Recognition of the importance of housing is welcome, but can it be translated into action, asks Stuart Macdonald
As former Conservative health secretary Stephen Dorrell acknowledges, his committee’s report into social care this week is ‘the latest in a long line of reports which have stressed the importance of joined-up services’. What is different about this offering from the health select committee of MPs, however, is that housing is included alongside health and social care in the call for commissioning to be integrated.
This is significant as housing is still too often seen as the poor relation when it comes to considering the health and care needs of an individual.
This remains the case at the strategic level too, with one landlord this week privately bemoaning the fact that when social care commissioners are doing a needs analysis ‘they don’t look at housing in any sense’.
But will Mr Dorrell’s fine words be translated into fine deeds? The plea for a ‘regular rebalancing’ of spending in health, housing and social care budgets is fine in principle, but could this work? Housing providers lost out badly in the 2010 spending review cuts, so would welcome the chance to deliver services which have been proven to save the NHS money. But, as Sue Adams, chair of the Housing and Ageing Alliance, diplomatically says: ‘There are competing priorities here and a lot of history will need to be set aside.’
Ms Adams, though, is confident that the ice is thawing between budget-holders. She cites as evidence the £150 million the Department of Health passed to councils in January to ‘invest in social care services which also benefit the health system’. She also feels that housing providers have shown some savvy in getting places on the fledgling health and well-being boards which are being established across England and this will stand them in good stead if/when they become operational.
This smarter working cannot come soon enough. The cuts being made by another arm of government, the Department for Work and Pensions through its Welfare Reform Bill, seem set to increase the number of people forced to live in poor quality homes. Unfortunately, there will be adverse health effects and housing providers, health professionals and care workers will be left to pick up the pieces.
Stuart Macdonald is editor of Inside Housing