HACT's new Housing and Health Intern, David King, offers his initial thoughts on unifying housing and health: finding a common language between the two sectors and questioning how they were able to drift so far apart in the first place.
Whatever you think of the motivations behind the toxic ‘bedroom tax’, it is clearly located in a number of calls for more mobility within existing housing supply.What does a policy look like that would help movement, yet avoid the authoritarian perils of forced relocation?
A good policy would help the elderly into more appropriate housing, easing the burden on the NHS and boosting wellbeing at the same time. Instead of retrofitting old homes to suit the medical needs that accompany ageing - dementia being one of the most prevalent - people can benefit from 21st Century design, freeing up homes to young families.
This angle seems to tick many boxes, so why is it not pursued? Leaving aside what might be called ‘cultural’ problems - homes used as investment, the institution of home ownership - there is a tension between medical approaches to services and the approach a socially minded housing association might adopt.
The NHS demands clear evidence, whilst housing associations look to case studies (p.19) to describe what is in many minds lost in statistics. Achieving a common ground need not be a crude fudge. Doctors are looking for ways to handle the increasing burden of wellbeing and housing associations would do well to remember that many historic housing providers were primarily concerned with quantifiable public health. Indeed, the Minister for Housing was in the Department of Health until 1951.
Public health concerns have moved on from the eradication of easily preventable diseases like Cholera, but so have the tools that are available to us. Whilst the cumbersome NHS which has been plagued by IT disasters, housing associations are well placed to demonstrate new approaches in an evidenced way.
Integration should not be seen as first contact between two distant sectors. Instead, we should rediscover the obvious unity in what we in policy, health, and housing are trying to achieve.