ITV News Correspondent Dan Hewitt reports on the families suffering the dire consequences of poor social housing
Poor housing is costing the NHS in England £1.4 billion a year, ITV News can exclusively reveal. A new report produced by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) highlights the vast sum of money that is spent treating health problems caused by living in substandard homes.
Researchers have analysed government data on the number and types of hazards- such as excessive cold, damp and falling down the stairs- found in homes in England to calculate how much they cost the NHS.
One family that have faced the dire consequences of poor housing are parents Keiran Blakemore and Elle Williams, from Liverpool.
They had complained to their private landlord about the loose, heavy, fireplace in their front room but nothing was done. In September, their six-year-old daughter Alexa-Leigh was playing when the fireplace fell and crushed her.
Alexa-Leigh, known as “Lexi” to her mum and dad, was rushed to the hospital with severe injuries and has been in intensive care ever since.
She was placed in an induced-coma and has a bruise on the brain. While she is now conscious, she has lost the hearing in one ear and is now blind in one eye. Doctors do not know whether the little girl will ever walk again, or how badly brain damaged she will be.
"I'm angry and I'm hurting- my daughter is now being robbed of her life, she had a completely normal life and she'll never be normal again," Ms Williams said.
'My daughter has now been robbed of her life,' Alexa-Leigh's mum said.
"It was a freak accident but at the same time it could have been prevented."
"We think she was dancing around and fell and grabbed onto the fireplace. We never ever thought that would happen."
Alexa-Leigh's parents described how much enjoyment she got from dancing.
"I'm angry with the landlord because she knew it wasn't safe, and I sent her the quote to get it done and it hasn't been done," Alexa-Leigh's dad told ITV News.
"My daughter's still in critical condition."
"She was a happy, normal little girl, who had a following on social media, and now I'll never see her dance again."
Merseyside Police told ITV News there is an ongoing investigation into the accident. No criminal charges have been brought.
'I'm never going to get to see her dance again,' Alexa-Leigh's dad said.
The BRE report states that many household hazards are “generally, not expensive to rectify compared with the long-term cost to the health services and society if they are ignored”.
The highest cost to the NHS -around £857 million- is spent on treating residents made ill by excessively cold homes.
An estimated £38 million is spent on treating the impact of damp, while £374 million is spent on injuries from falls caused by unsafe conditions.
The longer-term impact of low-quality housing, including people left unable to work or needing care, costs society £18.5 billion pounds every year, according to the BRE report.
The top 5 household hazards are:
Excessive cold (£857m per year)
All falls (£753m per year)
Dampness (£38m per year)
Fire (18m per year)
Hot surfaces (£17m per year)
The BRE report says that the risk of many serious hazards can be greatly reduced, with the average cost to fix hazards at £3,780.
These include moving the position of a dangerous cooker to lessen the risk of scalding.
Tikysha Thomas understands full well what it feels like to live in a hazardous home: her walls are thick with black and green mould and her floors are constantly sopping wet from a leak in the bathroom.
Her and daughter, Kacie, have lived in their flat owned by Hackney Council,in east London, since 2015 and have been living with severe disrepair for the last two and a half years. Previously Tikysha was fit and healthy, but since the mould in her home started to worsen she began experiencing severe shortness of breath and wheezing.
"The moment I step in my chest feels tight. I can feel all the moisture in the air," she said.
"It is uncomfortable. As my daughter is walking up the stairs I am trying to not let her touch the sides so the mould and the damage doesn't get on her hands."
'The moment I step in, my chest feels tight,' Tikysha said.
She was subsequently diagnosed with asthma and is forced to use her inhaler up to ten times in the night.
She is particularly worried as her daughter has started coughing too, making Tikysha fearful she also has developed the condition.
The owner of Tikysha’s flat, Hackney Council, said: “We’re very sorry Ms Thomas is experiencing repair issues in her property; we have been working with the resident in order to resolve the issues with mould and dampness. "We are working with the family to find alternative accommodation so we can take the work forward. “We are sorry if we have fallen below the standards expected of us in this instance. Fixing the issues for these residents is a top priority for us.
"We will of course see what lessons we can learn to ensure situations like this are resolved as quickly as possible in future.”
Hackney Council says they have offered Tikysha and her daughter alternative accommodation but Tikysha says that the options were unsuitable for her daughter, who is non-verbal and autistic.
Today's report has laid bare the impact poor housing can have on people's health.
Jane Goddard, Director of Corporate Affairs for the BRE, told ITV News that unsafe housing needs to be urgently fixed.
'This is absolutely a problem that is not going away,' Ms Goddard said.
She added: “This hasn’t changed, it hasn’t improved since we did the first survey in 2015. This isn’t a problem that’s going to mend itself. “We have old housing stock in this country as a product of our history and that needs intervention now in order to make it fit for the future and prevent the kind of hazards that we’re talking about in this report. “It’s very much like our own homes largely, where we will wait for something to break before we actually mend it. But we have got the opportunity here to take advantage of the evidence... Our housing stock is breaking and we would really like to stimulate debate now about how we go about mending it.”
Health Secretary Savid Javid told ITV News: "We have a housing challenge in this country - it's been longstanding over many years - I was previously the Housing Secretary.
"We've put in place many ways to try and help with that housing challenge. In some parts of the country it's particularly acute, in London and Cornwall for example.
"And I think the fact that we're investing a record amount in affordable homes, the changes to the planning system that have been made, the Help to Buy scheme - this is all part of doing what can be done to help people to have a home, whether they're renting it or buying it.
Meanwhile, Alexa-Leigh continues to fight in hospital while Tikysha and her daughter are still breathing in mould spores at home.