26 Aug 2022

Making every decision about health and care a decision about housing

A series of events opened my eyes to the world of housing - a kind of parallel universe to the one I’d been part of previously as a health and social care commissioner, a sector using a different language but working in the same communities and with the same people and broadly aspiring to very similar goals. I recognised that social landlords were often the one organisation in a community that had an ongoing relationship and direct connection with many people living with long term health conditions, struggling families, and those amongst us that society so often marginalises and stigmatises but were rarely invited to the party.

It became obvious to me that access to a good quality, affordable, warm home has a massive impact on people’s lives, improving their mental and physical wellbeing, and their life chances. Yet there was very little understanding of what social landlords did and the opportunities engaging better with them could bring. No two social landlords are the same, the sector is broad and diverse and all the stronger for that richness of experience. Almost all are about so much more than being a landlord. Over time many have developed expertise and specialist tenant services ranging from delivery care and support to supporting customers into employment, supporting refugees and asylum seekers, and working with survivors of domestic abuse.

Partnerships will almost inevitably result in far better outcomes for citizens than creating a dependence upon any single organisation. We know the value that comes from diversity and that is as true of organisations as people. Social landlords and housing associations, as anchor organisations within a community, have so much value to offer with an incredible breadth of skills and experience. Real success will come through building networks of organisations locally who each contribute – where the whole of the sum is far greater that any individual part, where we can learn from each other and ensure that collectively the focus is on people rather than organisational interests.

No provider organisation has an inherent right to a contract or funding from a local authority or NHS commissioners however deeply rooted an organisation is within the community or how many friends in high places they may have. Existing and established organisations that are performing well, achieving great outcomes, and have been engaging constructively with commissioners and planning groups locally will inevitably be in a strong position, using their experience, to influence how needs are met - with everyone gaining from social landlords being part of this landscape.

Over the last five years, I have attempted to bridge those parallel worlds of health, social care, and housing and I’ve learned so much in that time. Right now, we see the new health led Integrated Care Systems establishing themselves up and down the country, perhaps they really are the bold new dawn that can reach the holy grail of genuinely integrating support designed around individuals and what matters to them, enabling citizens to have a life, not a service. If they are, then we need to ensure the housing sector is part of making a difference on the ground, in people’s homes, and within the communities within which people live.

Written by Guy Stenson

Guy is the chief executive of GCH, with 20 years of leadership experience in statutory and not-for-profit sectors in housing, health, and social care.

You can hear more about Guy's insight into the importance of housing within health and care at the Making every decision about health care a decision about housing session at CIH's South West Conference