Cutting off your nose to spite your face: Why valuing health over housing makes no sense
Rising Stars Cymru finalist Louise Kingdon writes her first blog, ahead of her Twitter takeover of the CIH Cymru account from 1-2pm on Tuesday 23 February.
Throughout the twentieth century, successive British governments each identified an inextricable link between housing and health. With the advent of professionalism in recent years, however, it has grown increasingly difficult to view these two issues as different sides of the same coin. Although this development has created two value sharing sectors, each with the same goal of helping people lead healthy, full and productive lives, they are in reality very distinct entities, with professionals working mainly in isolation from one another. In the current financial climate, where both sectors are experiencing increasingly crippling funding cuts, this environment makes it impossible for housing and health providers to tackle the mutual challenges that they face.
As equally evident is the curious effect that the separation of housing and health into two autonomous sectors has had on public perception. During the 2015 election, a BBC poll asked voters to state how important different issues and policy areas were to them. Whilst 74% of the respondents thought that the NHS was a very important issue, only 41% said the same for housing. For the public, therefore, health undoubtedly trumps housing. This is something that the current UK government has clearly picked up on, as it attacks on social housing have on the whole been far more vocal and far more detrimental to the sector than the changes that it has made to the NHS.
A strong case can thus be made that we as social landlords need to stress the impact that housing has on health far more firmly. Clearly, some media channels and their audiences enjoy the vilification of social housing residents too much to see the other side of the story. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Even the government has started to acknowledge the crippling effect that its housing policy is having on the delivery of the UK’s health services. For instance, the Department of Health’s own data has shown a 23% increase in delayed discharge from hospital in the last 12 months due to patients waiting for social care provision.
Some social landlords have already begun the fight back. In early 2015, a health and housing collaboration was established between the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, five local authorities and eight RSLs. The venture, In One Place, was established with a view to securing high quality accommodation for those with Continuing Health Care needs, as opposed to putting them in costly out of county placements, as per the current practice. Evidence is already suggesting that the initiative saves the NHS £50,000 per annum for every tenancy. Additionally, some organisations have started to use the government’s own statistics against it. For instance, Home Group is using the Department of Health’s aforementioned data to reinforce calls for it to be included in on-going discussions on LHA for support accommodation.
That said, there is much work still to be done and, as a sector, it’s up to us to remind people how important we are to the public health of the country. But altering perceptions of social housing will not be straightforward, especially since high profile social purpose organisations are now under far greater scrutiny in the post Kids Company world. Furthermore, just because we do good, doesn’t mean that we are good at what we do, or even that everyone realises the importance of our role in delivering public health. And if we don’t speak passionately about housing now, as we always have about health, we never will.
The British electorate is cutting off its nose to spite its face - it’s up to us to change that.
- Join Rising Stars Cymru finalist Louise Kingdon as she takes over the CIH Cymru Twitter account from 1-2pm on Tuesday 23 February