are often the poorest in our society.

We must also enshrine a clear definition of health and wellbeing in future legislation. The healthy homes and buildings APPG white paper referenced the World Health Organisation’s definition of health as

“a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being”.

A healthy home is a safe home. However, at present, many homes are unsafe. I have some information from a group that I work with back home, Electrical Safety First, which gave me some stats for England. In England alone, there are five fires every week caused by electrical installations in homes. Electricity causes the majority of house fires, accounting for 53.4% of all accidental dwelling fires. I have also worked with a good friend, a fella called Michael Hilland, who was an electrical contractor. He no longer has his business, but he advises. I thank him and his organisation for the information.

Electrical Safety First believes that house fires can be reduced by mandating periodic electrical safety checks in homes across the United Kingdom. That is already the case for the private rented sector, and it should be for all housing associations, and indeed for the Housing Executive, which we have back home. However, enforcement measures do not go far enough. In the social rented sector, tenants will soon be protected. However, clarity is needed about whether electrical safety checks will cover installations and appliances, and also whether landlords will be given statutory powers to undertake electrical safety checks. I look to the Minister for some direction on that.

In the owner-occupier sector, there are currently no electrical safety protections. That is concerning, given that owner-occupied housing is likely to have the most dated electrical wiring, and houses a greater proportion of the elderly population, who are more vulnerable to electrical safety risks. The fact is, our mobility decreases as we get older. If we are living in a house that may be outdated or, indeed, where it takes time to get up and down the stairs or time to get out of the house, then, when it comes to electrical safety, more action needs to be taken.

The issue is particularly concerning because the owner-occupier sector makes up the largest housing tenure, accounting for some 65% of all households in England. As a result, the majority of households have no statutory protections from electrical safety risks. Again, I ask the Minister: what can be done? I know he will be positive in his response, and I appreciate that in advance, but I need to have the assurance in Hansard that the Government will take on board the things we are outlining. In total, across England, that means that some 15 million households have no statutory protection from electrical safety risks. That is a concerning figure. Data from the London Fire Brigade found that a greater number of owner-occupiers had experienced a fire than social and private renters combined. Again, that indicates a greater onus to try to sort out owner-occupiers and give them some guidance over what can be done to ensure they are safe and in no danger.

Separately, while there are provisions for vulnerable customers to receive free gas safety checks, no analogous provisions exist for electrical safety checks. I suggest that it is time to put electrical safety checks on the same level as gas safety checks for the simple reason of the number of fires and the dangers that are caused. I believe this must all be taken into consideration.

Health and housing are and always have been linked. That is why this debate is important. If we are to move forward and improve the health of our nation—which, as my party’s health spokesperson, I am happy to promote—housing must be an integral part of that. I do not think we can divorce the two issues; they come intertwined, hand in hand, together. If one defines a person’s basic needs, the right to a healthy home is surely fundamental.

Healthy homes and buildings are not simply those where there is a lack of ill health; a healthy home should mean homes and buildings that maximise the occupants’ physical, mental and social wellbeing. In a nation where mental health, anxiety, covid and advancing diseases have all grown in number, the focus of future housing policy must now shift to health creation. That is why this is an important debate. I hope the Minister will be able to give us some reassurance. We must not look at ill health prevention alone. Ill health prevention must become part of the strategy.

Delivering healthy homes and places is vital to levelling up our communities, towns and cities. This must be integrated together. Health and Housing—the two Departments must work constructively together in a positive fashion. Healthy homes and buildings will make Britain healthier, save money and contribute to increased educational attainment and wealth creation.

In conclusion, I urge the Minister to support the White Paper and the recommendations put forward by the APPG on healthy homes and buildings, and to place healthy housing at the heart of the Government’s levelling-up agenda. I know that the Minister will have had a chance to look at the recommendations made back in 2018; they are as relevant today as they were then. Those recommendations show a strategy and a way forward. I look forward to hearing from the Minister, the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Luton North, and others contributing.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for securing this important debate and for his excellent speech. I could not agree more. The Departments for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and of Health and Social Care—health and home—need to work more closely together.

This debate is about an important issue that affects many of my constituents in Coventry North West. In my city, a recent study showed that high air pollution contributed to one in 18 deaths of people over 30 in 2019. That equates to more than 150 deaths in a single year. It is totally unacceptable. We know how damaging pollution is to children and their long-term health, but not enough is being done to improve air quality. The evidence is unambiguous. Those exposed to high levels of pollution are at a much greater risk of respiratory disease, learning disabilities and brain damage. It is inexcusable.

