Friday, 19 May 2017

Beyond ownership: a lifetime of housing and health

Posted by Natalie Forster (Fuse Senior Research Assistant) and Philip Hodgson (Senior Research Assistant), Northumbria University

Last month saw the second ‘Home and Health’ research interest group meeting hosted by Northumbria University and Fuse (supported through the Fuse pump-priming fund). Building on the key message that a greater emphasis is needed on understanding the relationship between housing and health – particularly in the absence of strong public health messages on the subject (such as 5-a-day) – the focus here was on good examples of practice.

It's a race to own a “forever home” but circumstances change with age
Participating in these sessions is continually challenging us to rethink the values that we attach to the idea of ‘home’ in society, and the implications this has for supporting people through housing choices and transitions. The narrative surrounding housing is often singular and fixed – the race to find and own a “forever home”, relocate to a bungalow in retirement and then manage the difficulties of ageing-in-place as ill health and social isolation increase in later life. Yet the reality painted by the examples here posed a more complex problem: how do we identify and sustain a model of housing that allows our homes to reflect and adapt to the wide range of transitions experienced by individuals? The services presented - Safe and Healthy Homes (North Tyneside Council); Housing for older people (Derwentside Homes); Wellbeing and mental health service for adults (Crisis); and Wellbeing for Life Newcastle’s Age-friendly Cities - all reflected the huge range of resources and circumstances people bring to their homes, and the need to be flexible in supporting them. Yet questions remain around how public health approaches can best prepare people to make decisions about the housing which will best support their health in later life, before a crisis occurs. One idea from the meeting was to assess future housing needs alongside the NHS health check.

The second ‘Home and Health’ research interest group meeting
Just as the much-publicised difficulties for younger people to get on the “property ladder” are prompting a shift to much less-settled housing patterns in that age group, the transitions faced in ageing are varied enough to suggest the need for more person-centred thinking. Just as retirement and later life can threaten some with social isolation and ill health, for others it can be a period of vibrant reconnection with their communities. Once again, a lifecourse approach which encourages people to engage with these transitions before they occur (e.g. groups organised by employers to maintain social contact after retirement) may help give them the agency to maintain a healthy home environment throughout their lives. Innovations are emerging which propose alternatives to traditional living arrangements (for example, housing schemes where university students live alongside older people for free, in exchange for undertaking voluntary work). The first Home and Health session illustrated how the lack of equity held by future generations can be problematic, as this cannot then be leveraged to pay for care later on. However, discussion in the second meeting prompted thought about whether present forms of home ownership (and even home design) might be too inflexible, and whether other more innovative practices could allow people a more fluid approach to tenancy.

In focusing on preparing people to make informed housing decisions, it is important not to emphasise individual responsibility at the expense of addressing structural inequalities in the choices people have available to them. Those living in poverty are likely to experience an impoverished range of choices. People are often segregated in housing according to their age and socio-economic status and some groups, such as people experiencing homelessness may ‘settle’ for housing that is inadequate for their needs, as they feel they have no alternative. This led to a ‘lightbulb moment’ for further research from group members – the need to map out the different routes people take through housing options over the course of their lives, and the menu of choices available to them depending on their circumstances at different points in time. Perhaps this will allow services to enable people to have a different form of ownership in housing – the ownership of the housing journey through the transition of our lives, rather than simply owning a building.


Photo attribution: "Home, health and happiness / Bile Bean Manufacturing Co". See page for author [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

No comments:

Post a Comment