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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.