Despite that, homes are being built alongside the busy Tamworth Road in my constituency, with more families moving in every day. As lorries and cars block up the road at all times, children are forced to play in spaces where they are constantly inhaling toxins and fumes. The Government must set high standards, and set councils free to build social housing within communities on brownfield sites. It cannot be right that children with their entire lives ahead of them are constantly exposed to such dangerous chemicals.

Giving developers too much power means they often fail to establish the risk of developments, which can become incredibly dangerous for the safety of our young people. Two years ago, an 11-year-old was killed on Tamworth Road after a car struck her. Such tragic events are preventable. When building homes, the safety and health of our young children must be prioritised. Whether we use pavement barriers, bollards or slower speed limits, it is vital that we find ways to protect those who live alongside busy roads.

Tamworth Road is not the only part of my constituency with new homes that are exposed to high levels of pollution. A new development in Spon End will see 750 homes built next to an extremely busy dual carriageway. Those homes will be occupied by families from across my constituency. I will always fight to make sure that no child grows up with avoidable health problems. The Government and the developers know how dangerous this is, yet they are failing children on their watch. I urge the Government to legislate to bolster the chances of young children across the country. Every child deserves an equal chance in life. Inadequate housing is taking that chance away from them, and it needs to end.

To reduce the levels of pollution in our towns and cities, all new homes must be built as efficiently and sustainably as possible. In practice, that means electrical charging points built into homes to make it as easy as possible to have an electric car. Solar panels must be standard in all newly built homes. That is how we can increase air quality to make sure the next generation of young people do not develop the same ailments that plague so many across the country.

Although pollution is a serious risk, poor-quality homes are equally damaging to health. When I speak to medical professionals across my community, they tell me that the health impact of poor housing is clear. Children who live in damp and mouldy homes are more likely to develop or experience trigger symptoms of asthma and adult respiratory problems than children who live in homes without those issues. We know the solution: warm and dry homes improve general health outcomes, and reduce the risk of respiratory, cardiovascular and other health conditions.

The Government must legislate to make sure that developers are held responsible. The current planning free-for-all gives big developers too much power, and too often they do not know what type of housing is required in what parts of our towns and cities. Housing has a huge influence on the mental health and wellbeing of so many families in my constituency. They are made to live in crowded homes far outside their communities, with limited access to shops, GP surgeries and other facilities. It is no wonder that we have a mental health crisis.

The Government must empower local authorities and build sustainable homes to reduce generational health inequalities in a way that will have a real impact for decades to come. I hope that the Minister is able to comment on some of my points in his response.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair this afternoon, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing this valuable debate on an area of importance to all our constituents, and one that too often flies under the radar. He speaks with compassion and experience about the link between health and housing. I also thank the other speakers this afternoon, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Richard Foord) and my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi), for their reasoned and insightful comments.

Whatever melodrama is happening outside, this issue matters to the people we represent. When it comes to the nation’s health, we know that prevention is unequivocally better than cure, in terms of the human cost and the toll on individuals, but also in terms of the sound management of public finances.

We see the impact of under-investment in social and primary care settings on our acute hospitals. We know that investment to tackle the scourges of public health, such as smoking and obesity, ultimately pays for itself in the long run, as well as helping people to live happier, healthier and longer lives. It should not be controversial to aspire to want that for our constituents. It is common sense, not nanny-statism, as some would have it. It is no different from other factors that impact public health and wellbeing, which are many, varied and not always immediately obvious, as we have heard today.

My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West spoke eloquently and passionately, from her considerable experience in the public health field. We know that diseases such as cancers, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and respiratory disease cause around 89% of deaths in the UK. The House of Lords Select Committee on the Long-term Sustainability of the NHS concluded that:

“These conditions are also, to a significant extent, preventable and the costs, in human, social and economic terms, are largely avoidable.”

The World Health Organisation has made it clear that poverty is closely linked with these diseases. Vulnerable and socially disadvantaged people get sicker and die sooner than people of higher social positions. As the hon. Member for Strangford rightly said, we saw that play out starkly with the covid-19 pandemic. We need to see action taken to close those health inequalities.

Risk factors associated with poverty and deprivation include tobacco use, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet and the harmful use of alcohol. Economic and social conditions contribute significantly to levels of preventable ill health. The levels of health inequality in the UK were already too great but, shamefully, they are just getting worse. According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2018 to 2020, males living in the most deprived areas were living almost 10 years less than males living in the least deprived areas, with the gap at around eight years for females. Both sexes have seen statistically significant increases in inequality and life expectancy at birth since 2015 to 2017.

