Blog: The role of housing associations in improving health and wellbeing

housing health homelessness stockQueens Cross Housing Association’s chief executive, Shona Stephen, reflects on the links between housing and health.

Medical professionals have been making links between the impact housing has on health since Victorian times.

Thankfully, social investment over the past century has seen the causal effect of living in unsanitary conditions; cholera, typhoid and tuberculosis, disappear from our everyday lives.

However, that does not mean there is no longer any connection between good quality housing and good health.

Bad housing continues today to impact on people’s mental health. It can result in isolation and loneliness. Addiction and poverty are both exacerbated by poor housing, affecting an individual’s ability to make healthy lifestyle choices.

Despite all the improvement, bad housing is still one of the main barriers to good health.

The difference in male life expectancy between the most and the least deprived areas in Scotland is 17 years, 68 years in the east end of Glasgow and 85 years in Lenzie. Perhaps even more telling is the difference in healthy life expectancy between the most and the least deprived areas in Scotland which, stands at 25 years.

It is no coincidence that the poorest parts of the country are where the most inadequate housing stock is. Improve the housing stock and you will improve the health and wellbeing of the people who live there, the correlation is indisputable.

Housing is about far more than four walls and a roof. It is about the recreational space we use and the community around us, and importantly it’s about having the support people need to enjoy a good quality of life.

Housing associations have a hugely important role in creating the right environment for all these factors to align.

"Housing is about far more than four walls and a roof" - Shona Stephen

“Housing is about far more than four walls and a roof” – Shona Stephen

Our Business Plan 2020 reflects on how we can continue to make progress in creating neighbourhoods where people want to live and work and grow old.

This growing old factor is one of the biggest challenges that face us. The population is getting older. Over the next 10 years the proportion of over 75s in Scotland’s population – who are the highest users of NHS services – will increase by over 25%. By 2033 the number of people over 75 is likely to have increased by almost 60%.

This will continue the shift in disease patterns towards long-term conditions, particularly growing numbers of older people with multiple conditions and complex needs, such as dementia.

With the integration of health and social care the role housing associations play in the community will become even more important. We have access to social welfare expertise and being part of the communities we serve are ideally placed to ensure care is delivered when and where it is needed.

We also committed to helping tackle homelessness and provide more suitable high quality housing.

Both of these are being tackled head on with plans to build more than 600 houses along with a new homelessness shelter for young people.

All of this will help contribute to healthier happier lives.

It is not just as a housing association chief executive that I see the difference that we can make. Long before I joined Queens Cross I was a tenant of another Glasgow association and saw first hand the work that goes on to build communities.

As we are asked to do more and more on limited budgets we will need to be imaginative in our solutions. Central to this is finding out what is important to the people we serve.

Communities that are involved in decision-making about their area and the services within it, that are well networked and supportive and where neighbours look out for each other, all have a positive impact on people’s health and wellbeing.

Our recent ‘Getting to Know You’ survey provided us with hard facts about our services and what people want, facts to base our investment decisions on.

Our tenants told us they wanted more specialist housing for those who need it and adaptations where possible to allow people to remain in their homes. They wanted us to work harder with partners to receive the services they need to improve their health. They wanted us to tackle homelessness and provide services to help older tenants stay at home, independently, for longer.

All of this is reflected in our ambitious plans for the next three years.

In the 21st century housing associations need to be more than just housing providers, we are a key community partner involved in helping some of the most vulnerable people in the city improve their lives.

Creating an environment that promotes healthier lives will be central to this.