SCIE Research briefing 19: What is the impact of environmental housing conditions on the health and well-being of children?

Published December 2005

Introduction - What is the issue?

This briefing focuses on how environmental housing conditions can affect the health and well-being of children. The concern is the immediate physical structure or environment rather than other elements of the accommodation, such as the neighbourhood or the appropriateness of the housing for disabled children. Therefore, although it is acknowledged that temporary accommodation and housing tenure also raise issues which can affect the health and well-being of children, the aim of this briefing is to consider only the impact of non-decent or substandard living conditions such as dampness and overcrowding, regardless of the status of the tenants. Poor housing conditions can have an impact on the health and well-being of parents too, and therefore affect their ability to parent, but this briefing considers the direct impact of the housing environment on the health of children only. The contribution of environment to household accidents is also not covered by this briefing.

Key messages

  • More than one million children live in housing in England that it considered sub-standard or unfit to live in
  • On the whole, the research indicates that there is an association between homes with visible damp or mould and the prevalence of asthma or respiratory problems among children
  • Dampness and mould has also been found to be associated with exacerbated symptoms among children with asthma or wheezing illness
  • Poor quality housing can have an adverse effect on children's psychological well-being
  • Parents and children both complain of the social stigma of living in bad housing
  • Overcrowding and cooking with gas may cause respiratory infections in preterm infants
  • Interventions such as installing or improving heating systems has been found to be effective in alleviating the potentially adverse effects of damp on the health on children