Millions at risk from mould in cold damp homes crisis

A photo showing a hand holding up a yellow placard reading "Help to upgrade homes" with the Warm This Winter logo in front of a brightly sunlit Westminster Palace clock tower.
December 27, 2023
Data reveals young children exposed to dangerous conditions and Cardiff, Plymouth and Manchester topping the mouldy homes league table.

A third (29%) of the UK population experiences mould in their homes frequently or occasionally as Britain’s energy crisis bites hard.

The new data is based on research for the Warm This Winter campaign [1] and reveals that 10% experience mouldy living conditions frequently.

Among the major cities, the data shows a clear geographic split in an unwelcome league table of mouldy properties. Cities in the west of the UK were found to be significantly more likely to experience dangerous living conditions.

City % frequently or occasionally experience mould (% frequently in brackets)
1 Cardiff 42% (19%)
2 Plymouth 36% (14%)
3 Manchester 35% (16%)
4 London 32% (10%)
5 Leeds 31% (10%)
6 Bristol 31% (4%)
7 Sheffield 30% (11%)
8 Glasgow 29% (14%)
9 Liverpool 29% (13%)
10 Birmingham 29% (8%)
11 Belfast 26% (10%)
12 Southampton 24% (10%)
13 Newcastle 23% (6%)
14 Brighton 22% (14%)
15 Nottingham 22% (6%)
16 Edinburgh 18% (2%)
17 Norwich 12% (2%)

Among the victims are 3.4m people who have frequent or occasional exposure to mould and who have a child under 6 or who are pregnant. [2]

The tragic case of Awaab Ishak highlighted the need to take the issue of mould in UK homes seriously and the NHS advises all young children to be kept away from damp and mould.

Not only does damp and mould produce mould spores and other toxins that are harmful to health, but even excessive moisture can lead to the growth of mould and other fungi, certain species of house dust mites, bacteria or viruses.

Rachel Kirby-Rider, Chief Executive at Young Lives vs Cancer explains:

"No child should be living in damp or mouldy housing, but for some of the children and young people with cancer we support, this is the reality. For them, the risk of infection is high, and living in a house that is damp or has mould increases this infection risk and other health impacts, leading to hospital admissions or worse.

“It is vital that the government takes action to make sure that children and young people with cancer have warm homes, free of mould, that are a safe haven for them during their treatment." [3]

The Government warns that the “more serious the damp and mould problem and the longer it is left untreated, the worse the health impacts and risks are likely to be.” The solutions to mouldy damp homes are insulation and better energy efficiency of buildings as well as access to cheaper renewable energy.

Simon Francis, coordinator of the End Fuel Poverty Coalition, commented:

“These chilling findings underline why we need further urgent action from the Government to step in and help households stay warm this winter.

“Vulnerable households, including young families and expectant mothers, are struggling because of Ministers’ failure to provide emergency financial assistance this winter and longer term failures to invest in the permanent solutions to fuel poverty, such as insulation and reform of energy pricing.”

Fiona Waters, spokesperson for the Warm This Winter, commented:

“Families are feeling the squeeze from every direction with the lowest living standards since records began and the poorest and most vulnerable in society bearing the brunt of sky high energy bills which will be increasing again in January.”

Becca Lyon, head of child poverty for Save the Children UK, said:

"Children should not grow up in homes with mould that risks their health. We know budgets are so tight that housing is becoming ever more difficult to afford and that 140,000 children in the UK are in temporary accommodation.

"This story should make the UK government take notice, and endeavour to do more for families. Reform to the Local Housing Allowance was a good start but measures like scrapping the unfair two-child limit to benefits would put more money in families' pockets to help them heat their homes."

Jonathan Bean from Fuel Poverty Action commented: 

“We’ve long argued that young children must be protected and kept warm in the winter. This is why the energy industry’s rush to start forcing households with children over the age of two onto prepayment meters, which can click off and leave people without energy, doesn’t make any sense.”

John McGowan, General Secretary of the Social Workers Union, added:

“Across the country social workers report seeing families struggling in living conditions that are more like Victorian novels than modern day Britain. It’s clear that households - especially those most at risk from the health complications of living in cold damp homes - need more support.”

The Warm This Winter campaign has backed calls for an Emergency Energy Tariff for vulnerable households and a Help To Repay scheme for those in energy debt.


[1] Methodology note: Opinium conducted a nationally representative survey among 2,000 UK Adults from the 24th – 28th November 2023. Results were weighted to be nationally representative. Population estimates based on ONS projections of adults aged 18+ for mid-2021 (the latest figures available), i.e. UK 18+ population 53,188,204.

[2] 3.4m people who have frequent or occasional exposure to mould and who have a child under 6 or who are pregnant - this represents 38% of this group which is significantly higher than the national average. 48% of expectant households experience mould frequently or occasionally.

[3] Young Lives vs Cancer Social Worker Rebecca recently blogged about the poor quality housing issues faced by some children and young people with cancer.