Five reasons why you should care about housing and health

Day in, day out staff working in the NHS will see the interconnection between housing and health, and recognise its importance. Here are five reasons why they are right to be interested:

It makes sense

You don’t have to be an expert to know that badly maintained homes can have a negative impact on the health of those living in them. The link between damp/mould and asthma is well documented. Similarly, rotting floorboards and poorly lit properties can increase the risk of a trip or fall. And it is not just physical health. Overcrowded homes – with children sleeping in the living room or sharing a bedroom with a parent – can also harm family relationships, and impact on mental health.

It’s nothing new

Some of the early public health work of the 19th century sought to tackle overcrowded housing conditions, and introduced basic sanitation to many communities. These improvements to the physical environment delivered huge benefits to health. In the 20th century, this work was continued through philanthropists like Joseph Rowntree; who embarked on ambitious homebuilding schemes to increase the availability of affordable, decent housing for people.

The evidence is ‘good enough’

When I speak to people about the importance of housing to health, a common challenge back is that: “the evidence base is still emerging, and we should wait until the picture is clearer”. My response is that the evidence is good enough to act, and we need to get better at using what we have. The BRE report The Cost of Poor Housing to the NHS provides a useful summary. Do build up the evidence in your locality as you work. However, the bigger challenge is deciding what should be done at local level.

Many people are already getting on with it

Many local areas are already joining-up action across housing, health and social care, and are feeling the benefits. The NHS England Quick Guide Health and Housing provides numerous examples – from social prescriptions in Sunderland to home improvements in Somerset. However, spreading this ‘good practice’ will require adaptation, not adoption. As you know, what works in one area, may not work in another. Hence, local tailoring will be crucial if we are to succeed.

There has never been a better time to act

With an increasing budget for aids and adaptations – and a greater move towards integration, local devolution and other place-based approaches – there has never been a better time to act on housing and health. And just as this document informs those in health about the importance of decent homes, similar work is underway in housing and social care sectors; where there is a growing interest in health. This mutual understanding will make local conversations easier than ever.

Hence, we should think of housing and health not as ‘ships that pass in the night’, but as boats in the same fleet; sailing in ever closer formation. The NHS England Quick Guide Health and Housing helps make that vision a reality, and is therefore to be welcomed.

Sam works as the Housing and Integration Policy Lead at the Department of Health. He is the organisation’s lead for housing and health/care issues.

His previous role was at Public Health England (PHE) as the national lead for work, worklessness and health. Before joining PHE, Sam worked in the Department of Health and Ministry of Justice in a variety of different roles. Between 2011 and 2013 he completed the Government graduate scheme – The Civil Service Fast Stream – as an internal candidate.

Sam recently completed an MSc in Health Policy at Imperial College London. He received the Dean’s Prize for his dissertation on pet ownership and health in later life. He now lives and works in London with his partner.

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  1. Paula Broadbent says:

    This is an excellent revelation for so long it’s been perfect common sense to many of us in the industry and the NHS continued request for evidence was verging on the ridiculous! It’s a time for action and making things happen, there are huge opportunities and we need to focus all our energies on engaging in true partnerships locally focused on place shaping the best possible outcomes through housing , health, social care and communities working togetger in harmony.

    • Helen Rollings says:

      Absolutely the connection is commonsense surely – joined up thinking requires joined up budgets