This is not necessarily about regions, or differences from one end of the country to the other. In my constituency of Luton North, we see the difference in life expectancy from one end of the town to the other, and that is to say nothing of the consequences of poverty and deprivation for mental health. Being deprived is not just about a lack of money. It is a lack of quality of life. It is community insecurity and a lack of resources overall, whether that is about exposure to stressor such as violence and crime, or a lack of public green space.

Public Health England has stated that:

“Insecure, poor quality and overcrowded houses cause stress, anxiety and depression, and exacerbates existing mental health conditions. 19% of adults living in poor quality housing in England have poor mental health outcomes.”

I feel that figure might be a gross under-representation. We also know that the research shows that people with a mental health problem are much more likely to have preventable physical health conditions as well.

What can be done? It would be disingenuous of me to stand here and say that poor mental and physical public health could be remedied by action on housing alone, but it is a key part of the puzzle of reducing the UK’s entrenched geographic, ethnic and demographic inequalities. That being said, there are things that the Government can and should do now, which have the potential to have a rapid and significant impact on ending the creation of unhealthy homes.

In the longer term, we need to overhaul the complex, fragmented system that allows new homes and places to be built that do not guarantee that all new homes provide for residents’ basic human needs, such as access to green space and local services, and clean air. We need developments that are guided by communities, with input from public health professionals on design, and proper infrastructure to support them, whether that is about encouraging active travel, access to green space, public leisure facilities or even allotments and communal vegetable gardens—although do not let me anywhere near those, because I am not green-fingered.

We need to do much better in setting standards for developments across the country and looking at methods for how they can be delivered. Research by Public Health England in 2017 clearly demonstrated the relationship between the built environment and health and the positive impact provision of these basic amenities can have.

A matter of more immediate concern is the liberalisation of permitted development rights by the Government in 2013, which has had a significant detrimental effect on the quality of dwellings produced as a result. Ministers both past and present have claimed—and future ones possibly will—that liberalisation of planning and permitted development rights removes unnecessary impediments to development. However, the evidence overwhelming shows that the impact of extending permitted development rights to convert office, commercial and industrial units into supposedly residential spaces—although I think very few of them could be described as such—is negative.

We have seen a huge increase in poor-quality housing that lacks space and natural light, and there are accompanying implications for public health and wellbeing as a result. The Government’s own research has shown that schemes created through permitted development projects are far less likely to meet national space standards and far more likely to have reduced access to natural daylight and sunlight. Space and daylight are the very basics. The former Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s housing and safety rating system states that

“lack of space has been linked to psychological distress and various mental disorders”

and problems such as

“accidents and spread of contagious disease.”

Some residential conversions are as small as 13 square metres, which is a third of the minimum space standard recommended by Government. Terminus House in Harlow, a former office block converted into hundreds of dwellings, was described as a “human warehouse”. That sounds like something from the Victorian era, not 2022. The Government’s Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission’s final report also concluded that:

“In some instances, we have inadvertently permissioned future slums.”

The 2018 Raynsford review of planning also concluded in a reference to the liberalisation of permitted development rights that:

“Government policy has led directly to the creation of slum housing. Such slums will require immense public investment, either to refurbish them to a proper standard or to demolish them. Morally, economically and environmentally it is a failed policy.”

That is a damning indictment of this policy and the Government’s approach to housing. In the light of all we have heard in this debate and the examples I have outlined from reports commissioned by the Government themselves, I would be particularly keen to hear from the Minister what possible justification there is for retaining these liberalised permitted development rights in their current form.

Reducing socioeconomic and health disparities in this country cannot happen without serious consideration of the role of housing and planning in creating buildings and communities that promote healthy lifestyles. We owe it to communities up and down this country to make positive changes a reality. They will not be achieved by the proposed deregulation in planning in investment zones. We have seen from the experience of permitted developments that further liberalisation is a cowboy developers’ charter for poor-quality, profit-maximising estates. I look forward to hearing from the Minister how we will approach the issue of promoting health and wellbeing in new developments in these zones.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing this debate and pay tribute to his tireless work and that of the healthy homes and buildings APPG in improving the conditions of those living or working in poor-quality, unhealthy environments.

