Sarah Davis, Senior Policy & Practice Officer at the Chartered Institute of Housing

Sarah Davis, Senior Policy & Practice Officer at the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH), discusses the role and purpose of social housing and how it impacts on public health.

At CIH, we are asking some big questions about social housing, including what it is, its role and purpose, who it is for and why it matters. These are pretty fundamental questions, but also timely. Our current project, Rethinking social housing, explores the role and purpose of social housing, and we are keen to hear from partners across public health to help inform this.

Social housing is re-emerging as a focus of attention after years where all of the interest and much of the investment has been on home ownership (of the £32 billion government will invest in housing up to 202/21, only 21 per cent is for affordable homes). There is a renewed focus on it following on from the great tragedy of Grenfell Tower, which has raised all sorts of questions about how homes are managed and residents’ voices heard. There is also the government’s own forthcoming green paper on social housing.

The most affordable homes to rent – generally those for social rent – are a shrinking resource; our analysis indicates that we will lose 230,000 of these homes by 2020, unless we can reverse some of the policy levers affecting it.

As such, access to it is restricted to those in greatest need. But historically it wasn’t always like that. So it is the light of all these pressures that we want to understand what role there is for social housing now.

And why should this matter for people working in health? Well, most of us often take for granted how important a safe, warm home is to our wellbeing, because we are lucky enough to have one.

But growing numbers of people are finding it difficult to find and keep such a home, for example, last year 59,000 households were accepted as homeless, an increase of two per cent on the previous year.

And poor housing conditions still cause problems for people’s health, and the care and health services that support them – an estimated £1.4 billion a year to the NHS alone, largely from problems with cold homes, and with falls.

In taking a wider approach to developing health and wellbeing for individuals and communities, social housing providers, whether local authority landlords or housing associations, are key allies for health.

Often they are working in areas where there is significant wider disadvantage, supporting families and households that are amongst those you want to support and target with health messages and interventions. There are many examples where housing and health are working together to bring positive outcomes, but I have taken just a few to illustrate this:

Tackling obesity – many housing providers have developed schemes with their tenants and residents to increase access to affordable vegetables and other healthy foods, and learn cooking skills to make healthy meals for themselves and their families.

Helena Partnerships (now part of Torus) started SHOOTS food club, targeting local areas where there was particular problem to access healthy food. SHOOTS then became a social enterprise run by community volunteers providing access to fresh fruit and vegetables, running allotment projects and cooking lessons.

Supporting mental health and wellbeingWakefield and District Housing (WDH) employs mental health navigators to support tenants to understand and address underlying issues and manage their health and wellbeing effectively, developing their skills. The organisation also support voluntary and community action through its community grant scheme.

Tackling social isolationNottingham City Homes has developed specialist roles within its supported housing team to work with tenants to address social isolation and get people engaged with activities. It is working with local organisations in partnership to provide a range of activities that can both help people take part and support them to get more help where needed.

We have had a great response so far from people working and living in social housing, to our Rethinking social housing project, but now we would like to know what you think.

What is social housing for? What does it contributes to the health and wellbeing of communities? Does social housing, and the professionals that work in it, support your goals? How might this be improved?

To make it easy to get involved, we have compiled a survey which should only take about 10 minutes to complete. Findings will inform the response we make to government and the green paper.

We will then produce a report and share the findings of our project with our members and other contributors, housing organisations and the media. Once completed, the report will be freely available on the CIH website. Your response on how well we in housing work with you will also help to shape what we at CIH do in the future to help that.