Investing in housing improvements among minority ethnic households could lower financial burden for NHS

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The Race Equality Foundation and BRE have recently published a new paper which looks at the cost of poor housing amongst minority ethnic communities.  Due to small samples in the English Housing Survey (EHS) for these communities, the paper looks at minority ethnic households as a whole, rather than analysing by ethnic group. The paper concludes that investing in housing improvements among minority ethnic households in England could have a significant positive impact on health and wellbeing, and mean a lower financial burden for the NHS and society as a whole.
 
According to the English Housing Survey (EHS), in 2010, there were around 2.2 million households from minority ethnic backgrounds in England, accounting for 10% of all households. For the EHS, a minority ethnic household is defined as a household containing all people who did not identify themselves as ‘white’ in the interview survey. Around 30% of these minority ethnic households were black (African or Caribbean), 20% Indian and 14% Pakistani/Bangladeshi.
 
Minority ethnic households were generally larger than white households (containing an average of 3.0 persons compared to 2.3 persons); they were more likely to have dependent children than white households (46% compared with 26%) and were less likely to be either a single person or a couple aged over 60 years (11% compared with 34%). Over one third (38%) of minority ethnic households were on means tested or certain disability related benefits (compared with 26% of white households).  Minority ethnic households were also less likely to own their homes (44% of ethnic minority households compared with 69% of white households), more likely to reside in flats (41% vs. 17%) and more likely to live in urban areas (98% vs. 81%). The mean usable floor area per person (m²) was also lower for minority ethnic households (34.1m² vs. 48.9 m²). Around a quarter (24%) of minority ethnic households (520,000) lived in the oldest pre-1919 built homes, which were more likely to contain poorer housing.
 
Indeed around 327,000 (15%) of minority ethnic households lived in a home which was classified as “poor” by the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS).  The HHSRS comprises a risk-assessment of 26 health and safety hazards, which have the potential to harm occupants and their visitors, particularly vulnerable people.  Its development was informed by a large body of research and statistics on the links between housing and health.  In the private sector, 18% of minority ethnic households are living with a serious health and safety hazard compared with 8% of those living in the public sector.
 

 
The paper also seeks to calculate the total cost of carrying out work to remove Category 1 hazards in minority ethnic households.  Just under one third (29%) of the total costs for minority ethnic households are associated with overcrowding, 20% with fire and harm from hot surfaces, 19% on tackling cold homes, 17% with falls (especially falls on stairs which account for around 12% of all costs).  Whilst around 50% homes could be made safe for relatively small sums of money (about £600 i.e. putting bannisters in place, moving cookers etc.), for the worst 20%, costs rise sharply.  The average cost for reducing Category 1 hazards to an acceptable level is estimated to be £2,524, and the total cost for removing Category 1 hazards in all minority ethnic households would be £825m.
 
Whilst £825m is a sizeable amount of money, the paper also emphasises the cost savings that could be achieved for the NHS and wider society by preventing the need for treatment or services resulting from poor housing for minority ethnic communities.  Using the Housing Cost Calculator, BRE have calculated that removing all Category 1 hazards from minority ethnic households would save the NHS £52m per year, leading to a payback period of 16 years if all renovations were carried out upfront.  Taking into account the costs of poor housing for wider society (for example, policing, fire services), improvements could save £129m per year and the payback period would be reduced from 16 years to 6 years.
 
Whilst the paper does not seek to compare the benefits of improving housing for minority ethnic communities compared to improving poor housing more generally, paper has a simple message; money invested for improving poor housing among minority ethnic households could have a significant impact in improving health and reducing the financial burden on the NHS.
 
Kat Clayton
Information Officer at the Race Equality Foundation.
This piece is based on a briefing produced for the Race Equality Foundation by Helen Garrett, Justine Piddington and Simon Nicol of BRE.

The full briefing paper is available to download for free from the Race Equality Foundation’s Better Housing website.  The website hosts 24 briefing papers relating to ethnicity and housing, as well as a collection of resources and events listings from other organisations.  If you are interested in the Better Housing project, you can register for the newsletter, follow us on Twitter @refhousing or submit your ownresources or events information to the site.