We can all agree that the past two years have brought into sharp focus just how integral our homes and communities are to our physical and mental wellbeing. It has underscored the imperative of the APPG’s mission to tackle poor-quality housing and our collective endeavour to ensure that everyone in our society lives somewhere decent, warm, safe and secure. That mission is only becoming more pertinent as winter fast approaches and as we act to help people struggling with the rising cost of living. I understand that the Healthy Homes Bill had its Second Reading in July, and today I hope to outline how the Government are already dealing with many of the issues highlighted in that Bill.

Before I turn to levelling up, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi) and the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen), for making two excellent speeches. Both their contributions were fantastic. There was very little I would disagree with in either of their speeches. That demonstrates the broad consensus across this House for dealing with the challenges we face.

I want to reiterate the Government’s commitment to levelling up, which remains a key priority for the UK Government. We know that the UK’s economic challenges are hitting some places harder than others. As well as the immediate Government help that we need to therefore provide to those communities, we need to build places up to help them become stronger and more economically resilient. With that in mind, the Government have set out a UK-wide aim to boost our GDP growth.

We recognise that the UK economy is made up of many different local economies with different characteristics, opportunities and challenges. We therefore aim to achieve and sustain strong economic growth by unleashing the untapped potential of places around the UK. That does not mean we want to dampen down the success of London or the growth of the south-east. We want to grow the whole economy, focusing on every part of the country. We want to ensure that we support growing parts of the economy—for example, life sciences in the north-west of England, advanced manufacturing in the midlands, semiconductors in Wales, renewable energy in East Anglia and fintech in Northern Ireland.

It goes without saying that everybody deserves to live in a safe and secure home. As hon. Members know, the decent homes standard has been in place since 2001. It set the minimum standard of quality to be met for all dwellings provided by registered providers of social housing. The decent homes standard sets out four criteria for evaluating decency. It requires that homes are free of serious hazards, are in a reasonable state of repair, have reasonably modern facilities such as kitchens and bathrooms, and have efficient heating and effective insulation to provide a minimum degree of thermal comfort.

The regulator of social housing requires that social rented homes are maintained by landlords to at least the quality set out in the decent homes standard. Good progress has been made on ensuring that social rented sector homes meet the standard, with non-decency in the sector at around 11% in 2020, although I acknowledge the regional disparities in those rates, which was highlighted by the hon. Member for Strangford.

In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the Department published the social housing Green Paper. During the consultation, we heard that the decent homes standard was no longer fully effective. That is why in the social housing White Paper we committed to review the decent homes standard to ensure that it works for residents and landlords. Part 1 of the DHS review concluded in September 2021 and established that there is a case for change. Further details on taking forward the review will be set out in due course.

The Government are equally committed to ensuring a fair deal for private renters. Over the past two years, we have introduced regulations that will make privately rented homes safer in respect of their electrical installations —again, a point focused on extensively and eloquently by the hon. Member for Strangford—and through the provision of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

We have also reviewed the housing health and safety rating system—the tool used to assess conditions in all homes. That will enable local authorities to take more effective, targeted enforcement when they discover health and safety hazards. Last week, our current Prime Minister re-committed to the ban on section 21 no-fault evictions to protect tenants. We are, of course, carefully considering the next steps to support the rental market.

Several hon. Members talked about the importance of energy efficiency and decarbonisation, including the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Richard Foord) in his intervention. As I said, we will make sure that rented homes are warm and dry. To meet that aim, we will deliver our net zero target, requiring all of our housing stock to become more energy-efficient. My Department is working closely on that with colleagues from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Improving the energy performance of our buildings presents an opportunity to provide warm, well ventilated spaces and healthy environments in which people can live and work. That will avoid physical illnesses such as heart and lung conditions—again, issues that were spoken about passionately by the hon. Member for Coventry North West and the shadow Minister.

The journey to net zero buildings starts with better energy performance and improving the energy efficiency of homes and buildings. It is a no-regrets action. That is why we are committed to upgrading as many homes as possible to energy performance certificate band C by 2035, as a cost-effective, practical and affordable step. Building on this, we have committed to consider setting a long-term regulatory standard to improve social housing to EPC band C, and we will consult on this in 2023.

Improving the energy efficiency of homes is also the best long-term method of reducing energy costs for vulnerable households and those living in fuel poverty. Our target is to ensure that as many fuel-poor homes as is reasonably practicable achieve a minimum energy rating of band C by 2030. To this end, we are investing £12 billion in Help to Heat schemes to make people’s homes warmer and cheaper to heat. We will deliver upgrades to more than half a million homes in the coming years through our social housing decarbonisation fund, the home upgrade grant scheme and the energy company obligation scheme. To future proof buildings, the heat and building strategy also commits us to considering overheating risk and indoor air quality when developing future decarbonisation policies.

