Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Back to the Future: health and housing working together

Guest post by Patrick Vernon, Health Lead, National Housing Federation

The launch of the Due North report in September 2014 was a rallying cry for greater priority around tackling health inequalities with a manifesto in how all stakeholders and system players can recycle effectively the £136 billion in public spend for transforming services. Since May 2015 we have a new Government with a clear agenda on austerity, public sector reform and the revitalisation of the devolution agenda with the mantra of the "Northern Powerhouse". In the middle of this maelstrom has been the Government's approach to tackling the housing crisis with the immediate reduction of 1 per cent in rents over the next four years, the extension of the Right to Buy and the ongoing impact of welfare reforms. These changes have become a major turning point in the history of the social housing sector along with the changes in supported housing.

Although there is an emotional, political, moral and (increasing) evidence base for the links between poor housing and health, the gap between fact and reality still feels light years away. There is a clear role for the social housing sector to work with the NHS, social care and employers in transforming services and care pathways to meet demographic, lifestyle and morbidity changes in the population. A step in the right direction is the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to support joint action on improving health through the home which was signed by all stakeholders in the health and housing sector in Autumn 2014. The document highlights at a strategic and national level the key principles and actions around a collective approach around delivery. However, what is currently missing is a regional approach that is embedded in the devolution agenda. This is already happening in Greater Manchester as part of DevoManc (giving greater powers to the combined authority working in partnership with a directly-elected Mayor). In the North East we need to ensure that housing and health are part of the devolution plans.

Thus the Fuse Quarterly Research Meeting (QRM) ‘Creating Healthy Places in the North East: the Role of Housing’ on Tuesday (20 October) in Darlington is the start of another important chapter in the health and housing trilogy (or may be pre-sequel) on how health, social care and housing can work together in meeting the needs of local communities in a period of austerity. All the speakers at the event had - in essence - the same message: a need for strengthening partnerships and system leadership along with collating, translating and communicating the evidence for cost-effective interventions.

The event not only had international examples from the Netherlands and New Zealand but also local case studies from a number of housing associations such as Thirteen Group (Middlesbrough Recovering Together project), Gentoo Housing (Boilers on Prescription), Home Group (social prescribing), Tyne Housing (working with homeless people in the community) and South Tyne side Homes (sheltered accommodation for residents with dementia). The case studies illustrated how better commissioning and service integration can make a difference to the lives of people.

The challenge in a period of reduced budgets and further potential cuts in the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review is how we make the business case and get the right people in the room to transform services, building on the spirit and vision of the Due North report in tackling health inequalities and achieving greater health equity.

I think one of the key outcomes of the QRM is for Fuse to act as broker between service providers, commissioners and service users in creating a strong North East dialogue between the health, social care and the housing sector. This can be achieved by networking, sharing good practice, supporting development of the evidence and, finally, an advocacy role in influencing the devolution agenda.

Thus, if Marty McFly and Doc Brown pop out of their DeLorean DMC-12 again in the future, we can share with them the successful journey that we have undertaken in ensuring that the housing sector is a valued, respected and key partner in delivering better health and social care services and an integral agent in tackling the public health agenda.

For more information visit the National Housing Federation website or read the Fuse research brief accompanying this event: Creating healthy places in the North East - the role of housing.

Photograph 'Back to the Future DeLorean Time Machine' by AdamL212 via © 2007:

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