Susanne Flynn: Housing must be seen as a key partner in the delivery of social care for older people
Susanne Flynn from CIH Scotland considers the role of housing in the Scottish Government’s forthcoming health and social care strategy for older people.
Many of us will need support at some time in our lives to be able to live independently, whether through illness, a disability, or as we get older and our needs change. Living at home allows people to retain their independence and remain part of a familiar community. It can also prevent the need for more costly interventions such as a hospital stay or move to residential care.
As such, we welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to supporting people to live at home, or in a homely setting, for as long as possible as part of its recent consultation on a new health and social care strategy for older people. We know that having access to a safe, warm, affordable home in a familiar location is hugely beneficial for health and wellbeing at every stage of life. That good quality housing is fundamental to improving health outcomes and reducing inequalities.
However, we also know that many people are living in homes which do not adequately meet their needs (something which became even more apparent during the Covid-19 pandemic) and that there is a severe shortage of suitable housing across all tenures for people as they age.
As we look to move on and also learn lessons from the pandemic, it is therefore disappointing that housing has not been given more prominence in the proposals for a new health and social care strategy for older people, and it is clear that this is a missed opportunity to recognise the valuable contribution that housing makes to overall health and wellbeing.
While the Scottish Government’s ambitions to create a more integrated and person-centred approach to the delivery of social care are to be welcomed, this can only be achieved if housing is recognised as an equal partner to other agencies, and housing’s role must be fully reflected in all relevant policies and strategies relating to older people at both a local and national level.
It is also important that we normalise conversations around housing and ageing to ensure that we are better prepared as a society to address the changing needs of our ageing population. The consultation refers to the provision of regular ‘health MOTs’ for older people by health professionals, and this is something that could also be applied to housing. Conversations like this could help to better identify when someone’s needs could be changing and when more support, such as an assessment of a person’s home or a referral to a local authority housing team or Occupational Therapist, may be required.
However, central to all of this is that we simply aren’t building enough homes to meet the needs of many older people. The Scottish Government must address this shortfall and ensure that there is a greater mix of housing options available across all tenures, including working with developers to build accessible, flexible and adaptable homes for people as they age.
There also needs to be greater investment in community equipment and adaptations to ensure that people across all housing tenures can access these when required.
CIH Scotland has submitted a response to the Scottish Government consultation on new health and social care strategy for older people, and you can read this here.
- Susanne Flynn is the policy and practice officer at CIH Scotland