Further to this, from 2025, the future homes standard will ensure that new homes produce at least 75% less CO2 emissions than those built to the 2013 standards. That represents a considerable improvement in energy efficiency standards for new homes. In December 2021, we introduced an uplift in energy efficiency standards that delivers a meaningful reduction in carbon emissions and provides a stepping stone to the future homes standard in 2025.

Looking towards health and safety, the Building Safety Act 2022 established a more stringent regulatory regime in design and construction, strengthening building regulations requirements and their oversight. The Act introduces a Building Safety Regulator, which will make buildings safer by enforcing a stringent new regulatory regime for high-rise residential and other in-scope buildings. The regulator will oversee the safety and performance of all buildings and increase the competence of those working across the built environment.

The Building Safety Regulator was established in shadow form in January 2020, and it is intended that the new regime will come fully into force in April 2024, with interim steps, such as requiring accountable people to register their buildings, coming in the meantime. Residents can be confident that their safety is a critical objective of the new regulator. The regime also introduces new oversight requirements during the build phase. This means that before proceeding to the next stage, the developer must satisfy the Building Safety Regulator that they have met the relevant requirements in the building regulations. Between these stages, the Building Safety Regulator can carry out on-site inspections or request information about the building work.

On planning, our policy and decisions should promote an effective use of land in meeting the need for homes and other uses, while safeguarding and improving the environment and ensuring safe and healthy living conditions. Through reforming the planning system, we will champion how beautiful design can enhance health and wellbeing, and encourage sustainable development accompanied by infrastructure that communities will truly benefit from. Building more homes is a fundamental task for the Government and local leaders. The measures we are already delivering—for example, those set out in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill—are a significant step in improving the way planning operates, but we want to go further in specific areas of potential through investment zones, for example, to deliver the attractive, well-designed new communities we all want to see.

I am pleased by the Minister’s comprehensive response; it is very helpful. I will ask two questions. I said in my speech that landlords need to be incentivised, if there is a methodology to make that happen, to improve their homes. I appreciate what will happen going forward, but we have so many homes in the United Kingdom—18.5 million—that need to be retrofitted. I am ever mindful that this issue crosses different Departments and may not be the direct responsibility of the Minister when it comes to skills and a national training scheme.

The hon. Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) could not be here today because he had to return to his constituency. He said to me the other day that those who are in construction are getting older, and as they get older we need a new group of young workers coming through who have the skills to retrofit. Those are two questions. I am not sure if they are the direct responsibility of the Minister, but I know that he will deliver them to the person who has that responsibility.

I thank the hon. Member for that important point. It is not directly my responsibility, but it is the kind of thing that we must work to address collectively across Government.

In a former role, I was the Minister with responsibility for construction, and we looked at the contribution that modern methods of construction and off-site construction can deliver, both in speeding up the delivery of the extra new, nice affordable homes for families that we need, and in freeing up skilled labourers to retrofit the older housing stock and to do some of the other work that we need to be done, because skills are in short supply. It is therefore important that we have a solid skills strategy. That is something that my Department and Ministers in BEIS are particularly keen to look at and work together on to ensure that we have a consistent approach that helps to deliver what we both want to see in this area.

Turning to one of the final areas, design and placemaking, the Government seek to ensure that new homes and places are designed to support the health and wellbeing of residents and communities. The national planning policy framework, which local planning authorities must adhere to as a matter of law, is clear that planning policies and decisions should aim to achieve healthy, inclusive and safe places. Those should support healthy lifestyles, especially where that would address identified local health and wellbeing needs. That could be through the provision of safe and accessible green infrastructure, local shops, and layouts that encourage walking and cycling.

The framework also refers to the nationally described space standard. That means that local councils have the option to set minimum space standards for new homes within their areas. The national model design code asks that local councils give consideration to the internal layouts within new homes, aiming to maximise access to natural daylight.

Through the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, we are introducing a duty for all local councils to produce a design code at the spatial scale of their authority area. The measure will empower communities to have their say on what their area will look like through working with local planning authorities and neighbourhood planning groups to set clear design standards through design codes. We have also set up the Office for Place within the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, which will support councils and communities to turn their vision of what they like into local standards that all new developments should meet, helping to create beautiful, healthy, successful and enduring places.

I thank all hon. Members for their contributions, and particularly the hon. Member for Strangford for securing today’s important debate. There is a huge amount of consensus from all parties on the need to address the issues that have been highlighted today. I speak not just for my Department but for the wider Government in reiterating our commitment to building the sustainable green homes and communities of the future. That is a vision that I know is shared by all.

I make these interventions in a constructive fashion, because I want to have the answers—I think we all do; that is why we are asking. So far, the Minister has done brilliantly. I understand that 75% of new homes are not thermally efficient. Will the Minister confirm that that is the case, and say what steps will be taken to change that? The reason I ask the question is simply that it all links into the energy crisis, which has become a fact of life for all of us. I say that in a very constructive fashion. I am not trying to catch the Minister out—that is not my purpose. I would just like a wee bit of clarity on that matter.

I do not have the exact statistics to hand, but, as I said in my remarks, we are working on updating building regulations and standards. Putting energy efficiency at the heart of those standards is an important priority. This is something that my ministerial colleague in the Department leads on, but I will ensure that the hon. Member’s views are fed back to him and taken into account in our discussions.

We all realise that the challenges identified by the APPG are real, and they are priorities that the Government will address. I am keen to continue to work with the hon. Gentleman, his colleagues in the APPG and others across the House to address those challenges. Even if I am not in this role in a few weeks’ time, I am sure that my successor would be delighted to continue working with them. These are real challenges that are recognised across Government; I know that myself and my current ministerial colleagues are very keen to see them addressed.

Do not tempt me, Mr Hollobone. I am very pleased to have heard excellent contributions. The hon. Member for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi) has a deep interest in the issue, and very kindly came along to support the debate. The hon. Member referred to children; that is an issue for us all. I am a grandfather now; my boys have grown up and we have the next generation coming through. I am conscious about what we are building for those children and the grandchildren who come after them. I know the hon. Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) has a young child, so she will better understand what that means.

The hon. Member for Coventry North West said that no child should have a health problem and that every child needs an equal start in life. A society is judged by how it looks after the poor and the less well off. Those are the key issues of this debate. We have all grasped that. We understand from the Minister that there is a deep interest from Government in making that happen.

The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Richard Foord) referred to insulation and upgrading homes. It is retrofitting homes that do not have the insulation that a new home would have—that is the key issue. We have to have a programme of not only new homes coming in but older homes being upgraded.

The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Luton North, gave a very knowledgeable, factual and evidence-based contribution that I thought was very helpful. She referred to respiratory health problems that are preventable; if someone has a good house it reduces the risk of those. That is what we are aiming for. We are trying to reach the stage where those problems do not occur, because we have taken the precautions and preventive measures beforehand.

The hon. Member for Luton North referred to preventable health issues and life expectancy. I thought it was interesting that she referred to her own constituency, where in one town there can be people in one set of houses who have respiratory issues and health problems, and people in a different set of houses who do not. “A Tale of Two Cities” came to mind. The hon. Member referred to communities helped by the council. She said she was not green fingered; I cannot say I am, but I can usually turn my hand to anything. I live on a farm, so maybe it is more of a factor for me. She also referred to the lack of space and the distress, and the impact that has on children and families as a whole.

I am pleased that the Minister gave such a substantial response, for which I thank him greatly. I think every one of us will be encouraged by his knowledgeable responses to the questions we asked about the direction in which the Government are going. He said that the decent homes standard would be reviewed and talked about change, but what is the timescale for that change? Whenever I take things forward on behalf of constituents, I always ask the Department to give me a timescale. I hope that the Minister or whoever it may be—I hope he will still be there—will be able to come back to us on that.

On a fair deal for private renters, the Minister referred to the rating system to target enforcement. That is really good in the context of those who, for whatever reason, decline or respond slower than they should. He talked about people being “warm, safe and secure”. If we had to pick three words to sum up this debate and the targets we are all trying to achieve, they would be warm, safe and secure. He also referred to net zero and better energy efficiency, which are all things we would like to see.

With that conclusion, I thank all who have participated. We very much appreciate the opportunity of today’s debate and the statements that have been made, and we will follow that up through the APPG. As always, I thank you, Mr Hollobone, for the way you chair meetings. We do not often say it, but we appreciate what you do. We also thank your Hansard staff—well, not your Hansard staff but our Hansard staff—for their contribution and those in the APPG who are here in the Gallery for their contributions and for supporting us in securing this debate. It did not last as long as we perhaps thought it might, but there are so many other things happening—I do not know whether people follow it, but I saw a wee PARLYapp message that said: “Jim Shannon for PM”. Well, I don’t think so, but there we are.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the role of homes and buildings in levelling up health and wellbeing.

Sitting suspended.